Fabien Cousteau: ‘To breathe underwater like a fish would be incredible’
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Style news every morning.
My personal style signifier is an analogue watch. Whether I’m on an expedition or just day to day, I like the simplicity of a mechanical watch that tells the time clearly, even in the most severe circumstances. I have a collection of about 100 watches, including old Swiss Army ones, Rolexes and dive watches by H2O that are rugged and practical – my favourites are tools that I’m not worried about damaging.
The last thing I bought and loved was a foldable Mate X electric bike. I’m usually a fan of public transport, but during the pandemic I’m trying to avoid it, so this bike allows me to get to meetings all over New York – and fast. POA, mate.bike/us/mate-x
And on my wishlist is an electric car for my commute between the city and my home in Connecticut. A Tesla would be great, but I really only need something that has room for three people and a dog, has good range and will charge quickly.
The eureka moment that changed everything for me was a family trip aboard my grandfather [Jacques Cousteau’s] research vessel, Calypso. We spent six weeks in Papua New Guinea, and specifically on the island of Wuvulu, where I learnt to fish with bare hands, experienced the culture through kids my own age, and saw an underwater firework display of life that changed the trajectory of my life.
The design that intrigues me the most is the one that doesn’t exist yet! We often try to fight nature’s designs instead of imitating them, so I’m excited by Yves Béhar’s design for our project, an underwater research station called Proteus. He’s taking his cues from coral polyps, so that form and function will blend seamlessly into nature. It’s going to house state-of-the-art labs, sleeping quarters and a moon pool [wet porch]. Its goal is to draw scientists and aquanauts from round the world to advance science for the benefit of the planet.
The idea I wish I’d come up with is gill implants. To breathe underwater like a fish would be incredible.
The wisest purchase I ever made was Apple stock. I’ve been a fan of the company since college and the earliest days of the Macintosh, so this was a meaningful investment.
The last music I downloaded was by the folk band The Lumineers. “Submarines” and “Flowers in Your Hair” are both acoustic and uplifting. My taste in music is eclectic and my playlists include everything from Milky Chance to Moby to The Clash, and also classical music. The only thing you won’t find is country.
In my fridge you’ll always find white wine and cheeses, such as Brie de Meaux and Roquefort. I could never be vegan! There is also always fresh produce – lettuces, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli – as well as organic milk.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a pair of Vilebrequin bathing trunks. They have a subtle sea-turtle pattern, which is in keeping with my general theme.
An object I would never part with is my Laguiole pocket knife. I always carry it with me – everywhere except for Brooklyn, where I live. It wouldn’t go over too well… From €56, laguiole-french-knives.com
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Claude Monet. It might be an obvious choice, but I find his paintings whimsical and calming.
I wish someone would invent an app that gives us our environmental footprint in real time. We need to understand our impact from day to day.
The grooming staple I’m never without is deodorant that’s as all-natural as possible. Tom’s of Maine is a favourite brand as it doesn’t contain aluminium, but I also like ones by Arm & Hammer and Calvin Klein. I don’t use antiperspirant; it’s bad for you.
My most unexpected influence was an economics professor at Boston University. He made the subject matter fun and accessible with pie charts featuring pot and Coca-Cola. He instilled in me a lifelong love of learning.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is 30 Centuries Under the Sea by Frédéric Dumas, a close friend of my grandfather’s. This book taught me a lot I didn’t know about maritime archaeology.
The thing that surprises people most about me is that I love old motorcycles – and fixing them up. I particularly love bringing back to life Italian Moto Morini and English Norton bikes from the 1960s.
I’ve recently rediscovered how to camp due to a power outage at my home in Connecticut that lasted a week. We lived very simply and made all of our meals on the grill and learnt to use water sparingly. In general, we gained a new appreciation for our natural resources. Being without power was a real wake-up call.
I’m never more at home than when I’m in the ocean. I spent a month underwater during Mission 31 and the saddest moment was going back to the surface. I feel a sense of peace and belonging in the ocean, where time feels unbridled and the technicolour scenes are full of mystery.
The brands I most admire include Patagonia – founder Yvon Chouinard has created a profitable platform that also gives back. Stream2Sea is another company that cares about the planet, and makes coral-sensitive sunscreen. Stream2Sea SPF30 sunscreen, from $13, stream2sea.com
The best souvenirs I’ve ever brought home are my memories. A few of the best are a perfect Bee Sting [cocktail] on the beach in Nevis at sunset, my first dive in a submersible and my meetings with people from all over the globe. I take home ideas, solutions, new languages – and empathy.
The podcasts I’m listening to are NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and Car Talk for entertainment, and The Washington Post’s Can He Do That?, which explores the limitations of the presidency and feels particularly relevant right now.
My icons are Dr Jane Goodall and the marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle. They have both dedicated their lives to conservation, and their incredible work inspires me.
The best gift I’ve received is a handmade, heartfelt card from my daughter on Father’s Day. She is actually my stepdaughter, so this card was particularly meaningful.
My life philosophy is something that my grandparents used to tell me: people protect what they love, they love what they understand and they understand what they’re taught. When we look at the beauty and fragility of all the things we depend on, we often take them for granted. This drives me to be a storyteller, to share my thoughts and experiences so that people make better decisions for our ecosystem – whether that’s eliminating single-use plastics or making better choices in the supermarket. We’re not going to escape this planet any time soon, so it behooves us to support it as if our life depends on it – because it does. My life philosophy basically includes doing little things each day to make the planet a better place.
My favourite view is looking out at the horizon and seeing a blue-green sea dotted with sailboats, gulls and possibly whales breaching – and with nothing but natural sound. I also have an attachment to the Mediterranean and the south of France – scenes of local life with people playing boules, and the sound of cicadas is magical.
To de-stress, I meditate. I try to carve out 15 minutes a day – in a quiet spot or in my inversion machine –to just relax and breathe.
An explorer’s best friend is a multi-tool. Swiss Army makes a good one and it’s basically a pocket-sized tool kit with a screwdriver, knife, and file. Other best friends are waterproof watches and daypacks by Patagonia, Arc’teryx, The North Face and Mountain Hardwear.
When I need to feel inspired, I look at my eight-year-old daughter, Dylan. Her can-do spirit recharges my batteries and gives me hope for the next generation being better stewards of our planet.