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So who are the geniuses of the moment? Enter a couple of down-to-earth boys who don’t comprehend the word ‘ordinary’. I am referring of course to the eccentric duo Mick Leach and Mark Smith, who head up the team at Michael Leach Design with more than 45 years of yacht design experience between them. On meeting the pair, you might think they were casting for a scene in ‘The Blues Brothers’ such is their casual demeanour, their wit and unassuming view of life. But don’t be fooled: Mick and Mark take a very serious view of design. They reinvent themselves every time they draw a yacht, thinking out of the box, living out their design brief and continuously coming up with extraordinary vessels for the most visionary of owners. Based deep in the leafy Hampshire New Forest just outside Lymington (a known mecca for world renowned yacht designers), the single storey converted farm outbuilding which is their office looks politely sedate compared to what lies within: a modern technical office, with a staff of four, an area with huge sofas for the ‘thinking moments’ and a smattering of models of yachts completed and underway. So how did this dynamic duo take the world by storm, seemingly overnight? They met in 1984 at Coventry Polytechnic where they were both studying transport design. Mick Leach recalls: “one week we were designing the Ferraris of the future, the next we were designing hospital trolleys.” Mark started by doing technical illustration in Southampton. “I was a technical illustrator and went to work for an aircraft company drawing the parts and maintenance manuals. But I can’t just draw someone’s else’s designs.” Neither had any experience in designing yachts, until they both got jobs with yacht designers: Mick with Ed Dubois and Mark with Martin Francis. Mick went on to work with Terence Disdale for seven years on several projects including the Tigre d’Or series of yachts, before deciding to set up his own business in 1996. His break came at the launch of one of the Tigre d’Or series of yachts, where he was invited by Tim Wiltshire from Burgess, representing a yacht owner, to produce drawings for what would become the 61.5 metre Amels built Solemar. Mick won the job, and Mark joined the company three years later. Being in the right place at the right time thrust Michael Leach Design (MLD) into the limelight, but it was the yacht itself that sealed their reputation. When Solemar was put up for sale on completion, she became a showcase for their business. Mick says: “If it hadn’t been for Burgess and Amels we wouldn’t be where we are now. They believed in us, we were part of a great team.” From among the potential purchasers who came to view Solemar, the duo received commissions for two ski chalets and the 67 metre motor yacht Anna, which catapulted them into even bigger yachts. Then came the 96 metre Palladium, which won them worldwide accolades in 2011 including a ‘Neptune’ award at the ‘Oscars’ ceremony of the superyacht world and six further design awards. Spinning off from this, more chalets, houses, helicopters and aeroplanes have followed, many for repeat clients. What appears to be so attractive to discerning clients is the way in which these two work: we start from the bones and make it work properly, we both enjoy the reasons why. We love to work closely with owners so that we can really understand what works for them and what doesn’t. You have to understand the whole ethos. It helps that they have a full understanding of working materials - aluminium, steel, fibreglass, everything: no one can pull the wool over their eyes. Before college, Mick completed an engineering apprenticeship, which included machining, electrical, welding and fabrication work – he has a 100 percent grasp of the practicalities. And both designers are perfectionists. “We like to work with owners who seek perfection,” says Mark, indignant at the very idea of short cuts. “This is a bespoke piece of kit, there is no reason why every piece should not be bespoke. It is unforgivable to see what is being dished out by some people.” Of course, they are working with people who have the budget to do it. “We don’t take on a lot of projects, but the ones we do, we want to do properly. We will spend a week designing a door handle! You have to understand the difference between production and bespoke. A potential client at the top of his tree expects the best of everything and will have a watch that has been developed for five years, plus a car and an aeroplane… everything is perfect, every element is perfect.” This attitude applies on all their projects, large or small, from a horsebox to an entire island. Design quality and originality are essential, whatever the scale of the project - it’s the MLD mindset. Recent years have seen common hulls and engineering packages being sold, but MLD see a renaissance in clean sheet design, which suits them just as well. “We are happy to work with both ‘pre-engineered’ and ‘clean sheet’ design,” says Mark. “Partly because we have been so well-supported by the Burgess technical team over the years. This has lead to a great working relationship that is of great benefit to our projects and proposals, especially when designing without a shipyard package.” So where do they think superyacht design is going? “There is a crazy, younger bunch who are pushing it with crazy proposals,” laughs Mick. “And there should be that element that pushes design. Now is the time to be a concept designer, to get the design job on a whiz-bang boat that might not be realistic on paper, but will be made… although it won’t look like the piece of paper they sold it on. Here at MLD we sell realism from the outset.” The future looks busy for Michael Leach Design. They are working on some big projects, which they promise “t’will blow your mind!” I can’t wait. design { 48 }


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