“The goal is never to make something super commercial, but more to experiment and push boundaries.”
Fashion designers Iris van Herpen and Antoine Peters, graffiti artist Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman and late great architect Zaha Hadid – just a few of the creative greats that have worked with United Nude over the years to produce unique shoe designs. All were professionals from different disciplines, making the collaborations that much more special and multilayered. One must only look to the background of United Nude founder Rem D. Koolhaas, who, like his famous uncle, also studied architecture, to explain the choice to take that kind of fresh look at shoe design. The story of how his shoe career got started is no secret: in his last year as an architecture student, Koolhaas, inspired by heartbreak, designed his first shoe, the Möbius, a model that’s still a part of the brand’s collection. It’s based on the mathematical Möbius strip, which symbolises infinity, and is, at the same time, a reference to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona Chair.
This multidisciplinary design approach has characterised the ever-growing shoe brand since the start of the company. United Nude made the shoes for Issey Miyake’s show last month, and next year will see the launch of a collaboration with Jan Jansen, Holland’s most well-known shoe designer. The link between Koolhaas and Jansen is nothing new – Rem D. Koolhaas once studied alongside the latter’s son, Lok Jansen, who currently works as an illustrator for Prada. An interesting side note, it was Jansen senior who helped Koolhaas with his first shoe lasts. We asked Koolhaas about this latest collaboration and what it’s like at his label these days.
You’ve worked with a range of creatives in the past. How do Issey Miyake and Jan Jansen fit into that line-up?
Koolhaas: “All of these designers make completely original work with a strong signature and aren’t influenced by outside trends. This makes collaboration interesting right from the start. So the goal is never to make something super commercial, but more to experiment and push the boundaries. In our collaboration with Issey Miyake, we’re clearly working with their customer profile to produce solidly wearable products. And you see that in the orders, as well.”
Are these kinds of special editions always taken into production and sold or are they true showpieces?
Koolhaas: “It depends. The majority of the nine collaborations in a row we’ve done with Iris van Herpen, for example, haven’t been taken into production. And that’s not really surprising, because it was primarily about haute couture and we never wanted to compromise just to make the designs more commercially viable. Those special shoes end up in exhibitions and museums. So that’s a goal in and of itself, although I myself am more inclined to bring a product onto the market so that as many people as possible can wear and enjoy it.”
How did the collaboration with Issey Miyake come about?
Koolhaas: “When we opened our flagship store in Tokyo with our Japanese partner earlier this year, he approached a number of designers in Japan. When it turned out that Issey Miyake had admired United Nude since the beginning, the collaboration came together really quickly, and from then until now it’s been an amazing collaboration. We work together with a small team and we tend to get on the same page pretty quickly. We’re also planning to extend our collaboration over the coming seasons. The most amazing thing about this is the runway shows in Paris, every time it’s this kind of magical moment.”
How and why did you start collaborating with Jan Jansen?
Koolhaas: “I’ve known Jan Jansen for a long time. I studied architecture in Delft with his youngest son, Lok, and I was at Jan and Tonny’s a lot. When I started designing shoes, Jan gave me not only tremendous encouragement and references, but my first lasts, as well. Almost every time I’m in the Netherlands I get together and chat with Jan, then once we got to talking about a collaboration. The shoes we’re making are based on one of Jan’s old sketch models from the ’70s. We’re working on some truly beautiful shoes.”
When will the shoes you’re making with Jansen be released?
Koolhaas: “If everything goes to plan, the shoes will come out somewhere in the beginning of next year, first at different outlets in the Netherlands, including our United Nude store on the Spuistraat in Amsterdam and online.”
Finally, how are things going at United Nude? You’ve moved the business to Los Angeles?
Koolhaas: “Despite the quite turbulent European market, we’re experiencing a lot of growth in places like Asia. In addition to the shoes, we’re also working on watches, sunglasses – in collaboration with Linda Farrow – and handbags. We’re not moving the actual company itself, but we’re opening a new design and marketing studio in Los Angeles, where I’ll be moving with my family. It’s something that, despite Trump, we’re still really looking forward to. The energy there has been really fun and positive recently. California is kind of a country in and of itself.”