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HotLab Design

Antonio Romano

February 2018

February 2018
Faena Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida

Antonio Romano is one of the 3 founding partners of Hot Lab based in Milan. One of the hottest, excuse the pun, design studios in the marine industry today.

"We get 7,000 Euros and we were the most happy people in the world. We bought two laptops and a fax. We still have that telephone with a fax in our studio. Incredible."

- Welcome now back to Between Two Yetis for a designer special during the Miami Boat Show. I am here with Antonio Romano.

- Romano, that's correct, that's the right one.

- How you doing?

- Welcome, in my room, sorry. Welcome, guys, welcome. I'm fine, what about you?

- So we're not really in the Faena Hotel, because we weren't allowed to film downstairs.

- Ah yeah, but we tried to make something more creative, that's the point.

- So who's idea was it to come to the bedroom?

- I think from the concierge. What did they think we were gonna film?

- Maybe a sort of strange movie.

- It is Miami.

- But I told there was an interview. I told there was an interview, that's okay.

- That could well be. 'Cause Miami's very famous for a lot of things. So, I've never met you before.

- No, first time.

- First time.

- Yeah.

- How would you sum up, in America, we have a thing called an elevator pitch. What do you call it in ...

- [Female Voice] Presentation.

- No it's--

- [Female Voice] Elevator pitch, yeah. It's like a presentation--

- A lift.

- Yep, yep.

- You know, a lift. So you have to tell me what you do and who you are within 30 seconds.

- Oh wow. I'm the founder, with two more partners, of the same company, she's called Hot Lab.

- Hot Lab.

- Hot Lab.

- Hot, because we are Italian, we are creative, and we are spicy. Lab, because we are also technician, we try to be professional, and we follow the rules. This is the meaning about that. So we try to give a professional service with a more creative way.

- See, one thing, I've interviewed a couple of Italians today, and a couple of Germans--

- Oh really?

- In the car industry.

- Okay.

- And so... The Italians have a very... Why are the... Okay, so hold on, let me just try and define this.

- Okay.

- Why are Italians so good at design?

- Maybe because we are surrounded of beautiful things, from centuries, you know.

- Now, actually this brings me to something I had an interview with at Art Basel. Your art is government-placed, correct? Around Italy?

- What do you mean? So here in America, if you want a statue or you want a fantastic monument or something like that, it has to be privately funded. In Italy it's a government endeavor?

- Now proper government could be also the Pope, they can pay for that.

- Yes, so this is why. You are surrounded by the most beautiful things.

- We are surrounded by centuries of beautiful things. From the ancient Roman and even before, to the Renaissance period, to... several century create what Italy is right now. About not just the beautiful of what the man created, but also the landscape, the territory, the smells, the flavor, maybe for this reason. Maybe for this reason, could be one of the several reason.

- My girlfriend is a interior designer.

- Okay.

- And so, it's always about the Italian furniture.

- Okay, yeah, yeah.

- B&B Italia.

- Correct. Because that is our famous design district, about the furniture. It all start the one company. Then maybe, the father or the cousin or something like that started a competitive company, and so on. Then you create a district, regarding the sign. Where several, maybe 10 or 20, main company, regarding furniture, are all together in 20 kilometers.

- Good Lord, so it's actually set up--

- If you think about cars, Lamborghini was trying to buy off Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari at that time, he say, no, I don't know if this is the right car for you. So he found his own company. And now 15 kilometers, one each other, the company, and then arrive several more.

- So it's, wow. I've owned a Maxalto couch.

- Okay, cool.

- I didn't pay--

- That's good for you, even more good.

- I didn't pay the 26 thousand dollars. I got it for five hundred dollars.

- Oh wow.

- But sitting on a 26 thousand dollar settee, couch, the difference is amazing. It's not, it doesn't--

- It not just about design.

- Well the design was exceptional, the material is exceptional, but the construction of it. And I often hear nowadays, people say, oh, they don't make it like they used to. No, the Chinese don't make it.

- Exactly.

- But the Italians do.

- This is a way, because in order of not having so many copies, you try to improve yourself. Not just about the design, but about what is inside. How to double-up the technology, to be more comfortable, to be more fast, to be more look serious, and to be a bit step over, in comparison to the other ones. This could be in several fields, from a couch to a car, or to a yacht sometime.

- So, okay, that leads us into yachts.

- Okay, let's go back to the yachts.

- Why are you a yacht designer?

- To be honest with you, I would like to do, a motorcycle designer. This was my passion.

- Really?

- Yeah, I love bikes. I love motorbikes. So when I was 14, I think, or something like that, long, long years ago, by the way, I'll be 40 this year.

- [Female Voice]

- Not one single white hair, but you know, I on the way.

