Keeping Up with the Courtauldians: Fashioning the Seas

Emma on board S/Y Nefertiti

Emma on board S/Y Nefertiti

S/Y Nefertiti

S/Y Nefertiti

It’s hard to believe that just two months ago the Documenting Fashion MA group were frantically printing, stapling, proof reading, doubting, loving and hating our respective dissertations. For this MA student in particular, the swift transition from university life to the world of yachting came as a bit of a shock. Immediately after handing in my dissertation in June, I left London for Palma de Mallorca, where the beautiful S/Y Nefertiti awaited my return.  Despite having worked as a stewardess on this ninety-foot sailing yacht for four years prior to my time at the Courtauld, swapping Chanel for chandleries, handbags for halyards and the V&A for VHFs was no easy task. When in the yachting industry, one is miles away from the fast-paced, ever-changing cultural landscape of a city like London. With limited Internet, no access to current exhibitions, and no street style (or indeed, streets), documenting fashion at sea was sure to be a challenge. There is only so much one could say about deck shoes and epaulets!

Audrey - style inspiration whatever the landscape!

Audrey – style inspiration whatever the landscape!

Had this been the 1920s and ‘30s, the emerging resort wear would have inspired multiple commentaries on the latest nautical fashions. I might have written about the palatial superyachts of the well-dressed millionaires in Saint-Tropez and Monte Carlo, along with the contents of their wives’ Louis Vuitton steamer trunks. Or perhaps the arrival of Schiaparelli’s culottes, Vionnet’s silk beach pyjamas and Chanel’s Cruise collection; all innovative designs that signified the social change through which a new independent woman could emerge, tanned and tantalisingly free.  I found myself considering the link between the fashion world and the yachting world of the twenties, and how it translates to today. Whilst my initial musings settled on its evident demise, it slowly became apparent that this was not necessarily the case.

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It dawned on me that the owner of Nautor’s Swan, the company that built S/Y Nefertiti, is Leonardo Ferragamo, the director of the esteemed fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. Similarly, S/Y Creole, the largest wooden sailing yacht in the world, belongs to the Gucci family.  Sailing past her in Ibiza a couple of weeks ago, all the guests and crew on Nefertiti swooned over the army of model-like deckhands in yellow and brown striped Breton tops. In truth, yachting and fashion share a long and interesting history full of luxury, beauty and intrigue, and the two worlds continue to run parallel. Fashion designers continue to buy superyachts; beautiful women continue to grace the decks of beautiful yachts, wearing silk chiffon; Louis Vuitton luggage continues to evolve, and the yachting lifestyle continues to offer its fortunate participants the one luxury that remains priceless: freedom.  Being at sea is the perfect antidote to the often-suffocating city life. Resort wear designers, then and now, represent this freedom through clothes that are easy to pack, easy to clean and easy to wear.  Despite having moved on to greener – or indeed bluer – pastures, I hope to continue documenting fashion, and particularly the relationship between fashion and freedom. Writing this, I finally understand that ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only’ as Gabrielle Chanel very well knew. ‘Fashion is in the sky, in the street…’ and, it would seem, fashion also exists at sea.