By Sigurd Neubauer
“I am a bit of a dictator at the office; I demand that things are done the way I want them,” exclaims Germán Frers, 81. He is one of the world’s foremost yacht designers. Over a storied 60- year long career, he’s designed over 800 yacht projects around the world. “More than 800 boats have been built because selective designs have been used by boat manufacturers,” he adds.
The designer célèbre enjoys long-standing relationships with Nautor Swan, Hallberg-Rassy, Sirena Marine, and Queen Long Hylas Yachts, among others. He’s also working on various custom projects for individual power and sailboats but delivers about 20 projects per year.
His children, Mia, Germán, Silvestre, Zelmira, and Victoria, and now grandson, Germán, have joined the family trade as well. But the family business will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year as it was established by Germán’s father, Germán J. Frers, in 1925.
Born in 1899, Germán J. Frers studied engineering but saw himself more as an artist and began sailing in 1925 when he designed his first boat, Frers explains. “He did good design work throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.” He died in 1986.
The father-and-son formed a strong bond. “We were close, despite the difference in age, and we had many good conversations together, especially when out sailing together.” The younger Frers started sailing as a seven-month-old baby. “My father was passionate about sailing and yachting, and he was also a very charming man,” the designer célèbre recalls.
A blueprint of The Mirage, which Frers drew as a 16 year old in 1958
My father was sort of an amateur who didn’t care too much about the business side of the work
Frers’ early exposure to the nautical world inspired him to follow in his father’s footsteps, along with his two brothers, Pepe and Roberto, who joined the family business. In 1958, when Frers was 16, he designed his first boat, the Mirage. It was a 32-foot regatta sailboat and the first made of fiberglass in Argentina. From there, the young man departed the same year for New York City to take a job at Sparkman & Stephen, “which at the time was the best yacht design company in the world,” Frers says. He spent three years there but eventually returned to Argentina “because my father was sort of an amateur who didn’t care too much about the business side of the work,” he says, then quips: “In New York, I learned how to make money from my profession.”
The self-imposed pressure to earn a living was real as Frers had gotten married in 1968 to Susana Navarro Ocampo. In 1970, with two young children, the family returned to Buenos Aires to be closer to family while working for the family business. The following year, the Frers family made a name for itself by designing yacht Matrero followed by the Reculta in 1973. “From that point on, we started getting orders,” he recalls.
Frers’ design work has received numerous international awards, including:
- William Snaith Memorial Trophy 1974, U.S
- Le bouchon d’Or Francia 1981, France
- International Superyacht Society Leadership Award 1992, U.S.
- Compasso d’ Oro 2004, Italy
- SAILING Today Lifetime Achievement Award 2015, United Kingdom
- ShowBoats Design Awards – Lifetime Achievement award 2014
Germán is clearly the most popular male name within the Frers dynasty. His son, for instance, is also named Germán (Mani) Frers and studied naval architecture at Southampton University in the United Kingdom. “Mani’s son, Germán, who got his start at the Venetian Cup Regatta, works with him from Milan, Italy,” the grandfather proudly exclaims. But the first Germán Frers Lynch, who died in 1908, was the grandfather of the designer célèbre.
“My son and I work well together, but we both have strong egos,” Frers explains as a matter of fact, pointing out that the two of them work independently. “We want to make sure what’s ours is ours. My son doesn’t like the idea of being his father’s son. We all have the same name so sometimes it becomes confusing,” he notes wryly.
The father-and-son each have an independent entity, but collaborate occasionally, especially on scientific, performance, and speed prediction programs. “My son and I sail together a lot, including on each other’s boats as our relationship is warm and friendly.”
But did the son face pressure to join his father as a yacht designer? “No, it was his choice. He was always interested in sailing together as a child.”
Daughter Zelmira Frers is the author of The Story Behind Recluta, a 200-page photographic documentary that portrays the heritage of Argentina’s shipbuilding tradition starting with that of her grandfather. The book launch took place “during Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez where her 80-year-old father was skippering the restored version of a yacht his father first worked on during World War II,” according to Yacht Style.
