Sydney-born Marc Newson is an international design god. He’s achieved a rare position half-way between artist and industrial designer. The Sydney Morning Herald profiles its native son and gives some interesting career and personal details of a designer who’s market continues to advance even in a challenging economic environment:
The Midas touch of design has danced over every corner of our lives, and few people have benefited from this as much as the versatile Newson. Now 45, he has designed, among other things, saucepans, a bicycle, watches, boats, a shoe boutique for Azzedine Alaia in Paris, aeroplane interiors and first-class airport lounges in Melbourne and Sydney for Qantas, the Lever House and Canteen restaurants in Manhattan and Coast restaurant in London, cutlery for Alessi, sunglasses for Lanvin, clothes for G-Star, trainers for Nike, luggage for Samsonite, chairs for Cappellini, lighting for Flos. Even a vibrator. In 2005, Time magazine named Newson one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Anne Watson, who worked with Newson when she was a curator at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, puts Newson in the world’s top 10 industrial designers, with names such as Philippe Starck and Ron Arad. Where he has shot ahead of the pack is at the very rarified end of the design spectrum sometimes called design-art: handcrafted, limited editions of pieces of furniture so sculptural they are more art than serviceable item. […]
There are just 15 Lockheed Lounges in existence; and when one recently sold at auction for £1.1 million, it set a record for a piece by a living designer. Originally from Sydney, Newson moved to Melbourne, then Japan, then Europe. He now calls London home, has a house in Paris and spends much of his time criss-crossing the globe. Last year he married British stylist and former model Charlotte Stockdale, the daughter of a baronet who was once voted among the 50 most glamorous women in the world by British Vogue. Their life together is hectic […]
Newson sees himself as a gun for hire, jetting in to fix people’s design problems. He comes up with many of his solutions thousands of feet above the earth – if he’s flying Qantas, reclining on a Skybed he designed himself – filling notebooks with small, obscure drawings only he can understand. His biomorphic forms are not so much futuristic, as retro-futuristic, like a hopeful, now-lost idea of what the 21st century might look like. They are usually curved, almost molten-looking, and the early work, in particular, was often in DayGlo-like orange, yellow or green. Everything from his chaise longues to his lamps looks like it might move; it’s easy to imagine his Embryo chair skittering across the room, like a benign science-fiction creature. A Newson piece appeals because it is at once brilliantly new, yet never alienating, and often fun.
Newson’s greatest hits
LOCKHEED LOUNGE The lounge was meant to be one fluid aluminium form but Newson didn’t know how to create it. So he riveted aluminium sheets together, giving the piece a military aircraft feel. In April, it broke the record for the highest price paid for a work by a living designer, when it sold for £1.1 million. “It’s become the most iconic piece of that genre that lies somewhere between design and art,” Newson says.
EMBRYO CHAIR The first Newson chair to go into production, through the Japanese company Idee in 1988, and later with Cappellini. The Embryo chair looks familiar now, but its rounded shape was radically new 20 years ago. “No one was making things in bright colours that were curvy and seductive and sensual,” says Newson. “I’d been subconsciously developing a style, and with that piece I think I defined what that style was.”
ATMOS 561 CLOCK Long fascinated by the Atmos clock, which is powered by minute changes in temperature, Newson designed his own version. “It’s an incredibly complex thing, but it was developed 85 years ago and essentially hasn’t been modified since,” says Newson. “I was trying to reinterpret it in a slightly more contemporary way, but at the same time, of course, be mindful of the fact that it’s historically an incredibly important object.”
QANTAS LOUNGE Newson designed the airline’s first-class lounges in Melbourne and Sydney. He says he is inspired by the golden age of air travel, when it was exciting and glamorous, rather than a chore. “It’s fundamentally about creating a consistent experience,” he says of his aircraft cabin designs, “as if it was designed at the same time, that looks as though design was at the forefront of the process, and that works as a whole.”
BIOMEGA BIKE Newson’s sleek “modern urban” bicycle designs for Danish industrial design company Biomega feature everything from powerful disc brakes and a chainless drive system to a body glued together with Formula 1 epoxy – said to be the most adhesive and elastic bond ever made. He has even designed a glow-in-the-dark model. Cycling geeks have described Newson’s bikes as either high art or wild ride – perhaps both.
WATCHES Since Newson first began designing timepieces in the 1980s, his wristwatches have been studies in elegant simplicity. His Ikepod collection of Swiss-made watches includes Solaris, named after Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film where dreams and reality merge. Newson’s symmetrical design renders the concept of duality via two time zones, with one face visible and the other hidden.
THE SKYBED As the creative director of Qantas, Newson’s first job was designing the Skybed, a plush business class sleeper seat. Next he took on the interior of the A380: its economy-class seat won the top award at this year’s Australian International Design Awards, which were held in Melbourne recently. He is now working his way through the rest of the fleet.
FORD CAR Newson was hired by Ford in 1999 to rethink the car from the ground up. The result was the 021C concept car – never intended to go into production – which he based on the box-like drawings of cars we did as children. It featured a boot that pulls out like a drawer, swivel seats, and rear hinged “suicide” rear doors like those found on a Rolls Royce.
Grand Designs (Sydney Morning Herald)