An ob­ject les­son from the master

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Is there any­thing Marc Newson hasn’t de­signed? As we sat in the De­sign Mu­seum in London’s Shad Thames on a hu­mid sum­mer evening, perched on the Jet­son- style Or­gone chairs he knocked up in 1993, sur­rounded by the lat­est in a se­ries of G-Star Raw col­lec­tions he has rolled out ev­ery sea­son for 10 years, with the man of the hour wear­ing said col­lec­tion and a watch he de­signed for Jaeger-LeCoul­tre, it seemed an ob­vi­ous ques­tion.

Shoes (for Nike), aero­plane in­te­ri­ors (for Qan­tas), pens (for Her­mès), surf­boards, spec­ta­cles, so­fas, per­fume bot­tles, beer kegs – all are off the list. Not for noth­ing is the Aus­tralian-born Newson one of the most in­flu­en­tial de­sign­ers in the world. In 2009 he also be­came one of its high­est-paid, when his Lock­heed Lounge chaise-longue was sold for $1.6mil­lion (£1mil­lion), break­ing all auc­tion records for a liv­ing de­signer.

So what’s due a makeover? “Well, the world of au­to­mo­biles I just find com­pletely heinous. Re­ally, re­ally hor­ri­ble,” he says in a soft Aussie ac­cent, lean­ing for­ward semi­con­spir­a­to­ri­ally. “I have old cars” – a Fifties Fer­rari, a 1959 As­ton Martin DB4 and a yel­low 1969 Lam­borgh­ini – “but I rarely drive them any­where. I must con­fess we do have a s----- Peu­geot peo­ple­car­rier thing that I re­ally hate go­ing in. But car de­sign, ul­ti­mately, is driven by mar­ket­ing, by peo­ple that are not de­sign­ers. And it’s just a com­pletely sort of my­opic ap­proach.”

Pick­ing holes in things is part of Newson’s cre­ative process. “One of my big­gest sources of in­spi­ra­tion as a de­signer is ba­si­cally look­ing at things and hat­ing them,” he says, good-na­turedly. “I have other de­signer friends who feel the same way, like [Ap­ple’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of de­sign] Jony Ive. We’re al­ways sit­ting there go­ing, ‘God, that’s hor­ri­ble, that’s so s---’. Sit­ting there, rant­ing about what we hate. And it sounds re­ally neg­a­tive but ac­tu­ally it’s sort of not – be­cause if ev­ery­thing was great, then we wouldn’t have a job.”

Luck­ily it wasn’t ha­tred that drew him into con­ver­sa­tion with Jos van Til­burg, the founder of the Dutch denim brand G-Star Raw, in 2003. “He sim­ply wanted to talk to me about the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing some­thing to­gether,” Newson re­calls. “And I made it very clear that I wasn’t a fash­ion de­signer, and had no in­ten­tion of be­ing a fash­ion de­signer, didn’t want to be.”

They con­cocted an idea for a mi­cro-col­lec­tion of gar­ments based on work­wear, and 10 years on, it’s still go­ing. “It’s a tiny col­lec­tion, cer­tainly in the world of G-Star, which has grown in­cred­i­bly. But there are peo­ple that buy this,” he says, ges­tur­ing blithely at the racks of clothes on show be­hind us. “It’s got a kind of cult fol­low­ing all over the world.”

The stand-out piece in the 10th an­niver­sary of­fer­ing, and Newson’s favourite, is a sil­ver silk bomber jacket cov­ered in patches that com­mem­o­rate each of the pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions. It’s the kind of jacket a John Hughes high school hero would kill for – but it looks equally good on Newson, who is a slight, floppy-haired 50. “I’ve al­ways been con­scious as a male con­sumer of cloth­ing that it’s much more dif­fi­cult for men than it is for women. I can wear a tai­lored suit, but on an av­er­age day I’d want to wear this.” He tugs at the stripy T- shirt and stiff grey trousers he’s sport­ing. “I’ve sort of in­ad­ver­tently de­signed my­self a uni­form.”

He’s no stranger to the fash­ion scene, partly by virtue of be­ing mar­ried to one of its chiefs, the stylist Char­lotte Stock­dale, cur­rently fash­ion di­rec­tor at Garage, the style mag­a­zine owned by Ro­man Abramovich’s part­ner Dasha Zhukova; the cou­ple have two young daugh­ters. Newson thinks the tra­di­tional de­sign world has a lot to learn from fash­ion. “What [the fash­ion] in­dus­try has, and my world doesn’t, is this in­cred­i­ble sense of speed. It’s bru­tally ef­fi­cient.” He cites Azze­dine Alaïa as a true cre­ative – “be­cause of his un­der­stand­ing of and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how things are made” – and Her­mès as one of his favourite brands.

In­ci­den­tally, he’s just de­signed a pen with a re­tractable nib along­side the Her­mès cre­ative di­rec­tor Pierre-Alexis Du­mas, who re­calls dis­cussing the project with Newson: “When I told Marc about the pen, the first thing he took out of his pocket was a Cap­less from the Ja­panese company Pi­lot. He didn’t know it at the time, but that was the only pen my fa­ther used.”

Newson says it was “a sig­nif­i­cant co­in­ci­dence” and talks an­i­mat­edly about the mech­a­nism. “All of this pen’s sub­tlety de­rives from the way it works – there’s noth­ing tech­no­log­i­cal about its ap­pear­ance. But it’s hid­ing a mech­a­nism that’s part ge­nius, part magic.”

There’s an ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan in there some­where, but it would be too twee for Newson. “My day job is not this – my day job is a clas­si­cal oc­cu­pa­tion: I’m an in­dus­trial de­signer.”

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