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How Fashion Icon Leonardo Ferragamo Turned Nautor Swan Into a Sailing Powerhouse

by multimill
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Leonardo Ferragamo may have inherited his designer father Salvatore’s love of alta moda, or high fashion, but sailing rules his heart. This deep-seated passion prompted the Florence-raised fashion magnate, who started racing at 15 aboard a Flying Dutchman, to acquire a controlling interest in the Finnish sailing yacht builder Nautor Swan in 1998.

Just as he helmed his family’s fashion label to global success, Ferragamo envisioned transforming Nautor Swan into “an international brand” by marrying Finnish craftsmanship with Italian design. Twenty-five years on, it has exceeded even his wildest expectations, becoming a brand known far beyond the sailing world. Nautor Swan builds 100-foot-plus Maxi racing/cruising yachts for its wealthiest clients and a series of smaller one-design race boats for sailors who love competition as much as the Maxi owners.

Swan Maxi Raceboat

A Maxi Swan competing in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo.

Carlo Borlenghi

When Ferragamo purchased the Finnish yard, he also created ClubSwan, the company’s high-performance arm. He wanted to bring back racing—“instinctive to every sailor,” he says—to Swan owners. “It existed already, but it needed to go to the next level,” Ferragamo tells Robb Report. “When I acquired the company, I said, ‘Before we look for new clients, let’s make sure we serve everybody who has believed in Swan in the past.’”

The new business model not only created the many Swan racing series but also provided technical assistance and services like insurance to owners, as well as perks for being a member of the club. It proved instrumental to Swan’s rebirth, says Ferragamo, “by expanding the experience and enjoyment of the product.”

ClubSwan Racing.

ClubSwans count among the competitors in the Rolex Giraglia Race in Saint-Tropez.

Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

ClubSwan has become, in fact, a tight-knit community of yacht owners who gather together at a host of racing series and events from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean.

This year’s Swan Maxi Series for the largest raceboats, some wandering into superyacht territory, constituted seven events, starting from the RORC Caribbean 600 in Antigua in February to the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo last month, where the world’s elite sailors battled it out on highly technical yachts, many with professional captains and crew. The formidable Rolex Middle Sea Race, a grueling, nonstop 606-mile event, wraps up the series later this month in Valletta, Malta.

Nautor Swan Maxi racing

The Maxi races typically have professional crew.

Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

The relatively new Swan Mediterranean Series had events this year at the ORC Europeans in Malta, the Rolex Giraglia in Saint-Tropez and Genoa, and at this week’s Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, where classic and contemporary models meet on the water. On the other side of the Atlantic, Swan owners converged in Newport in June for the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta as part of the Swan North American Series.

Meanwhile, ClubSwan has seen encouraging growth in its one-design racing division, which is more accessible to sailors who love to race but don’t have the time or resources for a Maxi yacht. The owner-driver format spurs fierce-but-friendly competition.  

ClubSwan one-design racing.

Swan One-Design Worlds competition.

Carlo Raciti/carloraciti.com

In June, 28 race teams skippered by owners of ClubSwan 36, ClubSwan 42, and ClubSwan 50 yachts gathered in Porto Cervo for the highly competitive the Nations Trophy, hosted by Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. Teams peppered with professionals, including Olympic medallist and Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper Ian Walker, competed in coastal and inshore races for individual points in their respective classes while striving to add to their nation’s overall tally.

Ferragamo, who skippers his ClubSwan 50 Cuordileone, is particularly fond of one-design racing in which owners and crew sail in nearly identical boats. “You are neck and neck the whole time. You’re also having much more fun when racing and just completely concentrating on the human factor,” he says.

Leonardo Ferragamo aboard Cuordileon.

Leonardo Ferragamo at the helm of Cuordileone.

Carlo Borlenghi

The human factor is not simply a group of sailors out for a quick sail and waiting to return to the yacht club for a celebratory Prosecco. “You have to push really hard if the level of your class is high,” says Stefano Rizzi, who has crewed on America’s Cup raceboats and in the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race. “It’s up to you and your crew if you arrive first or last.”

German-flagged Hatari, helmed by Marcus Brennecke, won the ClubSwan 50 class for the fourth consecutive Nations Trophy, clocking a top speed of 26 knots. “I love the competition. I love nature. I love the people. Racing offers balance in life as I work very hard,” he tells Robb Report. Brennecke has raced his boat in Sardinia, Mallorca, Menorca, and Tuscany. “Sometimes, my family can join me, so they can also have fun. I had my son on board for the last two days.”

ClubSwan Racing

The ClubSwan 50 Early Bird at The Nations Trophy.

Carlo Raciti/carloraciti.com

This combination of competitive sailing and family time on the water has propelled Swan’s growth. It has also distinguished the brand from every other sailboat maker in the world.

Nautor Swan promises to have a bright future, since Ferragamo’s son Edo, a 31-year-old musician, is also a passionate sailor. Edo and his crew, aboard his Swan 36, also named Cuordileone, took second place in the Nations Trophy. The boat is distinguished by a futuristic C-shaped foil. “It’s very technical and very physical—to steer it downwind at 23 knots is a real adrenaline rush,” Edo says.

ClubSwan 50 series.

A ClubSwan 50 race start at The Nations Trophy in Porto Cervo.

Carlo Raciti/carloraciti.com

“We’re celebrating something that is, in a way, more important than the company itself,” says Ferragamo. “It’s the gathering of so many people who are passionate owners and connected. It’s their friends, guests and crew. It’s even the people who want to be close to Swan, even if they don’t sail one.”

The Swan world promises to grow even larger, thanks to the recent launch of its new entry-level racer, the ClubSwan 28.

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