From soap dishes to jet planes, London-based designer Marc Newson has tried his hand at everything. His elegant, futuristic designs continue to inspire, making him one of the top product designers in the world today.
He’s a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), a Doctor of Visual Arts, a Royal Designer for Industry and was named as one of the World’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.
Award-winning and critically acclaimed designer Marc Newson is no stranger to accolades. His resume is bursting with citations and awards and his designs have a cult following. Yet, amazingly, he didn’t really study design or set out to be a product designer.
Newson was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1963. His interest in “making stuff” led him to a degree in jewellery design in 1984. In 1986, with a grant from the Australian Crafts Council, he staged his first exhibition which featured his now-iconic Lockheed Lounge. This panelled aluminium chaise lounge has sensuous curves and was inspired by a chair in a painting by Jacques-Louis David but was made with an industrial twist. Images of the Lockheed immediately became popular – or went ‘viral’ as they say these days – putting Newson firmly on the international design map.
In 1988, he designed another classic piece – The Embryo Chair – for an interior decor exhibition organised by a museum in Sydney. With three legs and a unique design, the Embryo Chair is instantly recognisable and still very popular. The chair is now manufactured by popular Italian brand Cappellini.
The collaboration with Cappellini continued in 1988 with the Sine Table and Chair and the Wood Chair – an armchair made out of bent natural beech wood. In 1989, he came up with the Felt Chair, a wonderfully curved armchair made at first out of felt and then followed by a second version in fibreglass with an aluminium back leg. A leather version was also added subsequently.
Newson’s most enigmatic work has been his furniture. His designs for chairs are continually fresh and inspired. The striking Gluon Chair (Moroso, 1989), the Orgone chair (1993), the wooden-looking-but-actually-plastic Micarta chair (2007) are all examples of his creativity and experimentation with new materials.
Furniture, though, is not all that Newson creates. He has tried his hand at possibly everything – dish racks, soap dishes, house numbers, airplane seats, champagne cases; even shoes and watches.
Newson’s interest in timepieces became evident from an early stage in his career. The first watch designed by him was the Pod Watch which he created in 1986. In 1989, he conjured up the mysterious Mystery clock, a mushroom-shaped carbon fibre/Teflon clock with two spheres that rotate in circles – one denoting hours and the other minutes. In collaboration with Oliver Ike, Newson launched his own watch company, Ikepod, which “produces modern, design-focussed watches based on traditional values of watch-making.” His most recent watches are fine examples of simplicity in design, even though he chose to work only with precious metal.
Given how much he travels every year, it is inevitable that Marc Newson also ends up doing a lot of transportation-related design work. He has designed bicycles (MN Bicycle, 1999), jet planes (Falcon Jet 900B, Qantas A380), and prototypes for cars (Ford), watercraft (Aquariva) and even a space plane (prototype for EADS, a European aerospace company). An exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York showcased his transport collection in 2010.
Newson’s work continues to inspire and enthral. The Lockheed Lounge is now firmly in another league of furniture history. Madonna used it in her video for her song ‘Rain’, giving it mass recognition. And in 2009, one of the pieces sold for an unprecedented £1.5 million, making it a record for a living designer.
Newson’s work is shown in many major museum collections, including the MoMA in New York, London’s Design Museum and V&A, and the Vitra Design Museum. His designs are collectibles and sell out quickly, despite some outrageous price-tags on some. For example, at the 2006 Design Fair in Miami, he produced seventeen Chop Chop tables, all of which sold out in twenty minutes at an estimated US $1,70,000.
Newson continues to remain inspired by biomorphism, new technology and unexpected materials in the market. In his hand, ordinary products move into the realm of fantasy, becoming both, eminently usable and beautiful. What next? With Marc Newson, you never know. Prepare to be constantly surprised.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Marc Newson Ltd