As a footwear brand, United Nude is breaking the rules of conventional shoemaking. Its first design, the Möbius shoe, revolutionised heel construction with its unique shape — a single band that unites the upper sole, footbed and heel. Some say this breaking away from regular shoe design was because the United Nude founder, Rem D Koolhaas, did not have traditional training.
During the grand launch of United Nude’s store at The Gardens Mall, Options spoke to Koolhaas about how it all started and the new spring/summer 2019 collection.
Born into a family of architects (his father is an urban designer and architect while his uncle and namesake is the legendary Dutch architect and founder of Office for Metropolitan Architecture), Koolhaas went ahead and studied architecture, but he was not happy. “I could not stand the long processes of architecture … so many years on a project, so many restrictions and regulations. I was just put off by that whole approach,” he says. He then decided to look at product design and even made a few experimental documentaries with friends.
Although Koolhaas recalls drawing shoes at the age of nine and worked at a Timberland store when he was in secondary school, it was the end of a relationship that properly turned him to footwear. “I was heartbroken over a girl and I felt the need to downsize to a more personal and intimate scale, and I started sketching shoes.”
Within an hour, the Möbius shoe was born. The first model, made out of cardboard, is often brought out during exhibitions. In 2003, with the help of seventh-generation shoemaker Galahad Clark, United Nude began.
Talking about the new SS19 collection, Koolhaas says, “We are a very architectural footwear company. We have a lot of geometric shapes and we have material themes, themes of details and a bit of a mix in the [new] collection … We are also a brand that, rather than every season having a totally new story, we have quite a few products that are a continuation of the United Nude story, identity and signature.”
United Nude’s collection boasts multiple colour themes including Candy Snake, a vibrant pink and turquoise-hued palate that often includes a snakeskin pattern; Cyber Mix, a black and neon yellow colour scheme that has the odd burst of red in certain shoes; and Ice Fire, a pale ice blue base with highlights in a neon reddish orange. There is also a subtle colour combination called Scandinavian, which is a stylish mix of beige and slate grey.
Since its inception United Nude’s designs have brought a different perspective to the shoemaking industry. The Eamz heel, for instance, is a striking piece indeed. Inspired by the Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair, the aluminium cast heel resembles a chair leg that protrudes from the centre sole. One can feel the brilliance of this design when you put on the shoe. From the new collection I tried on the Eamz pump in coral pink and was impressed by how stable the shoe felt. It is comfortable and provides just as much support as a regular heel, but it makes you stand out.
The new collection also includes the original Möbius and the Loop design in some of the new colour palates. The SS19 collection also features unusual side
release buckles that are usually used for bags or tech equipment. “I have always liked these buckles and wanted to use them. I could not use them earlier because you need to take into consideration whether the market is ready for it. You can’t always make stuff that the market is not ready for, because then you are more of an artist than a brand,” says Koolhaas. The Molten Calla Mid and the Tech Bootie are some of the designs that include this distinctive clasp, making them look edgy and modern.
Koolhaas’ love for practicality is also seen in this collection with pieces such as the Delta Wedge having adjustable straps for added flexibility and comfort. United Nude explores a new design with the Delta Dorsey, a pointed-toe pump with a statement triangular heel. Available in Candy Snake, Cyber Mix and Ice Fire, this shoe has a glove-like fit for comfort with its own unique profile.
“A shoe either flexes or rolls — the two principles — so that you can walk,” explains Koolhaas as he demonstrates with the Rock shoe, made in collaboration with Issey Miyake. “This is one of my favourite products in this store. I really like it when the silhouette is different from any other shoe out there. In the marketing industry they call it a ‘breakable’. It means that even if you break a product into pieces, you will still recognise where it is from. A Coca-Cola bottle, for example, is a very good breakable,” he adds.
United Nude has multiple breakables, from the Eamz to the Delta Wedge, which goes to show how unique its approach to footwear really is.
The SS19 collection introduces vibrant hues to the brand’s staple designs but also explores new, elegant and edgy silhouettes. Wearing one of his prototypes for the autumn/winter collection, Koolhaas adds that the future will bring more designs for men and more collaborations with artists such as Latvian singer-songwriter Viktoria Modesta and American model Shaun Ross.
United Nude is at Level 1, The Gardens Mall. This article first appeared on Feb 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.