Getting Virgin Voyages ready to set sail

Ever wondered how to design a floating city? We spoke to Dee Cooper, Senior Vice President of Design at Virgin Voyages, to find out...

Dee Cooper is no stranger to the world of designing spaces for travellers, having previously led design and experience for all aspects of Virgin Atlantic from airport lounges to aircraft. But even with that experience, where do you begin when you’re creating a look for a brand-new ocean liner? Over to Dee…

First, can you tell us a bit about your design work for Virgin Atlantic?

I went to work for Virgin Atlantic in 1994, as its only designer. We set up a new way to approach design management as all our design managers are designers themselves; everybody had a creative background. Then we would partner with amazing design agencies from around the world. We would try to choose talent that had never done this stuff before who were really challenging the status quo. Then, together with the Virgin design team, we would create the new seat, aircraft interior, or lounge. It was very much a combined effort.

You’ve mentioned applying that partnership approach here with Virgin Voyages.

Yes. We knew we wanted people who had fresh thinking and who were doing amazing things that we all love on land. Then, to bring that thinking to the sea and help define our brand.

What were you looking for in new design firms?

We purposely chose people who were famous for creating lifestyle spaces we all loved around the world. Roman and Williams were chosen because of what they’ve done with places such as the Standard in New York. We loved that ‘high culture to casual’ approach. We chose Tom Dixon because he is the quintessential modern eccentric and Virgin Voyages needed that. And Concrete Amsterdam because they were fantastic at creating very experiential environments that were fun, like what they did with citizen hotels in London.

How did the designers respond to your vision?

For them, the opportunity to create the ship experience was really exciting. They saw it as an opportunity to partner with Virgin, to challenge the status quo and the cruise industry, and to bring a more modern, contemporary, creative and lifestyle design approach to the seas.

Tell us about the highlights of Concrete Amsterdam’s contribution.

They created the jogging track around the top of the ship. We wanted an active area, someplace positive where you can be outside, and they came back to us and said, “Why don’t you have a raised, red jogging track?” It’s eye-catching and something that people recognise from their everyday life. And what’s nicer to do at sea than have a run and breathe the sea air?

And what about Concrete Amsterdam’s work on the athletic club?

At the aft of the Athletic Club we created an amazing high catamaran net inspired by netting on yachts. It lets our sailors see from Decks 16 down to 7 and beyond, and watch the antics from their giant sunbed. We were trying to be relevant to what’s real on a ship. Since our creative premise is around ‘The Modern Romance of Sailing’, we wanted to be honest about the fact that we are at sea and we wanted to celebrate that.

Was that why you chose Roman and Williams for The Dock? Their expertise in creating outdoor spaces?

Yes, Roman and Williams worked on the outdoor lounge space we’re calling The Dock. They can do so much as a firm, but we loved that they can also do spaces that are a bit more eclectic and fun, like glamorous grunge. Not very many people can do that well.

Roman and Williams also worked on the nightlife space, The Manor. How was that concept presented to them?

Nightclubs on ships don’t tend to focus on atmosphere, as a good nightclub should: lighting, navigation, hidden spaces and open spaces. We went with Roman and Williams here because of the strength of places they’ve done like the Boom Boom Room at the Standard. They know how to create an atmospheric space.

What was the thinking behind choosing Tom Dixon for the VIP Deck and the Mexican restaurant?

That goes back to his English eccentric glamorous style, and he has great credibility. He created Shoreditch House and the Mondrian Sea Containers Hotel in London. He has defined sexy retro futurism.

Is that why he was best for the more premium spaces?

Exactly! There’s no point asking Tom Dixon to do the more regular spaces because that’s not his style. We knew we wanted to ask him to do more premium spaces that were hyper glamorous and fun.

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