Through his footwear brand United Nude, founder and creative director Rem D Koolhaas, who is a trained architect, has designed iconic creations for the likes of Lady Gaga and has collaborated with high profile creatives such as Iris van Herpen, Zaha Hadid and Issey Miyake.
The dutch label is known for “downsizing architecture to its most vulnerable scale – that of a woman’s foot,” and while their more flamboyant designs grab the most attention, their designs for everyday wear are just as impressive.
From the Mobius – a shoe design that appears in a single band, uniting the upper, sole, foot-bed and heel into one infinite piece – to the Loop, a mind-boggling shoe silhouette, every pair of United Nude shoes are surprisingly comfortable and stable.
“We do our best to make the shoes comfortable,” said Koolhaas during an interview at the brand’s store in The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur. “A lot of our heel construction, like the Eamz, is actually very comfortable and a very stable heel.
“Sometimes we create things that are more crazy and more experimental, but we don’t make shoes just for going to parties, we make shoes for every day use. High heels have become a little bit less popular in the world and we’re starting to develop more sneakers, more comfortable and more casual types of shoes, and we’re also expanding our men’s line,” he added.
Lady Gaga happens to be a patron of the brand, but Koolhaas says their shoes are predominantly worn by people who like and understand design.
“We’re not so much a fashion kind of brand, we’re really a design brand which is a little bit of a unique position in the industry, and that also comes from my background as being trained as an architect,” he explained.
“So the customer base because of that is a lot of designers that like our products or people that are into design or they’re people that know what what they like, therefore they’re more independent and confident. This is a brand not so much for people who follow trends, they are not buying for the season but for their own particular style and liking.
This isn’t to say he ignores trends completely, they pay attention to fashion forecasts and take note of them.
“But we hardly ever pick up anything from them, we just look at them for the colours, because people tend to want to match with other items they own, so if the colour of the season is going to be coral, we might add some coral into our collections.”
Despite not going with the fashion seasons’ flow, United Nude puts out new collections every few months, with fresh designs to go with their classic styles.
United Nude, which also produces accessories like sunglasses, belts and wallets, is available 50 countries, with seven flagship stores in Amsterdam, London, New York, Vienna, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, and its popularity is steadily growing in Asia.
According to Koolhaas, customers on this side of the world seem to be more open-minded when it comes to avant-garde or unconventional designs.
“What Malaysia has in common with some of the other Asian markets, the economy has grown really fast over the past 20 years, countries that have that, there’s a lot of newness coming into this market and they’re not so conservative when it comes to fashion,” said Koolhaas.
“If you go to the American, British or French markets they can be quite conservative, they have a lot of heritage brands, when we first launched in America people were like ‘oh my God, what is that, that’s crazy’, they didn’t like change, but here, people are more open-minded, our brand is doing well in Asia, Asians are open to newness, there’s not that much retrospect or conservatism.”
With a passion for design that extends beyond shoes (Koolhaas has designed furniture and even a car), his reason for continuing to test his limits is “because I can”.“Design is becoming more open and more experimental, I see a lot of designers including myself, part of their design output is fulfilling their sort of childhood dreams,” he explained.
“I think that’s very important, if you had something you always wanted to do since you were a child and you get the opportunity to do it just because you can, that’s exactly why we’re doing it! And that’s why we’re so happy.
“Those kind of ‘I can do it now’ positions have been created by myself, it’s not like it was given to me as if I was born in a rich family and therefore I can do whatever I want, the fact that I can do the things that I want to do, is because I paved my own way.”