For celebrated Australian industrial designer Marc Newson, inspiration often comes from unexpected places.
UK-based industrial designer Marc Newson has been spending a lot of time thinking about the colour blue. Standing inside Rue de Castiglione, Paris – one of Gagosian’s three galleries in the French capital – he tells monocle that the pieces on show were in shades of indigo and cerulean to honour the blue and white colours of Greece, where they were first displayed last autumn.
Among them is a large armchair that was made using the cloisonné enamelling technique, which dates back to the 13th century, creating delicate patterns in the metalwork. Covered in petal-like swirls and handmade in Beijing, the chair (pictured) was fired in a specially made kiln. “We had to build the oven in China because there weren’t any the right size,” he says, pointing at a photograph of the large brick structure in the exhibition catalogue. “Re-energising old crafts is something that fascinates me.”
Newson is the only designer to be represented by Gagosian. Throughout his career, he has blurred the line between art and design. Whether working on luxury plane cabins, limited-edition furniture or the Apple Watch, Newson has often tried to step outside his comfort zone. “For me, every project is like getting a new university degree,” he says.
Known for his works’ futuristic shapes and organic lines, Newson is frequently touted as the most influential industrial designer of his generation. Over the years, his clients have ranged from Apple to French luxury house Hermès. Newson studied jewellery and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts in the 1980s and he reasoned with his tutors that, like jewellery, furniture was related to the body. “I was a huge admirer of what happened in Italy after the Second World War,” he says. “My dream at the time was to work for Cassina, b&b Italia or Cappellini.”
By the age of 25, Newson had already created the Lockheed Lounge, a chaise longue formed from thin plates of aluminium, which fetched €2.7m at auction in 2015, making it one of the most expensive works of design ever sold. However, his work also includes objects as wide-ranging as bicycles, door handles, boats and bottle openers. “This diversity is crucial for me,” says Newson. “Specialisation can be good but I have learned so much from doing different things. I’m better equipped to solve problems now.”
This way of working, he says, is important because one project can inform the next in unexpected ways. “When I designed a trainer for Nike, the technology and inspiration came from having designed a piece of luggage for Samsonite,” says Newson. “A shoe comes in contact with the ground and it gets worn. So I thought, ‘Gosh, that is exactly the same as luggage.’” The realisation was also rooted in personal experience. Though Newson’s practice is now based in London, the designer is always on the move.
Talking to other artists and designers around the world while on his travels has allowed Newson to keep close tabs on the industry, which he believes is suffering from saturation. “It’s a strange time now,” he says. “When I started my career, I felt that so much had not been done. If I were a young designer today, I’d be a bit intimidated by the sheer mass of stuff that exists.”
Even so, there is one object to which Newson keeps returning: the chair. Whether it’s an office chair for Knoll or one of the complex, handmade limited-edition pieces at Gagosian, the object has always appealed to Newson. “Sitting is halfway between standing up and lying down,” he says. “So the chair is the most fundamental object.” Sometimes, focusing on the basics is the most interesting thing that a designer can do.
1963: Born in Sydney
1984: Graduates in jewellery and sculpture from Sydney College of the Arts
1997: Establishes his studio, Marc Newson Ltd, in London
2006: Appointed creative director of Qantas
2012: Becomes a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (cbe) for his services to design
2014: Joins Apple’s design team ahead of the launch of its first smartwatch
2019: Co-founds creative collective LoveFrom with UK designer and Apple’s former chief design officer Jony Ive
2022: Exhibits limited-edition furniture collection at Gagosian Athens. The items were then shown at the gallery’s Paris Rue de Castiglione branch earlier this year