Architecturally Yours: United Nude

United Nude combines iconic architecture and modern footwear design and Dazed Digital speaks to architect Rem Koolhaus, the co-creator of the brand.

Text by Anna Battista

If you ask Dutch architect Rem D. Koolhaas how the United Nude brand was born, you will get one cryptic answer, “from a broken heart”. The story behind the brand is rather romantic as it started with Koolhaas, an architect unmotivated by modern and contemporary design and with a broken heart who wanted to create something innovative that also had a strong connection with the female universe. After meeting designer and entrepreneur Galahad Clark, Koolhaas, launched a new footwear company, United Nude that produced shoes inspired by modern design concepts.

Each single pair of shoes is a reinterpretation of an architectural object or represents an exploration of different materials and colours: the first shoe created by United Nude was called “Möbius” and it was inspired by the Barcelona chair created by Bauhaus director Mies Van Der Rohe for the International Exposition in 1929. The uniqueness of this special sandal stood in the fact that it was characterised by a single strip that formed the sole, heel, foot-bed and upper of the shoe. An aluminium office chair by Ray and Charles Eames inspired instead the “Eamz” series, featuring pumps, lace ups, boots and Mary Janes integrating in their heels a detail of the chair foot, a feature that seems to suspend the shoe in mid-air, giving the surreal impression that the wearer is almost fluctuating in a zero gravity environment.

The brand also explored in its footwear the possibilities offered by movement, colours and materials: for the “Fold” boot the designers took a single strip and wrapped it up as if it were a scarf around the foot, creating a fluid movement, while the “Peel” explores the motion of one leather line that wraps around the foot becoming the heel, an idea from an original concept by Dutch product designer Waldo Reijnders. For the “Elastic” court shoe United Nude focused on the use of vividly coloured elasticised materials with linear motifs that create a simple but striking pattern, while the leather and canvas “Cup Booty” features a moulded heel integrated in the upper and the “Stealth” is a dynamic platform shoe inspired by the straight lines and styling of the Stealth F117 fighter plane.

Throughout the years United Nude has become a sort of creative collective, gathering architects, fashion designers, magazine editors and photographers. Among United Nude’s next projects there are pieces of furniture and new accessory lines and, as Rem D. Koolhaas reveals, there is also a car.

What prompted you to leave architecture and focus on fashion and who has been the greatest influence on your career so far?

Not on fashion, but on a smaller and more vulnerable level of architecture: fashion re-invents itself every six months, I don’t! I would say that the greatest influences on my life were my family and friends.

Where do you start from when you design a United Nude pair of shoes, a piece of furniture or a specific material, and what has changed in your way of making shoes since you started United Nude?
True creation comes from the energy within. Sometimes you grasp something as a reference, but that has more to do with the fact that you want to hold onto something. I learnt about shoes after we started United Nude. The latest shoes look more like normal footwear as they have a more balanced design, they look more like a shoe rather than like an object of design, yet we will always keep on designing “object-shoes”.

What kind of woman do you have in mind when you design the United Nude footwear?
Sexy and smart, smart and sexy.

Is there one United Nude pair of shoes that you particularly like for their design, colour or material and will United Nude develop further lines of accessories in future?

Right now I am most turned on by the black leather “Ultra Möbius” with the carbon fibre heel, it will be out really soon. It’s so sexy and light. The United Nude brand will definitely focus on further products as we open more shops. Right now, I’m working on a car as well.

Who is your favourite shoe designer? And your favourite architect?
Dutch shoe designer Jan Jansen and Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. They are both true romantics like me!

Is there a material used to make the shoes for the Spring/Summer 09 collection that is particularly unusual or that you particularly like?
Yes, the carbon fibre we are using for the first time in both the “Ultra Möbius” and the “Cosmo”. These materials are not cheap, but they are very exclusive and hand made by people that manufacture racing car parts and very expensive sport yachts. Spring/Summer 09 is the most complete collection we’ve had at United Nude so far. Right now, my team and I have just started working on Spring/Summer 2010 and, as I said, I’m working on a car as well, so we are very busy. I’m very excited about the Spring/Summer 2009 collection and, since it will be online and in stores soon, I’m looking forward to hearing what reaction it gets.

Would you like to collaborate with another fashion designer/architect one day and develop a clothing line?
We already tried doing it a few years ago. We might try again when we the time is right. But the problem with clothing is that it’s a more limited medium and has downsides such as the seasonal limitations.

Can you give us a preview of the collaboration between United Nude and K-Swiss?
It’s a very simple concept: we designed a slim and elegant sneaker, a stylish product called the “K-Swiss Block” that has no laces so the K-Swiss D-Rings become purely decorative. The shoes also feature the United Nude “Block” heel, the same one we used in our “Block” range.

What’s the most challenging aspect of working at United Nude and what are your future plans and ambitions for the United Nude brand?
Becoming as big as or bigger than Armani without losing our flair or sense of purpose.

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