THE recent visit of architect-designer Rem D. Koolhaas in Manila brought together some of the who’s who in real estate, design, architecture and technology and revealed how architects and designers do more than create buildings.
I’ll be running a full series of architects and designers who do more not just for their clients but also for their people and country.
This was inspired by my meeting with Rem who started as an architect and having worked closely with the starchitect and namesake Rem Koolhaas and founding partner of OMA.
This series will feature stalwarts in architecture and design, such as Royal Pineda, William Ti, Lara Fernandez Barrios and the Almario sisters, Cynthia and Ivy.
Rem D. Koolhaas, the architect turned shoemaking maverick
Ever wondered how something so small and simple like a shoe can be so intricate and groundbreaking? How in the world can a shoe be treated like a building in terms of architecture and industrial design? This sounds so out-of-the-box, yet Rem D. Koolhaas has done just that, and more.
Koolhaas is the founder and creative director of Dutch designer footwear brand United Nude which is known for its creative, unique and experimental collections. Among its numerous groundbreaking designs is the pioneer Möbius line (yes, inspired by a chair) which utilizes just a single strip for the heel, sole and foot bed.
There is the Wilderness shoe which has cloth molded to look like roots and branches, while the Fang model has multiple fangs on the soles which serve not just as heels but also as edgy accents. Such fashion-forward designs have turned heads the world over, snatching the spotlight on international Fashion Week runways and hogging the limelight at shoots and events. They are truly one-of-a-kind, as if each pair has its own vibe and personality. The other designs which may appear to be wild and flamboyant are actually among the most comfortable pairs around.
The success story of Koolhaas as a shoemaker and shoe designer, however, is not as rosy as it seems. When he was first starting out, Koolhaas thought of coming up with new shoe designs in order to elevate the standards of shoemaking. Although his ideas received praise, most established shoemakers refused to make his shoes because they did not believe in the viability and functionality of his designs. He was told that he had to make the shoes himself. And he did, even if he had no background in fashion.
“We ended up breaking the rules of shoes, not for the sake of breaking them, but simply by not knowing them,” said Koolhaas, who entered the shoemaking industry as a young architect. He talks about this philosophy further. “It’s not so much that I wanted to make what others wouldn’t make, but more that people who already knew more about shoes simply wouldn’t go there as my way of shoe design was just not logical enough from the point of conventional shoemaking.”
The second struggle of Koolhaas then was that he was nursing a broken heart. He, however, did not let his heartache over a girl distract him. He used his pain to get down to being creative.
With his architecture background, Koolhaas treated a shoe like a design project. This is where he merged architecture, fashion and industrial design in the United Nude brand. Such outputs made people realize that it was possible to downsize a large-scale design so that it can be applied to a shoe. And the results have been nothing short of amazing. United Nude remains to be a dynamic brand, 15 years since its launch, as it continues to create cutting-edge shoes. The company even won the Wallpaper Design Award in 2016. But United Nude is not just all about producing eye-catching designs. It is important to note that Koolhaas places the same premium on craftmanship so that his creativity is supported by functionality and durability.
In order to build on United Nude’s already reputable portfolio, Koolhaas has done collaborations with world-famous creatives like designer Linda Farrow, starchitect Zaha Hadid, and fashion designers Iris van Herpen, Antoine Peters and Issey Miyake. He has also made a bespoke boot for pop music icon Lady Gaga.
More to come
Despite all his achievements, Koolhaas is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is driven to do more even if he has already earned his rightful place in the shoemaking industry after elevating the art of shoemaking. He aims to continue bringing the shoe to the forefront because there are still many possibilities when it comes to designing shoes.
At present, Rem wears several hats under United Nude. He directs design teams and manages the marketing department. He derives his ideas regarding product development, shop development and design conventions from his travels abroad.
Koolhaas admits most of his time is spent on United Nude. “It is really a 24/7 thing, my brain never stops, I’m always thinking of what to make next. I’m never short of ideas, more so the opposite; I often must slow down as I have too many ideas, which could easily get in the way of my day-to-day duties,” Rem shared.
United Nude, which is already being sold in over 50 countries, is looking to enter new markets. United Nude will open in Manila in September.