- Yeah, have you--

- And that's cool, and trying to, okay I was designing bike every single day. So okay, what can I do with this beautiful design? So I contact some companies about, maybe Aprilia, or some companies like that. I send my drawing. One company reply to me, okay interesting, but first of all you need to finish your high school, and then maybe having a proper degree. Okay, what kind of degree? Industrial design. Really, okay, let's do it. So I've done industrial design. In industrial design course, I was lucky to have the most famous Italian yacht designer as a teacher, that is Gianna Zuccon, a legend in our industry. The son of, Ferretti Group especially and then I understand that yachting draw much more drinks and much more fun than in motorcycle industry so, let's do yachting.

- That is what everybody says in England.

- I'm very honest. I don't give you, you know--

- You know Raymond Langton?

- Yes.

- Sir Andrew...

- I don't know personally but I know the brand.

- I've known Andrew for about 20 or 25 years and he went to car design in Coventry in English where it's--

- Very famous industry regarding car, yeah.

- Yeah, but nobody in car design can actually have their designs... This is what he told me. Everyone it's a junior who then has to report to here, to here.

- Yeah, because again, you work for a huge company. You are one of the wheels of the main machine. This is the point. By the way, in Hot Lab we have three partners. This is important to say. Now, I no more taking care about a design. I'm taking care about the marketing of my company and about the design and about the clients. So, the design part has fallen my two main partners so, Michele Dragoni, that is a car designer. So, he started car design in Modena, so the capital they say of the car design.

- The Madonna?

- Modena, Modena is where Maserati is. Again, another famous brand regarding cars.

- [Female Voice] And Ferrari.

- And Ferrari is on the way.

- It's amazing when you start realizing how many Italian design... Giugiaro, another Italian?

- Yeah, Giugiaro, Pininfarina and, yes.

- Well, Pininfarina, we almost interviewed them today.

- Oh wow.

- I think it was daughter or granddaughter or something.

- Maybe yes because now it is a huge company, a SPA company. By the way, Michele is a car designer but still designing sometimes with sketches about cars, but the way in which you understand, let's say, our surfaces is different from an architect and is different from engineering. Every single edges becomes important. They can be a car or can be an 80 meter yacht. The other partner is Enrico, Enrico Lumini, and this the more technical one of the three and he's taking care about interior and that everything had to work in the right way. So, we created say a good mix.

- So the trifecta.

- Yes.

- The engineering, the design and then the--

- Let's say marketing or clients.

- Okay.

- So, we try to arrive to the least. Maybe this was a key. I don't wanna say a success because we're still learning.

- Where did you start?

- We start in 2004.

- But where did you start originally?

- Originally, we know each other in a design studio that was about product design. We design object so, I was after one year that there was in that studio, I was the leader of the studio because the owner of the studio was a teacher at university. So, nobody was inside. Can you take care about the studio? Okay, let me understand how to do it. Okay, do it. So, both Enrico and Michele come in this studio for making a training experience. So, okay it was for fee. Why not? So, we start to become friends together. So one day we decide to go the the general boat show. At that time, it was the most important boat show even more than Cannes at that time was 2004 or 2003. It was a huge boat show.

- That was my first time going there.

- Really?

- Yeah. Huge show.

- It was incredible. Maybe nine days of boat show with everybody was there.

- My experience with that though is that I didn't speak a word of Italian, a word of Italian.

- It doesn't speak English.

- And I was in the big center--

- Oh yeah, in the circular part, exactly.

- Third floor or something, and we were trying to sell lights and nobody there spoke English or didn't want to speak English.

- No, they doesn't.

- And so, I had to learn

- You know, it's a small world because we were in the same pavilion because we are right to general, not for designing yacht. We were not so stupid, come on, we could not design yacht. Maybe we can design lights or we can design, I don't know a pasarella or a chair or something like that. So, we spend the entire day in that stupid pavilion, going knocking everywhere. Nobody reply. So, okay guys in an hour we have a train. We need to come back to Milano but let's have a look to some more. At least let me jump for the first time in my life, on a boat. So we go to shipyard calledshipyard. We went there, say, ah, can we have a look through one of your boats? Yes, but do you have a boat? Yes, of course. My grandfather has a beautiful Riva. Of course not, okay, please. You are welcome. And then the stewardess, the hostess, start to showing something regarding the boat. Say, oh you know we like to change something about the interior. You are a designer? Ah, yes. But you ever design a yacht? Of course we have designed it. We have designed already three boats. Oh seriously? Please I would like to introduce the owner of the company. The owner of the company gave us a chance. We won the bet. After maybe two months he ask us to do their biggest boat, at that time was a 70 foot.

- [Female Voice] Fake it 'til you make it.

- Yeah, we've done it. We've done it.

- The first boat you did was a 70 foot?

