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Matouk Sets Sail: Alan Murphy of Pioneer Linens on the Rarefied Trade of Providing Custom Linens for the World’s Mega Yachts

Matouk Sets Sail: Alan Murphy of Pioneer Linens on the Rarefied Trade of Providing Custom Linens for the World’s Mega Yachts

This 223’ Lurssen Motor Yacht is an example of the kind serviced by Pioneer Linens. (Image courtesy Moran Yachts.)

“I provide linens for the largest boats, the largest homes, and the means to get in between,” says Alan Murphy, who in 2006 launched the white-glove service Yacht Linen division for Pioneer Linens, his family’s 103-year-old linens boutique in Palm Beach.

Murphy, the fourth generation to work in the family business, saw—and seized—an opportunity to cater to the ultra-elite, yacht-owning population of Palm Beach. He ruffled some feathers in the niche yachting services world when he took on two rather enormous clients—a 206’ Lurssen motor yacht and a 160’ Perini Navi sailing yacht—as his entrée into the industry. “Back then, there were only about eight people around the world that you could go to for interior soft goods that could cater specifically to the custom needs of yachts. People were surprised to see a retailer offering this service.”

Nine years in, Murphy spends about 80 percent of his time on this side of the business, working with naval architects and designers to provide bedding, towels, and table linens to yachts around the world. (He also recently helped launch Pioneer Linens’ second location in Ft. Lauderdale.) The secret to his success, he says, is that “I don't sell people what they want; I sell them what they need… At the end of the day, our job is to make sure our clients have the best experience on that boat. I want to make the best experience for the crew so that they can provide the best experience for the owner. You have to be able to be of a certain caliber to be able to tell the customer no.”

Here, Murphy gives us a peek through the porthole into the rarefied world of servicing yachts.

What makes providing linens for yachts different from providing them for, say, a luxury home?

The boats get produced all over the world—the U.S., Canada, India, Europe, Asia, Eastern Europe… Nothing is the same from one country to another, including the standard mattress size.

You also have to consider the washing facilities on the boat. If they are a heavy charter doing a doing a heavy turnover, for example, you can't sell them 1000-thread-count sheets if you don't have the right washing machines, or you'll have to hand-iron everything.

But really, when it comes down to the menu, it's just like a large home, except for your home floats and its movable.  And you have more beach towels and more staff.

There’s also the logistics—between customs, air carriers, timing, and being able to respond to and fix problems that might arise when you are making an ultra-customized product. 

How do you typically get hooked up with a boat?

Typically, the work gets bid out through a designer or naval architect (there are about 25 of them globally who are qualified to outfit the largest yachts). For them, the decision for which soft goods provider to work with comes down to price, deliverability, quality, and reputation. It’s a lot easier for them to work with a company like mine that knows the ins and outs.

How do you approach working with the clients?

We just listen. No two boats are ever the same. We try hard to pay attention to what the client really wants, how the boat is going to be used, where it will go, how many crew, how often they want their sheets turned over, are there going to be kids, is it an adults-only boat, etc. All of these factors have to be taken into consideration.

Any particular trends when it comes to linens for yachts?

It isn’t as trends-based as home design. Overall, you tend to see a lot more glitz, though. People want to make a statement. In Russia and Asia, the boats have a lot of bling and gold—very much, “I've arrived.” In Europe they go for a much cleaner, sleeker look. In United States, the look tends to be very homey.

When yacht designers and owners choose Matouk for their boats, what do they tend to go for?

We sell a ton of Marlowe. Customers like the sophisticated, tailored look. About 50 percent do monogramming. You get the people who love it and do it on everything (either their initials or the boat name) or people who don’t want it at all.

What are your personal favorites boats you’ve worked on?

One of our clients—a successful 40-something bachelor—built a 160’ American-made custom boat, and the entire interior was done in really dark exotic woods and mahoganies. For the bedding, he used lots of guy colors and earth tones.

We work with another American family whose boat looks like a house. The moldings around the doors are wood, and they look like the molding you use around the doors in a home. When people build a boat like that, they don't build for resale; they build for themselves. For bedding, it was a lot of whites, pastels, cream colors, matelasses, scallops…

I generally prefer to work on boats that aren’t built for resale or charter, as you really get to see the personal taste of the owners come to life.

What’s the yachting scene like in Palm Beach?

As a byproduct of having one of the largest equine and polo communities, we have one of the largest yachting communities. Yachting is the one thing that create a common bond between 100-millionaires and billionaires. It’s one of the great equalizers among the ultra-high-net-worth! For Palm Beach County, it also means we raise almost one billion dollars philanthropically every season.

As you point out, yachting is a pastime for the ultra-high-net-worth. What’s the appeal, besides being able to afford it?

You know you've reached a certain level when seasons become a verb—“I'm summering here, I'm wintering there…”

The thing about yachting is that it allows you to get away from daily life and enjoy the darkest deepest crevices that the world has to offer—without sacrificing comfort or style. When you are traveling 300 days a year for business, you only have a chance to get away with friends and family a few days a year, and that's what the yacht offers.