With the combined creative power of architect Rem D. Koolhaas and shoemaker Galahad JD Clark (of the Clarks shoes dynasty), United Nude has a lot to be proud of. In addition to being a leader within the growing industry of collaborative mediums—which has also seen architects Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid create shoes for JM Weston and Melissa, respectively—the company has recently opened a flagship location in Amsterdam. JC Report recently chatted with Koolhaas (nephew of the influential architect of the same name) about the ongoing convergence of footwear and architecture, the distinction of his brand and why they chose Amsterdam for store’s flagship opening last month.
JC Report: Why is collaboration important to United Nude?
Rem D. Koolhaas: United Nude has always been highly collaborative. When you collaborate with another designer from another discipline or brand, you can explore and play. It brings new ideas to mind and initiatives to a design dialogue. It’s natural to want to play with others.
JCR: What relationship does architecture have with footwear?
RDK: Architecture and footwear are similar in that the construction houses people and carries people. If you think about a high-heeled United Nude shoe, it carries a human being (the wearer) and houses part of her person (the foot). Because of the smaller scale, a shoe is more mobile, while most architecture remains stationary.
JCR: What compelled you personally to branch out into shoe design?
RDK: There is more instant gratification in the creative process. In architecture, I was put off by the lengthy process and the amount of time it takes to see your ideas come to fruition. Since we started the brand in 2003, we’ve fully realized retail concept stores and global distribution. For that amount of time in traditional architecture, we might have only completed a building. Also, a brand is a lot more interactive—with women’s footwear you can make a lot of women happy with your products, whereas in traditional architecture you are working with one client for several years. I guess making many women happy is part of the reason I’ve become a shoe designer—and it’s part of the fun that sets shoe design apart from architecture.
JCR: What does United Nude offer to its buyers?
RDK: We offer consistency. We try to avoid entirely reinventing ourselves to keep up with trends—we are not a fashion brand that reinvents itself every six months. We update our line with new concepts, but what sets the brand apart from others is that we offer conceptual classics. Most of our repeat customers will buy our products over and over again—some are simply die-hard collectors. United Nude is in many ways comparable to a luxury watch or a classic furniture brand—we offer design pieces.
JCR: Why is Amsterdam the perfect place for a flagship? Is the brand’s aesthetic a selling point to local consumers?
RDK: If you present United Nude in the right way it can be attractive and successful in any city, but since I am from Amsterdam, we chose it as the location for the first flagship store. We wanted a place where we could fully realize the United Nude retail concept in a space that had to be just right for it. I do think the brand’s aesthetic is what makes United Nude work in Amsterdam, but not necessarily because United Nude is a Dutch brand. It has an international audience because of the proportions, colors, materials and new shapes we use. It’s about elegance and also about strength.
JCR: What can we expect from the brand in the near future?
RDK: In the very near future, United Nude is opening stores in Shanghai and New York. These flagships represent our total package and presentation of the brand. For me, the shops are about experience” and the new store in Amsterdam is all about a shopping experience. We are also doing several projects outside of shops and shoes. For the “Lo-Res Project” we collaborate with some big global brands outside the fashion industry to create different design products on different scale levels. We are also working on a photography collaboration with a group of photographers that we have selected for a book and exhibition for the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010.
This interview was conducted by Dara Lang and Robert Cordero