- 70 foot interior design for that. Interior design was Raffaelli Ontera, 70 foot. Never done, never seen a boat in our life. Was 21, Twenty-one, 22. Well, I was 22 and I was the oldest one. Imagine. Twenty-two, I was the oldest one.

- Were you terrified?

- We get 7,000 euros and we were the most happy people in the world. We bought two laptop and a fax. We still have that telephone with a fax in our studio. Incredible, you know.

- This is 2005?

- This is 2003. 'Cause 2004, we founded the company because we didn't have money to fund the company.

- Holy hell. So, we startit becomes doing two works, three works per day to then having some people pay the rent of their houses.

- So we're the same age. I'm 38.

- I'm almost 40.

- Wow, that's fantastic because I've met a few people in the last couple of weeks who are really hustling to get their businesses going and it's back to basics and it's doing the stuff that most people don't want to do nowadays.

- Absolutely. It's correct.

- It's part of it.

- That's part of the studio starts after you get a proper experience and your own design studio. I just lucky to have Gianni Zuccon as a teacher, that's it. So, I cannot say that he teach me something but I find him as an example, of course. On the other hand, it's also Michele, the exterior designer, he's got his own experience designing fordesign studio. So, he started to do something. And in the meantime before coming to thestudio where we met each other, Enrico was just passionate about scuba diving. That's it. So, nobody with a real experience about. So, we start by ourselves with the money that we get from the fifth job. Understanding and making mistakes. Of course, because at the beginning you make a lot of mistake on our shoulders.

- So how was that first boat?

- Was this Raffaeli 70, then we done a small fast boat called the La Goccia, was I think, I don't remember, 35 foot? Very small, very fast. But was interesting. But from day one, we start to give our work project to the press. You know to okay, we can do this. If it's possible, can you talk about and they start to talk about our studio because at that time not so many young studio were on the market. You know yachting industry is a very closed industry.

- It's amazing actually. You're right, especially in the design world. 'Cause you've got the kingpins, Disdale,

- I think that we are 150 design studio in all the world? Maybe not. Imagine that in Milan there are 7,000 architectural studios, Between architecture and design, 7,000. Yeah, 7,000 correct. Imagine, Milan and the surrounded thanks of course to the various design school that we have in Milano or to the various furniture company.

- That's amazing, 150 worldwide.

- Yeah, and I don't think more. I mean design studio that really are working that really have done something or or something like that. So after 14 years we have done some interesting boat. We have got some awards. We have eight yachts in build at the moment.

- Eight yachts?

- Yep, for a small 60 foot sailing boat.

- [Female Voice] Exterior, Interior?

- Yeah, both exterior and interior.

- The smallest one is a 60 foot for a American, Taiwanese companyYacht together withabout exterior we're taking care about interior. And the biggest one is almost 70 meter for a private customer built in Turkey. In the meantime, we are--

- [Female Voice] 70 meter?

- Yeah.

- In Turkey?

- No, in Istanbul.

- With who?

- It's a company called AES. But we are working for the final customer. From the beginning I don't know why we start to work not following one shipyard in particular but following private customer. So, we are specializing in that, in the full custom job.

- 'Cause it's interesting, in this industry, you guys are the royalty. You guys get to direct your customers to which yards.

- Sometimes, yeah. If they ask, of course. Sometimes could be the captain. Sometimes could be the broker but yes of course. Considering our experience or how much the client wanna spend because you know there are different levels for spending money.

- But I guess in the build process you are the person who's the closest to the owner.

- Absolutely, because again, you spend two years, three years with the owner. You get to know everything about them. If they likes to sleep on the right side of the bed or the left side of the bed for example.

- Hugely important, yeah.

- Because we need to know where to have his phone or where need to put his safe or in the morning wanna do something or not. So, are stupid information but makes sense for creating the perfect full custom job for you. As a tailor, you know.

- And you're based in Milano?

- Yep.

- Why am I saying Milano? Milan.

- Milano.

- I'm English. Is that how you say it in Italian, Milano?

- Milano. Simply Milano.

- Why do we say Milan then?

- You say Milan?

- Yeah.

- I don't know. We say Londra instead of London. Maybe for the same reason. Yeah, I don't know.

- Yeah. So future, going forward then, you guys just, you're moving.

- We're still learning. We have a nice team, a very good team.

- How many are you?

- We are in 10. We have 10 people. A very good team which some--

- In terms of design, in terms of a company, you're now at the mid level. Do you wanna keep going bigger or are you gonna keep it at this--

- Yeah, the aim of course is to going bigger because we have started to collaborate and talk mostly with some non-European company from Icon Yachts to Zana or to Oceanco. Last year we presented our 115 meter concept for Fincantieri. We are working very well with Baglietto. We have an entire line of yachts with them. We're working with shipyard for the GIP construction So, very known names. So, the aim is to still working of course for the private customer that are still the main focus of our studio but of course to following more and more some shipyard to collaborate more and more with some high-level shipyard. Let's say that we are arriving to premier league. But still not playing for the cups or something like that. But we are in the premier league.

