The designers intended their superliner to be similar to earlier French Line ships. Then they were approached by Vladimir Yourkevitch, a former naval architect for the Imperial Russian Navy, who had emigrated to France after the revolution. His ideas included a slanting clipper-like bow and a bulbous forefoot beneath the waterline, in combination with a slim hydrodynamic hull. Yourkevitch’s concepts worked wonderfully in scale models, confirming his design’s performance advantages. The French engineers were impressed and asked Yourkevitch to join their project.
The luxurious interiors were designed in Art Déco and Streamline Moderne style. Many sculptures and wall paintings made allusions to Normandy, the province of France, after which Normandie was named. Most of the public space was devoted to first-class passengers, including the dining room, first-class lounge, grill room, first-class swimming pool, theater and winter garden.
Normandie’s maiden voyage was on 29 May 1935. Fifty thousand saw her off at Le Havre, on what was hoped would be a record-breaking crossing. Normandie reached New York after four days, three hours and 14 minutes, taking away the Blue Riband (an unofficial accolade given to the passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean westbound in regular service with the record highest speed) from the Italian liner, Rex.