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Words with Dee Cooper, Virgin Voyages Senior VP of Design

01 Sep 2018
Dee Cooper Dee Cooper, SVP of Design for Virgin Voyages

VIRGIN VOYAGES: So, in your previous job, you designed the planes and airport lounges for Virgin Atlantic globally. Can you tell us a bit about that?

 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 of our design managers were 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 and who really challenged 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.

VV: You’ve mentioned applying that Virgin Atlantic approach here with Virgin Voyages...

 That partnership approach is what we set up again with Virgin Voyages. 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.

The Manor Render of The Manor designed by Roman & Williams

VV: When you reached out to design firms, what were you looking for and how did they view the projects?

 We purposefully 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 like the Standard in New York. We loved that high culture to casual approach from the Boom Boom Room to the Beer Garden they created there. 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 citizenM hotels in London. They all were good at clever design and creating spaces that we knew our customers would love.

VV: What kind of response did you get from the designers once you explained your vision?

For them the opportunity to create the ship experience was really exciting. These designers see 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. It’s all very exciting to them.

VV: What were some of the main contributions from Concrete Amsterdam?

 Concrete Amsterdam 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 something eye catching and stands out, something that people would recognize in their every day. It’s a jogging track — what’s a nicer thing you can do at sea than walk around or have a run and breathe sea air?

Dee Cooper Dee Cooper, SVP of Design for Virgin Voyages

VV: Concrete Amsterdam also designed the entire Athletic Club, the ship's gym-meets-social hangout. What made this stand out as a space?

 At the Aft of the Athletic Club we created an amazing, high catamaran net inspired by netting on yachts. The net lets our sailors see from Deck 16 down to 7 and beyond. It’s actually quite scary but it’s also really fun and relevant to a ship. It’s not just a random idea. It’s relevant and engaging, and allows our less adventurous customers to watch the antics from their giant sunbed. I think with all of our designers, we were trying to be relevant to what’s real on a ship. Since our creative premise was 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.

VV: 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.

VV: 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 and open spaces, especially for dancing. We decided to go with Roman and Williams here because of the strength of places they've done like the Boom Boom Room [in the Standard Hotel in NYC]. They know to create an atmospheric space.

VV: What was the thinking behind choosing Tom Dixon for specific spaces like the VIP Deck and the Mexican restaurant?

 The reason we chose Dixon for the VIP space goes back to that English eccentric glamorous style and he has great credibility. He created spaces like Shoreditch House in London. He also did the Mondrian at Sea Containers Hotel in London. He has defined sexy retro futurism.

VV: Is that why he was best for the more premium spaces on the ship?

 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.

VV: Thanks for talking to us. We can’t wait to Voyage!

“...we loved that they can also do spaces that are bit more eclectic and fun. Like glamorous grunge.”
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