- I've done Starkey.

- Yeah, a legend.

- I did work experience with Starkey Designs back in '97, I think.

- I met him in Dubai I think last year.

- Yeah, he's in Dubai now. And his studio was amazing in Putney, was it Putney? Somewhere in South London, Richmond, I think it was. And he only had like 8 people working for him or something. But he felt it was already getting too many people.

- Yeah. It depends then how many project you wanna follow. You wanna follow may two project per year, two big project, eight could be enough.

- It was amazing the amount

- Yeah, we are in a phase where we are receiving some good inquiries and inquiries, you cannot say no. So, maybe sometimes you start making just a profile in a general arrangement because you cannot say if this possibility will go on or not. So, why not?

- There's another designer I know, Michael Kasten. You might not know him. He works out of his house.

- Mm hm.

- And he gets one client every three years.

- One client every three years?

- And he does it all himself. He is fantastic at detail. He's a very traditional designer in terms or style. There's no flamboyance. But he never wants to employ anybody. And he just wants to do it himself and it's his studio.

- Wow.

- And then on the flip side, you have something like Andrew Winch, who's--

- Huge.

- So it's amazing the difference.

- AndWinch is another legend then he's takes in care for word memos about plane and properties or something like that.

- Yes.

- Do you diversify like that?

- No, we have done two autos. Now we are doing a boutique hotel on the north of Turkey but best part of the time, our clients that we have done yachts for them, then they ask for this.

- You know us. Now do this.

- Yeah, we don't propose ourself also for extra thing above yachting 'cause just really quite full with our job about yachting. This is the main reason. By the way, traveling so much from all the main boat show plus going to meet the clients and of course my partners are traveling as well for following the work in progress and thing so, time is limited sometime but we can do even more.

- Yeah, do you know how many days a year you spend away from home?

- Last year, I have an app on my phone to track everything. Last year was maybe 190 days outside of Italy.

- Over half the year out of the, wow.

- Yeah, not bad.

- Not bad, especially if you're staying in places like

- Ah, Miami's always nice to come, especially when you leave Milan, the worst, minus two. And you arrive here then you find 25, 26 degree.

- I normally like to ask people what's your best story in the industry. What's the weirdest request you've had but that's not fair for you because--

- I tell already so many stories.

- You've already probably got 20 clients and they'll know exactly which one of them it is.

- Somebody asked for having maybe a horse onboard. Yeah, because it was an Arabic family. You know, for them the horse is so important.

- Can you put a horse on a super yacht?

- On a super yacht, could be more or less everything. Of course you cannot leave the horse alone all the time. So, sometimes you need to go outside.

- Do you do that?

- No, we have not done that. But, you know, I mean requests--

-with a basketball court on the back.

- Exactly, that's much more easy to do of course. Oh there is some way to play golf also of course on the water. Or from interior in which you wanna be inspired by a Lamborghini, that is so edgy that it's not proper yacht style for an interior. But there's several. Or maybe sometimes, an owner, they wanna have a separate bed with his wife but on the second boat he wanna have separate cabins with his wife. I think that on the third boat, he will not have his wife anymore.

- So if you had to say who was your favorite yacht designer, who would you look to and go yeah, that's somebody I respect?

- I still think my teacher, Gianni Zuccon, for his career because his career is amazing 'cause he start in '76. Two years before that I was born, when yacht design was even not a work. Was just was an architect, you know? He was an architect and he create, together with Norberto Ferretti, maybe one of the most important shipyard in the yachting industry about GIP production. And they grew up so much in the various years. The crisis passed before and after and is a way to think about how to grow up in a studio. Always very gentle, always very polite, always very professional and always very curious. That is most important.

- Curiosity.

- Yeah, curiosity. You still have to enjoy your job first of all. It's a beautiful job. You see beautiful place. You meet very beautiful people. So, being curious is gets inspired not just about what you have in Italy but also by what you an have in a

- So that's what it is. Today I have met 70 people and it's curiosity which has kept them young. Sixty, seventy, eighty year olds and they are just full of life and they're still curious.

- It is.

- Curiosity.

- Yeah, especially when you leave old Europe and you arrive to Miami or to Dubai or other places like that, that everything is so brand new, it looks more spicy, you know? So, you bring some back. You bring home some flavor for that.

- Yeah.

- Yeah.

- Good Lord, pleasure to meet you sir.

- It's my pleasure.

- Thank you for sharing room.

- Let's open a bottle of wine now, okay?

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