When a stone is dropped into a still lake, the ripples emanating out from the epicenter spread endlessly in 360-degrees, and, as during his life, Carlo Riva and his beloved hometown of Sarnico, Italy, generated waves of emotion throughout the yachting industry on the morning of 10th April when the sad news of his passing broke. Born on the 24th February 1922 as the third generation into a shipyard founded by his grandfather Pietro Riva and developed by his father Ernesto, Carlo embraced the peerless passion, appreciation for personality and far-sightedness inherent of his birthright.
In the coming days much will be written of the Maestro di Mare and entirely justifiably words like ‘icon, legend and master’ will be attached to his name, but to us Carlo Riva was so much more… he was one of the few true yachting pioneers that transcends the industry and who’s name will echo down through the pages of cultural history. In much the same way as the most famous and prized artists and musicians are valued for being the creators of a genre and influencers of those that follow, so Carlo Riva contributed a vital and integral part to an entire cultural movement. To fully understand what Carlo Riva achieved however, one has to understand the period of time he blossomed in and the movement he contributed to.
Set against the background of a prolonged period of economic austerity and widespread human suffering, the celebration of ‘joie de vivre’ and ‘la dolce vita’ in 1950’s post-war Europe must have initially appeared grossly hedonistic and horribly indulgent to those still adhering to the established order and living in fear of nuclear annihilation. Thus, those who promoted the celebration of life, leisure and flamboyant self-expression must have been viewed as somewhat subversive. It was during this time that Frenchman Louis Réard launched the explosive two-piece swimsuit called ‘bikini’, the defiantly sexual Elvis gyrated his way into young lady’s hearts and authors like Kerouac, Hemmingway and Ginsberg broke new literary ground.
By the 1950’s Riva yachts had already become synonymous with elegance, status and perfection, with each boat lovingly crafted with traditional values and a boundless measure of unique passion. But Carlo Riva recognized it wasn’t just the design and construction that would play an important role in the success of the family business, but also innovative new marketing techniques worldwide and the embracing of production line methods back home at the shipyard. In building a brand and improving production efficiency, whilst still remaining faithful to the Riva philosophy of precision craftsmanship and achingly beautiful design, Carlo created a place for Riva in the hearts of aristocrats, award winning athletes, successful businessmen and movie stars. One barely need mention how Riva became a focal point of the day’s culture, for no glamorous photograph of the era that features Sean Connery, Britt Ekland, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren or Peter Sellers is complete without them lounging on a yacht bearing the celebrated marque.
It was during this period that some of the Riva jewels that are so highly valued for embodying the charm of celebrated love stories, the allure of glittering movie stars and encapsulating so perfectly a golden era, were created. From the Riva Junior, through the Aquarama, Corsaro and right up to the visionary Caravelle superyacht series, each model that Riva produced was yet another stunning hit. Amongst them was the Ariston, of which Carlo Riva said; “ it was designed with love, born pure and strong like a pedigree horse. Unforgettable! It was my Lord of the Sea.” The Tritone followed (the first two-engine yacht), then the Sebino (which marked the beginning of series production), and then the Florida, whose name evokes the American model that was particularly fashionable in those years.
A courageous business innovator, talented artist, visionary marketer and a contributor and catalyst for cultural change, the name of Carlo Riva will endure and long be revered. He may have left us physically, but, having poured his heart and soul into each of the mesmerizing craft he produced, through these floating works of art he will truly always be with us spiritually. You only have to be in the presence of a vintage classic Riva yacht to appreciate the man, his work and his life. Carlo Riva, a man for the ages.