The United Nude creative director and founder tells Graeme Moran how training as an architect has helped him design footwear.
Why did you set up United Nude?
It all started from one product; we had the product before we even had the brand. I designed the first shoe, the Möbius, but everyone said that it had its own brand signature. I was then introduced to one of my business partners, Galahad Clark [of the Clarks shoes family], and we decided to launch United Nude.
You originally trained as an architect. Why did you decide to move into fashion?
I didn’t have the patience to be an architect. To create an entire building takes an extremely long time and it is a very drawn-out process.
I just don’t have the patience. I didn’t necessarily want to work in fashion but I was looking for something else and one day I just came up with this shoe design. So I made that shoe and now that shoe has made me.
How has your architectural background has influenced your footwear designs?
As an architect I can bring a lot of different things to the brand. I can design stores as well as product. Sometimes it’s easier for me to design a store than a shoe. But what I liked about architecture, and design in general, is discovering how things are constructed and how materials come together, and creating something new. Coming from an architectural background has given me the freedom to design whatever I want, because some of our shoes would never have been designed by a normal footwear designer.
How do you balance your great design with commerciality?
We have shoes from £60 up to £700 [retail], but the majority are in the middle from £150 to £250, so we see ourselves as an affordable designer brand. With some of our shoes we only sell a couple of hundred pairs but others we sell 100,000 pairs because we have a balance. We wanted to create something that is commercial and wearable but also keep on developing the more ‘out there’ designs.
Why did you choose to collaborate with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen?
We’re moving on to our fourth collection with her [for the Iris van Herpen X United Nude range]. It’s been very exciting and they have been really well received. As a fashion designer Iris works in flowing architectural shapes but in a totally different way to us and that is why we were excited to come together. We would never have designed the shoes within that range by ourselves.
What are you most proud of?
The United Nude stores. When we opened the first store in Amsterdam that was really one of my proudest moments in my whole career because I’m a believer in the total picture and package of a brand. You have your own product in your own packaging in your own space and you can really work on and choose everything, even down to the music – everything is United Nude. It’s like building a home.
- Rem D Koolhaas is creative director and founder of footwear label United Nude
Which is your favourite United Nude shoe?
The Möbius. That shoe is where United Nude all began.
What else have you designed?
There are now United Nude hats, a chair and even a concept car.
What other footwear brands do you admire?
All sorts – Prada, Gucci, Sergio Rossi – I like them all.
Why did you open your London flagship store in Covent Garden?
We had been looking for a space for several years and just found this one. It had to be big enough for us to be able to show off the brand. You could spend an hour in this store and not be bored.