As one of the most influential designers of his generation, Australian born designer Marc Newson has designed everything from private jets to unbreakable cups to stylish coat hangers. His vast portfolio of work has become so omnipresent in our lives that we often encounter his designs on a daily basis without even registering their authorship.
In recent years, Newson’s furniture designs have become amongst the most expensive to be sold at auction. His aluminium ‘Lockheed Lounge’ chair, which had been previously used in a music video for Madonna, fetched £1.1 milion (11million RMB) in 2009. Newson’s work now accounts for a staggering 25% of the total contemporary design art market, and his pieces can be found in major museums internationally, including London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Pompidou in Paris and the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. In 2012, Newson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to design. For the past ten years, Newson has also collaborated with the pioneering Dutch denim brand G-Star, to create capsule menswear collections. As Newson and G-Star prepare to celebrate a decade of stylish collaboration, VANTAGE met with the London based designer to talk about creative freedom, compromise and keeping your ego in check.
To look retrospectively at your design career to date would suggest a constant stream of innovative ideas. Do you ever suffer from creative block and if so how do you overcome this challenge?
Marc Newson: I am a gun-for-hire, an industrial psychologist, and I am brought on-board to solve a specific problem. I have a system and am rarely at a loss for ideas because my job is about following a detailed brief and a logical process.
Would you say that your designs are client led, or do you store up ideas until you find an appropriate client/sponsor?
Marc Newson: Generally it is about responding to a specific client request. However, my job is all about observation, so travel is really important as you see the way different cultures solve problems.
How does the relationship between art and commerce work for you? For example, how do you uphold the balance between pushing the artistic boundaries and keeping the client satisfied?
Marc Newson: Design is about compromise, and I don’t necessarily see that as a negative thing. Ultimately, one has to be practical about the solutions you propose and approach the brief in an intelligent way. It is about understanding the client, understanding the market and understanding the possibilities.
Do you think one of the qualities of a good designer is keeping their ego in check and seeing it through the eyes of their client?
Marc Newson: Yes, I am not designing stuff to promote my own ego. For example, I have been doing lots of work in the luxury sector and these brands already have a very strong sense of their own history and DNA, which you deny at your own peril. You take design cues from their archives and then try to do something new that is still relevant. It can’t be completely revolutionary or it just won’t work. To balance these things is part of the skill of my job.
In a world of one-off collaborations, your work with G-Star has lasted a decade. Why do you feel this is?
Marc Newson: We both respect each other’s opinions and space. G-Star doesn’t attempt to influence my ideas and I am able to do my thing in relative isolation. Over the past ten years I have also witnessed G-Star become leaders in their market and this has been interesting from a personal point of view. In the world of design, things are much slower and products can take three or four years to develop. In the fashion world the process takes three or four months at the most. I’ve found this exposure really valuable, as I just don’t have that speed in my ‘day-job’.
Would you say you have full creative freedom?
Marc Newson: Yes, because G-Star have recognised the value in allowing the designer to do what they do best. Having said that though, I am not a fashion designer so need a lot of help on a technical level to get the collection done.
Where do you find your street-wear inspiration for the collections?
Marc Newson: From people watching and travel. Visiting a city such as Tokyo is inspiring on so many levels, especially from a fashion perspective.
On a practical level, how does the collaborative design process between yourself and G-Star work?
Marc Newson: It is a fairly conventional method, as I understand it. We’ll meet a certain number of times a year, I’ll present sketches and then the G-Star machine kicks in. On a creative level, it is about me thinking of what I would like to acquire as a consumer – there is not great mystery, it is just about coming up with new ideas from one season to the next.
Have you noticed any significant changes in the menswear fashion market over the past ten years?
Marc Newson: Quite simply, it is now a better time to be a male consumer. I have always found it difficult to find good clothing, particularly when I was growing up in Australia, which has a relatively young Western culture. This was the main reason why I started collaborating with G-Star – I questioned why I couldn’t have some influence over the clothing that I was obliged to spend money on.
Where did you find your inspiration for the AW14 collection?
Marc Newson: It was about coming up with ideas that were relevant to the ten-year anniversary. (Marc then holds up the Anniversary Bomber jacket, decorated with a collection of graphic patches). Perhaps this only means something to me, but each of these badges represents a collection I’ve designed for G-Star over the past ten years. I like the iconography of it and also the idea of uniforms, where you don’t have to think too much about what you are wearing. I have always been interested in fashion, as it offers a window into the world of contemporary culture. I’ve had lots of exposure to the fashion industry through my wife (the stylist Charlotte Stockdale) and have always had friends in the fashion world. I have also and lived in the three biggest fashion capitals of the world – Paris, Tokyo and London. I am not sure if I have an interest in fashion, or if fashion has an interest in me to be honest!
For the AW14 collection, you designed the ‘7-Day Suit’; a formal suit which can be treated like your jeans and washed once a week. Is the design a response to the blurring of the boundaries between formal work-wear and casualwear?
Marc Newson: Yes, it’s completely about that. I travel a lot for work but I also want to mix pleasure in too. On many levels, my job is a confusion between work and play – I am designing things that I like, but I am also doing the boring bits like turning up to an office. As you can also see elsewhere in the collection, there is also an underlying level of humour. I like things to be a bit tongue-in-cheek!