When Luciano Benetton commissioned a boat to indulge his fantasy of circumnavigating the globe, he wanted it to be as environmentally friendly as possible. So the design for his 166-foot-long vessel included devices for recycling water, curbing emissions from its twin diesel engines, and collecting and storing different types of waste. Filters on the windows would block out heat, thus reducing the need for air-conditioning. Such care was taken that the intriguing result, which Benetton named Tribù (the Italian word for “tribe”), was the world’s first luxury motor yacht to receive a green star for environmental efficiency from the Italians.
As it turns out, everything about the $34 million yacht is as iconoclastic as its wild-haired owner, the 73-year-old chairman of the eponymous fashion empire he started in 1965, when he delivered samples of his sister’s knitwear by bicycle. Tribù is also the largest yacht ever built at Mondo Marine, a 30-year-old shipyard in Savona, Italy. Diego Deprati, Mondo Marine’s managing director, says the company now encourages all its clients to comply with environmental certification standards. “It’s really the way of the future,” he says.
Most luxury boats have gleaming exteriors, an effect achieved by priming them with filler, a material also used on cars. In contrast, Tribù’s exterior surfaces are filler-free and unmistakably rugged. “Filler is very expensive and adds unnecessary weight to the boat,” says Luca Dini, who designed the yacht’s structure in collaboration with SYDAC, a naval architecture firm. The decision to go for the raw look, he notes, was Benetton’s.
Because Benetton commissioned the ship with the idea of exploring remote parts of the world, it was built with a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure capable of withstanding practically anything that could happen at sea. “He wanted an oceangoing SUV,” says Dini.
Tribù, which was completed in July 2007, offers the prospect of limitless escape for the man who has been head of his family’s business for about 40 years. (Benetton recently cut back his hectic schedule, placing his 44-year-old son, Alessandro, in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations.) He is best known for the controversial ad campaigns he ran in the eighties, linking his rainbow-hued knitwear with stark images of AIDS victims and prisoners on death row. Currently the company has 5,000 stores in 120 countries and annual sales of $2.5 billion. Benetton and his three co-owner siblings are each worth about $2.9 billion.
Tribù, also the name of a Benetton fragrance, refers to the large family of the shipowner. He intends to use the yacht year-round for himself, his guests, and his four children. Unfortunately, even for the most nautically affluent, it won’t ever be chartered out.
During construction Benetton invited his friend Massimo Vignelli, who created countless Benetton graphics, to inspect progress at the shipyard. He suggested the main deck’s walls be painted dark blue to absorb what he called “the random black holes” of the windows and “to give to the boat a more slender profile.” Vignelli, the legendary designer of, among other icons, the American Airlines logo, also came up with a wavy insignia for Tribù that now adorns the yacht’s china, glassware, silverware, and linens.
It was Vignelli who advised Benetton to hire designer Piero Lissoni to do the interiors. In their two-year collaboration, Benetton met with the Milan-based designer’s team twice a month. Their overall goal was to achieve what Lissoni calls simplified complexity. “We were trying to design a completely open space,” he says, “not a series of small rooms.” And indeed, Tribù looks more like a sophisticated urban penthouse than a typical yacht.
The entire upper deck of the ship serves as the owner’s private residence, with a vast stateroom, a walk-in closet, a marble bathroom, a sauna, and a gym. Four guest cabins occupy the middle deck, which also has a gym and a salon for entertaining.
The lower deck houses crew quarters for 12 and the large galley, which is outfitted with Boffi cabinets and a machine for slicing prosciutto, a favorite of Benetton’s. For safety, all stovetop cooking is done on flameless induction equipment using stainless-steel pots and pans, and screens throughout the boat show that day’s menu, as well as weather conditions.
The top deck contains the wheelhouse, the captain’s cabin, and Benetton’s office-at-sea, equipped with the satellite systems that allow him to keep a close watch over the company wherever he travels.
When possible, Lissoni used existing furniture and objects of his own design, but many pieces had to be adapted for life aboard a yacht, where everything is constantly moving and humidity levels can approach 100 percent. One challenge involved securing a grand piano—a Yamaha, chosen for its resistance to damp conditions—to the floor of the master stateroom. The legs were remade with cast-molded brass feet that were then glued and screwed to the structure of the boat.
Opposite Benetton’s bed is an abstract painting by Caio Fonseca, an artist whose work also hangs in Tribù’s salon and Benetton’s classical villa in Ponzano, Italy. The yacht’s minimalist elegance is now apparent at the villa, which Lissoni was hired to edit and simplify shortly after he began working on the boat.
“It’s a good collaboration,” Lissoni says. “Mr. Benetton is a great student.”
Diego Deprati, managing director; 39-019/828-516; mondomarine.it
Luca Dini Design