LuxExposé sits down with Edward Sotto, president of SottoStudios, the company behind astounding projects Skyacht One, SkyRanch and Regatta, a perfect Rolls-Royce to compliment any yacht or plane.
Lux Exposé: What started you on this journey to create the extraordinary in Luxury?
These things begin in secret. I had been working on a UHNW commission to do a residence and it was truly an intellectual adventure, as I had to take everything I learned at Disney and apply it to channelling the client and dimensionalizing their personality as a place.
The edict we designed to was “the closer you look, the better it gets, and the pleasure comes from that discovery.” As in nature, you’re creating worlds within worlds. Of course, you can never show or discuss these projects in any specificity, but following that, I was addicted to creating these “worlds” based on a story or a person. It all went kind of beyond Disney. Following this, i was asked what I’d like to do next, or what seemed ripe for this story based approach. It was surprising that the interiors of private aircraft seemed elegant yet soulless compared to a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, or even the providence of a Cartier watch or Hermes bag.
Aviation was engineering driven, not emotive. Where is the “wow” or romance? Our process is similar to that of designing for a movie where you read the script, find the emotion in each page and design to support that or help convey it. We look for what you sense first, as “form follows feeling,” versus only function. The interiors of classic yachts with all that wood joinery thrilled me, reading of Bogart and Bacall on the Santana or Errol Flynn dotting the globe in his notorious Zaca. This made me ask “what if a yacht could fly?” Later infusing the spectacular Embraer Lineage 1000e jet with the interior of a reimagined yacht, or what we know as Skyacht One. The Robb Report magazine published our final imagery in their ultimate gift guide that year and it went viral.
Lux Exposé: Is this a dream you’ve always had growing up?
Perhaps. I recall a class project in 5th grade where the teacher asked each student to design their own dream house and many came back with what you would expect and much ado about style, size of rooms, etc. We had just been on a field trip to the airport to tour the first Boeing 747, lush with a upper lounge and piano in those days. i was of course, smitten by this, and proposed as my dream house, a bespoke 747 with a Black Lincoln Continental Mark III in the hold. The teacher was not amused and gave me a bum grade for that because it was not a typical home.
Maybe it starts by asking what a dream is and starting there, versus just assuming it’s a literal house. As a kid i was more interested in what thrilled me first and then going for that, than making a monster mansion with a chandelier in the foyer. I love designing things, but am not addicted to the objects or acquisition of them, as contentment to me is your point of view, and not the temporary pleasure of items as they can be gone at any moment (like 2008!) So my luxury is getting the opportunity to create for others and the challenge of doing things no one has seen before. Maybe that was it?
Lux Exposé: What is your background?
At one time I was SVP of concept design at Walt Disney Imagineering (design arm that does resorts and theme parks), so you learn to work with top level engineers and that solving seemingly impossible tasks is why you are there. We call it “hard fun”.The discipline of that job teaches you that things have to deliver visually, but also function at a demand level that is pretty high. I left there to pursue amount other things, “persona design”, meaning developing an individual’s own personal brand through design, be it their car, plane, home or just their lifestyle. I channel the client’s personality and help them create their image, all very confidential.
Being born in Hollywood, my family has roots in the film industry as my Aunt Marilyn Sotto, was a costume illustrator and designer for Edith Head at Paramount and Universal Studios, and my grandfather was a scenic artist at MGM before becoming an agent. So I grew up around that and became fascinated with set design and studio backlots when I was about 12, ending up learning design from set designers and those who personally worked for Walt Disney himself. Humbling experience for sure! So that’s where my design process comes from.
Lux Exposé: What is your latest project?
As Skyacht One was an answer to why your plane is not as romantic as your Rolls-Royce, we realized we had done so much in the plane that we were compelled to go back and raise the bar of the Rolls-Royce a bit. This fueled a desire to see how well we could revive the one-off artisanal Roll-Royce legacy back into their beautiful Wraith as the ultimate nautical yacht tender. As with anything you want to raise the bar, but the execution had to be there. Jay Beever, the design director at Embraer introduced me to Clive Hawkins, a fellow perfectionist who runs Aria-Group, a company that builds everything from limited run vehicles, like the Singer 911, to aircraft interiors. The idea had found it’s collaborator. So we joined forces with a combined passion, bringing marquetry, engraving, imagination (and a body of planked mahogany) as an homage to Roll’s own Phantom Boattail legacy.
