Kelly Hoppen shares why she's living on the Edge with her cruise ship designs

By Michelle Johnson | 17 Sep 2019 | Style, Design, Speed

Tempus sets sail with interior design star Kelly Hoppen as she unveils the new look of luxury cruise ship, Celebrity Edge

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Known as the queen of taupe, it’s hard to believe that interior design icon Kelly Hoppen did not, in fact, invent the neutral palette. Her penchant for calm tones paired with lush fabrics has epitomised Hoppen’s work since she burst onto the scene more than 40 years ago. And now the ever-pioneering designer is making waves once again with her floating fortress of calm, Celebrity Edge.

The 1,500-berth liner is Celebrity Cruises’ newest flagship, combining state-of-the-art design with revolutionary technology to lessen its environmental impact. Onboard, guests can enjoy 29 restaurants and bars, an impressive spa and fitness centre, and a floating deck known as the Magic Carpet – which moves between the ship’s 13 storeys – all heralding a new look and feel for a brand committed to making cruising cool again.

Facilities aside, it is Edge’s design credentials that have sparked the imagination of all who attended the ship’s launch. Hoppen brings her distinctive style to the ship’s suites and rooms, Magic Carpet, 23-treatment room Spa and The Retreat. Available only to Suite Class guests, The Retreat features private members’ club facilities and bar, and the Luminae Restaurant helmed by Michelin-star chef Cornelius Gallagher.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she tells Tempus at the UK launch, a two-day excursion along the English Channel. We interview Hoppen in her favourite suite – the Penthouse – which boasts elegant furnishings, indoor-outdoor living space, fully fitted kitchen-diner and a spacious bathroom that defies any usual at-sea expectations.

Hoppen’s synergy with Celebrity was at first hard won – her initial reaction to the proposal was characteristically straightforward (“I was like, ‘Really? A cruise ship?’” she says), but CEO Lisa Lutoff- Perlo and VP of newbuilding architectural design, Kelly Gonzalez, soon convinced the South African-born designer of their vision. “They explained how Celebrity is very much in the forefront of design and wanted to do something that was completely unique. It was like ultimate girl power in one room, and just exploded from there,” she explains.

Hoppen’s partnership with Celebrity will now see her take on more designs for the planned Edge-class fleet – including the brand’s 2020 launch, Apex – and her dream is to one day design an entire ship “so customers can experience the flow you would get when we design an entire project”. Here, she tells us why size doesn’t matter when it comes to her projects, and how she adapted her earthy design philosophy for the high seas… >>

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Kelly, how did you approach a project of this scale?
The same amount of love and attention goes into every project we do, whether it’s a 60,000 sq ft home in Hong Kong or Beijing, a city apartment in London or New York, or even a hotel design. It’s not about thinking what the people utilising the space are going to say to you, it’s about finding the design that is perfect for the feel and space of the location. The ship hadn’t even been built when we began, so I designed everything based on the flatplan. When designing something like this, you take each suite and room as its own experience. I never get frightened by scale – as I used to teach in my school, you don’t look at the scale of a whole project, you just start at one point. It’s like walking down a staircase. You don’t worry about the step right at the bottom, you just take it all one at a time. That’s what life’s about, being in the now rather than worrying about what’s ahead of you.

The spa has a look and feel that is quite unique even within the ship...
Thank you, it does. You know, when you enter someone’s home you start with the entrance. I wanted the spa to be all about that feeling – the expectation and excitement of having that hour of relaxation to yourself. That’s why, for me, the spa really was all about the entrance. It’s like the first taste of the best risotto you’ve ever eaten. But then, with each suite I had a very clear idea of the experience I wanted to reference – the Penthouse is inspired by Mykonos – and so each one had to be completely different.

What were some of the technical and logistical challenges that you faced?
There were huge challenges. The technical crew worked tirelessly with our team to ensure we could make everything work within the safety and practicality measures we needed. What was amazing is that we were never once told ‘no’. They were so behind the vision, and that’s extremely rare, especially when you’re talking about a beast like this, which has to travel in high seas and be really solid. Movement is the biggest challenge as a designer. How do you make a chandelier stable and safe when you’re on water, and the whole ship can rock and move at any time? Weather changes in seconds, so how do we make sure the furniture can’t move and hurt anyone while still looking the way we want it to? You also have to think about the sustainability of the fabrics we use – they have to last through wear and tear.

Celebrity Edge is the brand’s most eco-friendly ship. Is that something that appealed to you?
It’s hugely important to me. Sustainability is in everything that we do, from my interiors to my jewellery line. On Edge, the entire ship is completely free of single-use plastics. Even the water bottles are aluminium, and they look fantastic, but it’s the result of a long time of planning and working out sustainable alternatives. People sometimes fall into the trap of thinking these changes can happen overnight, but for the first time we can see that everyone’s trying, listening to the environmental issues we’re facing. Any company with any credibility is now looking to be as green as they can. >>

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Do you think that up-and-coming designers are buying into that sustainable mindset?
Oh, 100 per cent. The younger generation was totally there before we were. I’m 60 this year, and when I started no-one thought the planet was ever going to be in danger from climate change, or that we’d destroy it like we have. We all thought it’d be fine in the end. We’re living in a different reality now, so I’m adamant that we have to take responsibility for our businesses and lifestyles. Our studio in London is completely green, and we try to do everything we can to maintain and improve that. I have a big following of both women and men, and I mentor young people through my work with The Prince’s Trust, so every day on our Instagram account we try to put something positive out there. I also want to support and champion women because I think however different we are, we’re also very similar, and the older I get the more extraordinary, powerful, honest women I meet.

The Kelly Hoppen style is so distinctive; could you tell us about your own evolution as a designer?
My design philosophy is a life philosophy. Even when I first started, everything I did started in the ground – in being rooted in the earth – and although that core has remained the same, it never stops growing. It can change with new accessories, colours, whatever, but ultimately my philosophy has remained the same. It’s all about creating spaces for people to fully live in – it’s about the experience, the touch, smell and sound, not just individual pieces. I think that in the past, interior design was all about the look, but that’s not enough. You have to engage all the senses. So, the evolution of my brand has always been about how we do that better every time.

Did you expect your brand would become such a prominent name in the industry?
I did. Just like I knew this project would turn out exactly the way I planned. People often ask me, ‘Did you ever think you’d be as successful as you are?’ and the answer is ‘Yes’. That’s how I feel – I would never do something in my career if I didn’t think it could be successful. You get back the energy that you put into something; that’s the secret. If I walked in here now and was really grumpy, you’d be grumpy back. But if I wake up every morning and say, ‘I’m grateful for everything I’ve got, my health, my family; today is going to be a great day and I’m going to enjoy it,’ you tend to find that comes true. Of course, shit happens. But when it does you try and process it, deal with in the moment and not carry it with you. I’m a positive person, but I’m really passionate about my work – I wouldn’t still be working if I wasn’t.

Do you think the resurgence of cruising will change the travel industry?
I think the proof is in the pudding. The travel industry is suffering, but luxury cruising isn’t. I think people today expect to have the best, to have something unique, and they should. Everyone deserves something special.

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