Wayward nadia moro
Co-founder Rem D Koolhaas reveals how a broken heart led to a brand pushing the boundaries of design.
Top & dress / Céline Shoes / Proenza Schouler
Opposite Coat / Marni
Coat / Stella McCartney
Jacket & skirt / Yohji Yamamoto Trainers / Marc by Marc Jacobs
Total look / Yohji Yamamoto
Total look / Proenza Schouler
Jumper / Stella McCartney Trousers & jacket worn as belt / MM6 Trainers / Pierre Hardy
Jacket & trousers / Vivienne Westwood
Cardigan / Vivienne Westwood Anglomania
Shirt / Pedro del Hierro
Photography / Nadia Moro Styling / Raffaella Campeggi Model / Franzi Mueller @ IMG Hair / Leslie Thibaud @ Airport Agency Make Up / Tiziana Raimondo @ Airport Agency Photography Assistant / Nastassia Brame Styling Assistant / Letizia Maria Allodi
Digital Assistant / Franck Jessueld
Shoes / United Nude Paris Oxford Riz in mustard printed satin & black satin patent Jump Black in quilted satin, mustard split suede & ash gun metallic nappa
It is fashion’s worst kept secret that, despite being a product created exclusively for women, 90 percent of every heel produced comes from the imagination of a man. It is just as interesting that behind every woman’s obsession with a great shoe, is a man who is just as obsessed as she is or, in the case of United Nude’s co-founder and Creative Director Rem D Koolhaas, a shoe’s potential to rekindle the affections of a woman. Koolhaas’ transition from architect to contemporary shoe connoisseur was fuelled by an attempt to win back a girl.
“Led by my broken heart, I coincidently designed a small series of archisculptural shoes,” reveals Koolhaas. “I felt the need to scale down architecture to its smallest form – that of a woman’s foot.” He was hoping that shoes would be the route to a woman’s heart, but adds, “Over the years I learned that the reason women love shoes is because shoes empower them. High heels do something to a woman that nothing else can.”
Fast forward to 2003 and you have the genesis of United Nude: a forerunner in architectural footwear, and the creative brainchild of Dutch architect Koolhaas and seventh generation shoemaker Galahad Clark (of iconic British footwear brand Clarks). Together, they’ve created a house style that is instantly recognisable, and appeals to what Koolhaas describes as an “elegant, strong, clever and independent woman, with a good eye for design.” Known for its contemporary mix of contrasting prints and materials, a modernist take on classic shapes and the pairing of unique designs with innovative structure, United Nude takes aesthetics that we know and love and infuses them with a distinctly experimental edge.
The art of 3D creation comes naturally to Koolhaas; it could even be considered the family trade. He is the nephew of a world renowned architect, his father was an urban designer and his mother is a graphic artist. “I grew up learning to look at the world from a design point of view,” Koolhaas explains, and although the jump from buildings to footwear seems to be quite a leap, he insists that, “of all the design disciplines, architecture is probably the easiest to scale down.”
The way in which a United Nude shoe comes to life gives us a glimpse into design’s imminent future – a future led by the computer. As Koolhaas explains, each design begins by “putting pencil to paper, then some handmade 3D models, or sometimes straight into the computer for 3D printing”. Despite the heavy technological influence, he finds inspiration in the quieter moments of life, comparing his clear mind to “a blank piece of paper. New ideas easily enter my mind when I’m on my own. When my phone and computer are off and I stare at the horizon from a car, plane or train.”
If you look hard enough, you can see these influences speak volumes in Koolhaas’ work. Transferring awe-inspiring quirks of the real world to fantasy-like footwear is one of United Nude’s defining factors. It’s this daring approach that has led to the brand’s presence among haute couture runways, the wardrobe of Lady Gaga and collaborations with the likes of Zaha Hadid. “I love to collaborate with anyone that has a different skill set than us, has a great idea, or great talent,” Koolhaas enthuses. “Collaborating is perhaps the most fun and inspiring part of my work.”
United Nude’s growing success could be attributed to its unique view on design. There is no fashion and architecture, each shoe is “a piece of architecture” according to Koolhaas, and if the ever-evolving worlds of fashion, technology and architecture are merging, why not embrace it? “Boundaries between fields are breaking,” he continues. “Cross-disciplinary approaches have proven more and more successful.” But, with development, comes even fiercer competition. In order to keep up, Koolhaas says that, “we are keeping our eyes and ears open. We constantly explore and experiment with new methods, materials and technologies to improve our designs.”
It’s a long way from the shoe designer’s broken hearted beginnings. Reflecting back, Koolhaas muses on the brand’s first shoe, the Möbius. “This shoe made me change my life,” he states. “I changed my profession and I moved to the other side of the world. It was not just a shoe that I made, but it was also the shoe that made me.”