We are also doing something that responds to the trend of luxury being more bespoke, relaxed and casual. I wanted to use materials that are less precious and glossy and bring natural beauty to the forefront to lend a more stress free vibe. Privacy and a sense of being are luxuries in their own way and we wanted to do something that responds to all of that. One of the last “wide open spaces” is being airborne, so doing a SkyRanch that delivers more “head in the clouds” state of mind was the priority. Embraer’s design director Jay Beever was excited about the idea and showed me their exclusive giant portrait window, a real wow. We worked together to integrate that into the theme as the center of a living room. I wanted to do seats that were modular like a dressage riding saddle to allow quick customization and softer surfaces. After developing the design a bit more, Jay wanted to see how the SkyRanch idea would work in their Lineage, Embraer’s biggest airship. The entry is a natural arch of semi precious “tiger’s eye” and a few more tributes to nature. Everyone gets caught up in the bison horn water/beer tap in the bar, and the horn rimmed window frames. Truthfully, it’s Embraer’s big window that is getting the most attention because it fits the concept seamlessly. Our SkyRanch look can be adapted to any aircraft, but we sure like that big window!
Lux Exposé: We find your extreme unique creations fascinating! You’ve referenced instruments like astrolabes and armillary spheres in Skyacht One. Fine details such as these are the fabric of luxury. Tell us more about the inspirations behind these designs.
Sure. Great pieces all have a great story. The Cartier “Santos” watch we know today was designed in honor of Santos-Damont the Brazilian aviation pioneer. Navigation and mapping the stars has been the foundation that has and still guides ships and planes today. It is the language of adventure and exploration. The imagery for some, brings on Jules Verne, but in reality, Sextants, Armillary Spheres, Retes, and so forth have been the language of discovery since the ancients invented them. They were elegantly depicted by royalty in the Studiolos of Italy in marquetry cabinets, so I thought that would be a great story to infuse into both the car and the aircraft. The customer can decide if they want to do something different, but the DNA (dynamic narrative adventure) is there.
Lux Exposé: What was your motivation behind Regatta?
We designed our previous project, a private aircraft called Skyacht One in response to an observation. “Why is your private plane experience not as rich or romantic as your Rolls Royce or Bentley?” When we were done infusing the plane with the details of a handmade classic yacht, we realized we had surpassed the car that spawned it, so we went back to raise the bar and revisit the Rolls Royce. In doing so, we set out to revive it’s handmade legacy as well. It was so transformed, we named it Regatta. The perfect compliment to any yacht or plane. We can customize the woods to a virtually endless palette so each one is special and unique.
Lux Exposé: I see. What is this “legacy” you speak of? Rolls Royce offers a nautical version right now.
True, and it’s very nice, but it does not go to the extent of their own Phantom Torpedo “Boattail” or “Skiff” cars of the past. Those vehicles had hardwood planking over most of the vehicle and at the highest level of craft, much like the Chris Craft or Riva powerboats of that time. We sought to really make the wood and it’s exposed joinery the “wow” feature, just as Rolls Royce had, and frankly, as the Skyacht One does today. The interior follows suit as Rolls interior had much inlay and marquetry.
Lux Exposé: How durable is that? Can it really be done?
Yes, and to the extent you maintain the wood on a boat which is in the elements, you care for the Regatta. Today we can use many new methods and materials to apply and protect the veneers. To your point, I was concerned about the execution of this car, given the interior marquetry and engraving that is the handmade essence of what we are doing, so I was thrilled to join forces with Aria Group here in California. They build and engineer aircraft interiors and limited production cars, including the incredible reimagined “Singer 911”, the ultimate Porsche custom that appears vintage, yet the body is carbon fiber! A stunning achievement and so popular there’s a 2 year waiting list. After touring their plant and sensing the absolute manic taste for precision they have, felt Regatta, the “ultimate Rolls Royce” should be built there. Execution is everything.
Lux Exposé: Ok, so what about cost and delivery?
We are taking a new base model Wraith based on the customer’s preferences and building the Regatta atop of that, so it depends on the feature set of the base car. Clients are looking at least a million for something handmade like this, very special. Hope to have number one on the road in 6 to 9 months. We plan to scan the entire base car so the fit of our parts is dead on.
SottoStudios/LA | 150 S Barrington Ave 4 | Los Angeles, CA 90049 | 310 472 5216