Rem D Koolhaas, nephew of renowned OMA architect Rem Koolhaas, may have abandoned his own previous career as an architect to set up international footwear brand United Nude, but his training remains very much in evidence not only in the shoes he designs but in his ground-breaking use of retail space.
United Nude's newly opened London store is the biggest of the brand's 10 sites around the world and employs the same 'dark-shop' concept -- leaving the interior totally unlit apart from the 'Wall of Light', a computer-controlled LED wall displaying each shoe in its own individual box, like a framed work of art.
United Nude was launched in 2003 as a collaboration between Koolhaas and Galahad Clark, seventh generation shoemaker and scion of the famous Clark's family. The brand's arresting designs are now sold in over 40 countries, winning high-profile fans like Lady Gaga and occupying a self-appointed territory 'at the intersection between design and fashion'.
We caught up with Koolhaas just after the London store opening...
What was it about footwear that tempted you away from architecture?
I started designing shoes because of a broken heart back in 1999, but I was already looking how to escape from architecture. I find architecture too big and too slow and you are always working for someone else.
How do you go about designing a shoe -- what is your starting point?
This differs case by case. We work in a team of designers and often start from the material that we will use, as each material has its own behaviour. Sometimes we work the other way around and start from the shape and then we match the materials accordingly.
What inspired the 'dark-shop' concept? What is the thinking behind it?
When I worked for OMA on the conceptual design phase of the NYC Prada store we got into the importance of the shopping experience. Nearly ten years later, we developed our 'Dark Shop' concept with the same goals. We took our inspiration from the theatre where you sit in a dark space and look at the show, the only place where the light is.
Can you tell me more about your Iris Van Herpen collaboration -- how did it come about?
I first saw her clothes at our Amsterdam PR company's showroom. When Iris and I first met I offered to make shoes for her catwalk show. A few months later the first Iris Van Herpen x United Nude shoes where there, on the catwalk. Last month she showed in Paris and we again made the shoes with her, already for the fourth time.
Who in the world of fashion/film/music is your biggest inspiration when it comes to designing shoes? Who would you most like to design a shoe for?
My wife is my biggest inspiration, but if you are talking celebrities it would be great to see somebody like Uma Thurman or Milla Jovovich kick some some bad guy in the face with our shoes on. I would also love to work with somebody great like Joseph Kosinski who is also an architect and directed the movie Tron, a visual and musical masterpiece.
Do you have any designs coming up that use interesting/unexpected materials?
For our Autumn/Winter season we have some boots with a laser cut fabric like feathers named the 'Falcon'. These boots come to life with movement, which makes the great for dancing.
Where do you see shoe design heading in the future?
I guess big factories will focus on a more efficient and automated way of shoe making with bigger moulded components. At the same time there could be an increase of localized handmade shoemaking. The ways in which shoes are made will direct designers more and more as there will be less and less factories willing to make just anything you come up with.