How did a Russian boy grow up in a landlocked Ural Mountains city and go on to become a celebrated yacht designer in Monaco?
“Until 2017, only a few people knew my name,” says Igor Lobanov of Lobanov Design.
After his jaw-dropping 361-foot (110-meter) Oceanco Jubilee made her public debut at the Monaco Yacht Show that year, he was fast tracked to the designer A-list. He had been involved in other yacht projects—including a 2013 Oceanco build that was 281 feet (85.6 meters) and launched under a shroud of secrecy—but Jubilee afforded him widespread visibility. At the time of her launch, Jubilee was the largest yacht ever built in the Netherlands, and her exterior with metallic blue horizontal lines won Lobanov Design numerous awards.
Today, Igor and his wife, Yulia, are the two principals in Lobanov Design, living in their adopted home city of Barcelona, Spain. Igor, at 46 years old, has a shaved head, one pierced ear and a steely gaze that lends him a stern demeanor. However, he is friendly, easygoing and eager to engage in wide-ranging dialogue from history to hockey.
Yulia, 10 or so years younger than Igor, is a stylish dark-haired beauty with expressive eyebrows. Her looks are often mistaken for any number of Mediterranean nationalities—Greek, Italian, Spanish—but she was born and raised in Moscow. She sports an artistic tattoo the length of a long-sleeve opera glove on her arm. The Russian text translates, “This tattoo is for my whole life.”
“I did not want to put someone else’s quote on my body,” Yulia says. “I have often been fascinated by some universal sayings, only to become disappointed with them over time, or to find them irrelevant.”
Yulia grew up dreaming of being an artist. As a girl, she was constantly drawing and painting. Today, she continues to paint and has exhibited in a number of shows.
However, as a young adult she chose interior design and architecture as a practical career path. She and Igor met through friends in Moscow. He hired her to work with him when he opened his studio a little over 10 years ago. They worked on both Oceanco projects together.
As Yulia puts it, “We are a 3-D family: work, marriage, family, all intertwined and combined.” Their 5-year-old daughter, Anna, speaks Spanish, Catalan, Russian and English.
Igor says it took him a while to find his métier. He believes he was a late bloomer, only opening his design studio at age 35.
“I grew up in a modest family in Ufa, about 1,350 kilometers [838 miles] from Moscow,” he says. “I had an aptitude for math and went to the State University of Moscow to study it. But my true passion was automotive and aviation design, which led me to Turin [Italy] to study design at the university there. I loved Italy, but felt it important to master English language skills, so I continued with a transportation design degree in Coventry, U.K.”
The pivotal moment for Lobanov’s segue to yacht design happened one day at the British embassy in Moscow. He had a chance encounter with a former Russian classmate, Andrey Melnichenko. The two had studied math together in Moscow, but each followed very divergent life paths. His friend persisted with economics and business. Today, Melnichenko is a billionaire industrialist and philanthropist.
“Obviously, business was a good choice for him,” Igor says with a laugh.
At the time of their reconnection, Melnichenko was building a 390-foot (119-meter) motoryacht at Blohm+Voss. Philippe Starck had designed the yacht with naval architecture by Martin Francis. Melnichenko thumbed through Igor’s design portfolio and engaged him to be the owner’s representative during the build. The iconic motoryacht launched as A in 2008.
While Igor does not claim any design work on A, he says it was his idea to name the yacht with simply one letter. And, he designed the logo. It is repeated on Melnichenko’s 469-foot (143-meter) sailing yacht that launched in 2017.
“I was invited to Andrey and Aleksandra’s wedding in 2005,” Igor says. “At the time, I thought, what could I give to a billionaire for his wedding? He’s got everything. So, I designed a logo and proposed a name for his future yacht. The letter represents husband and wife, two A’s together. His precise mind and her romantic character each make half of the letter.”
The motoryacht A project aided Igor’s trajectory into yacht design. Lobanov Design in Barcelona now employs nine designers, plus some others at a satellite studio in Moscow. The design work is wide-ranging; Igor has no intention of repeating Jubilee again and again. A year ago, he unveiled a concept design called Tuhura with Oceanco at the Dubai International Boat Show. The exterior styling is reminiscent of early canoes, dugouts and other vessels used thousands of years ago by indigenous people all over the world.
“Our Tuhura is a simple idea,” Igor says. “The thought was to take a natural shape similar to those seen in the earliest canoe-type craft and augment it multifold to a larger scale, using modern technology.”
His other concepts include the sci-fi-looking 328-foot (100 -meter) sailing yacht Phoenicia and a creation called Star that evokes a tented space station. Both are wildly fanciful. At the 2018 Monaco Yacht Show, the Italian shipyard CRN presented a Lobanov-designed 246-foot (75-meter) concept motoryacht called Begallta that sports an eaglelike beak and plumb bow.
The Lobanovs say they enjoy the creativity and leeway of designing superyachts. However, Igor adds, “Five years on one project is really long. It would be gratifying to see the fruits of our labor in a shorter time frame.”
In the coming months, the studio expects to see one of its designs come to fruition: a production series of midrange yachts for a well-known builder that will be publicly named at a later date.
Until then, numerous other projects are underway. Igor is particularly excited about a new design concept: “Even before we presented Jubilee to the public at the Monaco Yacht Show, I had a vision of creating a family of compact-sized yachts. This series is based on the successful design of the Mini car, and refers back to my love of automotive design.”
He is collaborating with Delta Naval Architects in the Netherlands to create the series. The models have a touch of vintage styling, and each boat will be differentiated by bold color schemes. This smaller versatile yacht initiative is in nascent stages and soon will be going out to builders and brokers. It will be interesting to see what this big thinker does with small. ◊
For more information: lobanovdesign.com
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue.