Always up for a good challenge – that’s industrial designer Marc Newson. And his latest collaboration with a French luxury brand is no different.
Newson, 52, specialises in aircraft, product and furniture design. His style features smooth geometric lines and translucency, and tends to have an absence of sharp edges.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Newson studied jewellery and sculpture at the Sydney College of the Arts; he graduated in 1984.
In 1986, he was awarded a grant from the Australian Crafts Council and staged his first exhibition. The following year, he moved to Tokyo where he lived and worked until he moved to Paris in 1991 where he set up a studio. He describes his 1988 Embryo Chair as “one of the first pieces where I hit upon a discernible style”.
In 2005, Newson was selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. Yet another accomplishment for Newson is his newest collaboration with Louis Vuitton for a range of rolling trunks.
“What compelled me was the challenge to design a great piece of luggage, because like a lot of people, I travel a lot and I feel that I am in many ways kind of uniquely placed to be able to do that, as a consumer more so than a designer,” explains Newson in a press release.
In the following Q&A, he elaborates on his design process.
In 2014, you had your first collaboration (Celebrating Monogram) with Louis Vuitton. How is this project different?
The Celebrating Monogram exercise was fundamentally a lot of fun, and apart from being able to do exactly what I wanted, there weren’t that many commercial imperatives to consider. This project, on the other hand, is altogether very different. This range will be in production indefinitely and available all over the world. I guess it’s safe to say that there are going to be a lot more of this product out there, but its functional requirements are also completely different. The requirements for this luggage are rigorous and the process was arguably more a matter of engineering than of design.
How did the brand’s history and products inspire you?
I was very inspired in general because this project was about designing a piece of luggage and, as we all know, Louis Vuitton is primarily and certainly historically renowned as a luggage maker. It’s a great honour to be asked to design a range of products that really fit within the core of the brand, not only from historical point of view but from a cultural perspective.
What was your design process?
The brief for the project was fairly open: It was to design, or redesign primarily carry-on luggage in a way that was meaningful to the contemporary traveller. It wasn’t meant to speak only to Louis Vuitton clients and fans; it is intended to be an object or a series of objects that may appeal to people who don’t necessarily have any previous sort of connection to the brand; people who will be attracted to the range not only because of how it looks, but how the pieces function.
Functionality was all-important, and that involves considering weight, robustness, volume, the actual usable capacity of the internal dimensions and how consumers interact with the product. Personally, there are many things that irritate me about using products like these and I can safely say that I’ve probably spent 20 years designing these things in my head.
Can you describe the materials you borrowed from the aeronautics industry?
We used a number of quite innovative materials in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In the main range, we used a type of polypropylene composite that essentially represents the structure of the form. It’s been moulded in a protected way but it allowed us to create a structure that is flexible yet durable and, most importantly, extremely light.
We’ve been able to use that material in a way that no one else has, so I can honestly say it’s very innovative and has resulted in a product that fulfils all the criteria we had targeted. We’ve also used a very innovative titanium composite: It’s titanium bonded to a polypropylene composite, which is another material that’s never been used in that way for a piece of luggage.
How did you achieve such lightness?
We were able to achieve an extraordinary level of lightness through rigorous engineering. It was a bit like working in a Formula One setup: every little tooth on the zip was weighed. The zip is aluminium and is specially made, so it is lightweight. Every gram was considered. I’d say more than 50% of my drive and inspiration were devoted to making this a lightweight product because given all the travelling I do, I just don’t want to carry excess weight if I don’t have to.
What were the challenges behind the creative process?
The challenges behind the creative process are very much the same, no matter the product. It’s really about coming to some degree of commonality between what you envisage the object is going to look like and what’s really achievable given all of the parameters you’re working with. The parameters aren’t just physical; they’re also cultural. But slowly, over time, you gradually refine those two sets of criteria to the point where they hopefully merge and you end up with a product that does all of the things that you hoped and imagined it was going to do. That process can take years.
What is real luxury for you?
Real luxury is a very tough thing to define. Many people have tried to do it, and it’s an especially hot topic. For me, it has to do with quality and longevity: those are the two attributes I associate with luxury. I love the idea of designing a product that is made as well as it can be, and will last for as long as it can possibly last. We’ve left no stone unturned in terms how the details have been executed. For me, in many ways that’s about as luxurious as something can get.