On why she decided to write a book on the family legacy, Frers says: “I had always looked at my father’s work from a distance, but I didn’t really understand it until I started taking pictures of yacht construction. While working on documenting his work with photos, I had the opportunity to have long conversations with him; I asked him about his projects; his thoughts on design; and his childhood memories.” Through their conversations, the jeune femme was able to understand the relationship between her father and grandfather as well.
For three years, she carefully filmed and photographed every detail of the Recluta’s construction, immersing herself in the working routine of her father and his team of naval carpenters.
“I believe that the history of a community or a culture is built by small individual voices. There are stories that bear witness to changes in times and traditions. In this particular case, the Recluta is testimony to a thriving period in Argentina, when the naval industry was at its peak, the time of my grandfather. Today, this industry lives in a different reality. In this book I wanted to immortalize part of the beauty in the history of Argentina’s naval development, and its silent protagonists,” Frers says.
Commenting on what surprised her the most, Frers points out that “it was the taste of the unexpected,” which she says, “was something beautiful to watch as I witnessed a craft I thought no longer existed.”
Zelmira Frers, who is an interior designer by training but studied architecture at the California College of the Arts, recently joined her father’s studio. “I find it very interesting to think of spaces with curves, and to try to maximize the space in an enclosed volume. One has less freedom than in normal architecture, but the challenge is more exciting,” she says, pointing out that she enjoys ‘thinking outside of the box.’ By that, Frers reveals that she’s currently working on the interior of a new 42-foot Catamaran. “I still have a long way to go, but I am very happy with this experience. It’s nice to work with my father; I can ask him things and rely on his experience. We have many nice conversations.”
The seven month old baby Germán Frers began sailing with his father in 1942
Inspiration and high-profile clients
On how the designer célèbre draws inspiration, Frers, the father, reveals that “inspiration has to do with the sport of sailing and racing. I still race today, not the grand prix, but classic. One always has sailing in mind when coming up with new concepts and solutions.” Inspiration, he says, is always important as he finds new ways to innovate. “Today, yacht design is more of a science and not so much about inspiration because we have lots of good computer tools.”
Frers’ primary focus is interior design with an emphasis on lines and shapes below and above the water lines. On how this works in practice, the designer points out that he’s
learned the construction design but translating his vision into actual plans is carried out by his staff of 9, all of whom live in Buenos Aires. His team is comprised of naval engineers and designers. But because of the country’s economic malaise and volatile politics, the Frers family are reconsidering all options, including leaving Argentina altogether. His grandson Germán – who lives in Milan with his family – has his studio there.
Frers, the father, has worked with world leaders and successful personalities but doesn’t want to drop names, he says as he values their privacy and confidentiality. “My clients tend not to get involved in yacht design but trust me. Some are very knowledgeable and know exactly what they want while others let me do what I wish, and I hope for the best.” Some of his famous clients include the Royal family of Spain, and Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli (1921-2003), among others, according to a company biography.
His success, Frers explains, rests on that he doesn’t repeat designs. “When I start, I start with a clean sheet of paper and try to improve over what I have done before. That’s what I like best myself.” He’s currently working on a 200-foot mega yacht.
When I start, I start with a clean sheet of paper and try to improve over what I have done before. That’s what I like best myself
Setting himself apart
What sets you apart? “My father was very interested in the esthetics; between our liberator José de San Martín (1778-1850) and Sophia Loren there are only a few millimeters, ” he said. But they were quite important,” Frers recalls.
Martín was an Argentine soldier, statesman, and national hero who helped lead the revolutions against Spanish rule in Argentina (1812), Chile (1818), and Peru (1821), according to Britannica.
Frers works with Hallberg-Rassy, and yacht companies in Germany, Taiwan, and France. For Hallberg-Rassy, he designs an entire fleet. The designer célèbre doesn’t have any exclusivity agreements with any of the manufacturers. “Exclusivity is useless because the day that they don’t like what you do, they change it. It doesn’t have any value.” He has, nonetheless, been the exclusive designer for Nautor for the last 40 years.
All images are credited to the Frers family.
Exclusivity is useless because the day that they don’t like what you do, they change it. It doesn’t have any value