It’s not easy to impress a billionaire, but the Skyacht One — an $83m customized private jet that takes to new heights the notion of airborne opulence — just might leave a Saudi prince or Silicon Valley magnate totally gobsmacked.
The Skyacht is the brainchild of former Disney executive and experiential designer Eddie Sotto, founder of SottoStudios/LA. But the aircraft he imagined is anything but cartoonish. Using the Embraer Lineage 1000E business jet as a platform, the Skyacht’s nautical- and navigation-themed interior fairly screams refined elegance and luxury — a high-flying paean to all things sumptuous and lavish.
What does $83m buy? Think details like a handmade brass-and-marquetry clock inspired by the renowned 15th-Century studiolo built for the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, Italy. Fornasetti rugs. British campaign-style furnishings. Loads of embossed leather. Bejeweled controls made of engraved brass, gold, platinum and silver. Brass inlaid window bezels surrounded by planked-mahogany panels. Shagreen-covered chairs. Intelligent cabin lighting that changes colors according to the time of day. And a richly appointed captain’s quarters (aka a bedroom) that would make a perfect lair for Captain Nemo Nemo – that is, if he’d gone capitalist and made millions commercializing the Nautilus for undersea intercontinental travel.
“I’m a big fan of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, so perhaps some of that leaked into the design,” says Sotto, once named by TED founder Richard Saul Wurman as one of America’s top 1,000 most creative people. “It’s fitting because in nautical culture, Captain Nemo is the biggest disruptor — and innovator — of all.”
The former senior vice president of concept design at Disney's Imagineering division, Sotto’s creative bona fides just might be genetic; his grandfather was a scenic and portrait artist at MGM Studios and an aunt was a costume illustrator and designer at Paramount and Universal before landing at Disney.
As such, the Skyacht embodies Sotto’s flair for cinematic, storytelling design and an affinity for authenticity. “I felt something was missing in the private-jet experience,” he says, noting that while many high-end aircraft are filled with elegant finishes and flourishes, they lack heart and soul — and a sense of story.
“Think of it this way: People of means drive cars like Bentleys and wear Cartier watches — items with a legacy of design that goes back generations,” he explains. “But aircraft, being so new, rely more on elegance and less on richness of design or story.
“My design process is more cinematic,” he continues. “I think like a movie director would think. I figure out what would elicit an emotional response — like ‘Wow!’ — and move backward from there. Call it form follows feeling.”
My design process is more cinematic. I think like a movie director would think. I figure out what would elicit an emotional response — like ‘Wow!’ — and move backward from there. Call it form follows feeling.
As the Skyacht’s name implies, Sotto found his design muse, oddly enough, in the classic wooden motor yachts of the mid-1900s, like the Chris-Craft Riviera. That inspiration is reflected in the belly of the Skyacht’s fuselage and on its stabilizer, which feature hand-painted faux mahogany “planks” that mimic those boats of yesteryear.
Sotto was inspired by one boat in particular: the Thunderbird, built in 1940 for millionaire playboy and real-estate mogul George Whittell Jr to use at his Thunderbird Lodge on Lake Tahoe. The Thunderbird’s DNA emerged from the gleaming fuselage of Whittell’s personal airplane, a classic Douglas DC-2, also called Thunderbird.
“The fact that George Whittell built a yacht to match his plane and it came out so beautiful taught me that those two worlds are closer than you think,” Sotto says. “I found it very exciting to think about a yacht that can fly.
“The romance of those classic yachts with their planks and joinery — the way they’re built, with all the engineering exposed — is timeless,” he says, “The craftsmanship is literally right before your eyes. Every line is an elegant sculptural element. Every plank of wood serves an aerodynamic purpose — they’re put together like a watch in a very precise way.”
Aside from vintage motor yachts, the qua sine non of the Skyacht’s design is the romance of Old World travel and navigation, as evidenced by the astrolabes, armillary spheres, charts and other navigational elements that repeat throughout the interior, right down to the Piero Fornasetti gold-plated dinner china. Those elements represent yet another nod to Sotto’s passion for authenticity and storytelling, which he says creates a far more emotional design than merely designing a building or a trendy interior.
Sotto says the Skyacht is aimed directly at people “who love disruption — who like to see impossible things happen. At Disney, I learned that impossible is not a barrier, it’s just a checkpoint.” The Skyacht has generated interest from confidential clients, but Sotto expects that customers will change the cabin configuration as designed and personalise the interior. “The $83m is a number that safely delivers what you see,” he says. “But customers will want to make changes in a bespoke way. This is merely a platform design — an invitation to dream.” Or wish upon a star.
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