Push the boat out

15 Jul 2023 by BusinessTraveller
Bellini Aquarama Varo HFM (credit_ Bellini Nautica)

The dolce vita (meaning ‘good life’ in Italian) glamour of post-war Italy was evoked on 11 June, 2023 at the official launch of a new partnership between the luxury boat company Bellini Nautica and French artist Xavier Casalta.

The focus of the party was a 1969 Riva Aquarama, a wooden powerboat lovingly restored by Bellini Nautica, and given a splash of 21st century retro style by the 31-year old artist, Casalta. The result is a unique craft that looks like it belongs in the Guggenheim or the Tate Modern, and it could be yours for around £1,000,000.

Bellini Aquarama Varo (image supplied by Bellini Nautica)

The Aquarama runabouts were produced by the famed Italian designer and yachtbuilder Carlo Riva from 1962 until 1996, and there are just 598 remaining around the world. With its sweeping wraparound windshield, gleaming mahogany deck, and centre sun-pad, the Aquarama is regarded as the most valuable vintage boat on the market. It was built to be fast and sexy, and was often referred to as the Ferrari of the boat world. It is as iconic of 1960s European glamour as Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Indeed, all three screen sirens owned a Riva, as did Prince Rainier of Monaco, and King Hussein of Jordan. An Aquarama was piloted by Clark Gable in the 1960 romantic comedy, It started in Naples, which also starred Loren. It featured in the James Bond movie, GoldenEye (1995); Ocean’s Twelve (2004); and Men In Black: International (2019). 

Jude Law piloted an Aquarama for Dior’s 2011 campaign. And in a 2013 episode of Top Gear, presenter Jeremy Clarkson piloted an Aquarama in Venice, describing it as “the most beautiful thing ever made”. 

Bellini Casalta Party (image supplied by Bellini Nautica)

Guests at this year’s launch, who comprised Bellini’s top clients, boat collectors, and media, were asked to dress in black and white, reminiscent of the days of black and white TV, Italian style, and la dolce vita. They arrived to the Bellini warehouse in Clusane on the shore of Lake Iseo, around 80km east of Milan, where, in a pool that is usually used for testing boats, was the 1969 Riva Aquarama, restored by Bellini Nautica, and reimagined by Xavier Casalta.

Founded in 1967 in Clusane, Bellini Nautica is the family-owned company that has traditionally been a leader in the sale of prestigious new and used boats. The company is now better known for restoring and trading vintage Rivas. This, along with the family’s strong interest in art, has led to a series of collaborations with international artists to personalise Aquaramas, making each one unique.

“Restoration of an Aquarama is like having a baby – it is a nine-month journey,” says Battista Bellini, CEO of Bellini Nautica, who represents the third generation of the family to run the company. “By collaborating with artists, we want to show that an Aquarama is not just a piece of art, but a piece of art that is still alive.”

In 2021, the interior of one of their Aquaramas was designed by Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash), one of the world’s top street artists. Last year, it was the turn of the Brazil-born founder of the Happy Art Movement, Romero Britto. 

Bellini Aquarama Varo (image supplied by Bellini Nautica) (1)

This year, Xavier Casalta has provided the artwork for the upholstery of an Aquarama. Most of his current work focuses on flowers and ancient architecture, and he likes to use the stippling technique, which involves millions of tiny black ink dots on paper. Some of his largest works are composed of over 50 million dots, and can take up to 2,500 hours to complete.

Casalta says he was given free reign by the Bellini company, but was apprehensive about imposing his ideas on the world’s most beloved powerboat: “At first I was a bit scared. I was thinking maybe it was not my place to customise something that is already iconic. So when I agreed to work on the project, I tried to keep it discrete, to not to take away from its vintage charm, and make it look too modern or contemporary. I wanted my design to look like it could have been released 50 years ago.”

He need not have worried. Battista Bellini says: “When we choose an artist, we choose someone who is in line with our philosophy, not just in the artwork, but in the overall feeling that we pursue together. The important thing for us in Bellini is to preserve the originality of the boat. With Xavier, we changed just the interior.”

Speaking at the launch, which was every bit as stylish as the boat on show, a beaming Bellini said: “Some people here will want to buy the boat. Others will want to visit the Bellini museum, and see the most complete collection of Riva Aquaramas in the world. Some of the visitors will rent an Aquarama, with our skipper, and travel across the lake, having the feeling of la dolce vita.”



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Business Traveller UK September 2023 edition
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