Interview: Marc Newson

From chairs and cabin interiors to cars, Australian-born Marc Newson has designed them all. The influential and prolific industrial designer tells us why such creativity is just a job to him

As a child growing up in Sydney, Marc Newson enjoyed tinkering with the tools
in his grandfather's workshop "to make stuff... I was trying to make everything
I could. I can remember, in my teenage years, thinking what I would like to do,
and this is it—to make things. I'm not sure I knew it was design, but that's just
definition, really." One of his earliest obsessions was building bicycles—surely
a result of his passion for cycling, which he does not have much time for these

These days, for Newson, are jet-setting ones as he travels from his professional
base in London, to anywhere a client brief takes him. His latest destination is
the Italian Riviera, where he is just in the final stages of completing a boat for
an Italian company.

Newson co-founded and owns his own watch company, Ikepod, that produces
modern, design-focussed watches based on traditional values of watch-making

It is also why he's landed in Singapore for a super-fast overnight stop to introduce
his most recently completed project—a sparkling and sensual hourglass, a limited
edition of 30 pieces that can be admired at L'Atelier by The Hour Glass, at ION

Making Time

Deceptively simple, this 60-minute timer (above) encased in a single piece of
borosilicate glass (a type of glass highly resistant to thermal shock), appears
to be no major departure from its classic predecessors. In its proportions though
is that telling "biomorphism" signature of organic flowing lines and lightness that
characterizes much of Newson's work.

As precise and accurate in its construction as any luxury timepiece, every iota
of material used to make this hourglass is meticulously calculated to track the
passage of time consistently. This includes every single one of the 21 million gold-plated
nanoballs functioning as the sands of time in this sculptural tribute to horology.
Of course it also includes the 0.035mm aperture between the two halves of the hourglass
that functions to regulate the passage of the nanoballs.

Newson with his limited edition hourglass

But an hourglass designed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of The Hour Glass
seems almost a little too easy for one of the most celebrated design-driven minds
of the 21st century. The fact that Newson co-founded and owns his own watch company,
Ikepod, whose watches retail at The Hour Glass in Singapore, makes one wonder if
Newson might have tried a different approach. Ikepod produces modern, design-focused
wristwatches based on traditional values of watch-making.

"To be honest, it was already conceived as an idea to do an hourglass, and then
the opportunity arose to do it in conjunction with The Hour Glass," says Newson.
Indeed, that original hourglass was conceived with silver nanoballs and emerged
as a prototype that was actually shown but never truly manufactured for retail.
The anniversary edition for The Hour Glass, limited to 30 pieces, is the final product.


Ideas And Cities

It's not just client meetings that propel Newson around the world. After his studies
in jewelry and fine arts at Sydney College of the Arts, his fluid paneled aluminum "Lockheed
Lounge" chaise lounge captured the interest of the international design press. This
initial recognition brought Newson to Tokyo, Japan, where he stayed for five years
and created yet another icon—the "Embryo Chair." Then Paris came calling as his
industrial engagements came to span a wide range of clients, ranging from Alessi
and B&B Italia to Flos and Idée; from Samsonite and Qantas to, most recently, Smeg.

At the moment, Newson calls London home. "I realized very early on that Australia
wasn't going to be easy to have as a base so I moved to Japan as a means of establishing
something (outside the country). But the location was really more of a spontaneous
move, nothing strategic about it. But by my next move to Paris, I understood that
to really be able to do what I wanted to do, most of my work and clients were based
in and around Europe (so I had to be too). Eventually, I moved to London because
it's just a better place to do business. Paris is a great place to live but not
to do business," Newson reveals of his city sojourns.

Lockheed Lounge, 1986

Clearly, all that re-location and re-orientation is going to have an impact on
a designer's mind. And it's all a good thing, according to Newson, "I think traveling
does (influence), a lot. I think it's very important for designers to expose themselves
to different cultures. Design is a very international business and there's no way
I can work in just one country. Design speaks an international language, it's not
geographically specific. That's good and bad—you end up doing a lot of traveling,
but the result is work that is very global."

What Work Is

Widely acknowledged as one of the most prolific and influential contemporary designers,
Newson—who has been called the new Starck—doesn't seem to run out of ideas the way
other creative-types often do. His design acumen graces restaurants, interiors,
furniture, cookware, transportation, watches, luggage and even the occasional shoe;
just listing Newson's portfolio of work is a mind-boggling affair.

Does Newson not sleep? Indeed, on the occasion of the interview, he is visibly
exhausted from a 24-hour schedule that included flight delays, bad traffic, a dinner
and a late night out. Still, the youthful and lean 46-year-old is doggedly pushing
on. He is also dogged when it comes to relentlessly pushing out the number of designs
he does. "I'm lucky I have the opportunity to do all these things. But at the end
of the day, it's my job. I look at it very pragmatically, given that I spend 300
days a year designing things, it's no surprise I produce a lot of products."

Top: Hotel Puerta America—Madrid, 2005. Above: Dom Perignon Black Box, 2010

This no-excuses ethos also illuminates how Newson can be such a widely applied
designer. "The fact is that they are all design," he says of the spectrum of works
he has amassed to his credit from a two-decade career. "They all share a common
thread which requires the same skill set that you apply to designing a bottle or
a pair of glasses—they are all problems which need to be solved, and they are all
going to involve the use of some kind of technology, material and process."

"Sometimes, you'll find they can be quite similar. But even if not, it's the job
of a designer to be able to do all of those things; if you can't, then I would probably
say you're not a very good designer. You need to be able to respond to different
briefs and problems."

Hardly surprising then, that he considers Jonathan Ive, senior vice president
of industrial design at Apple Inc, a peer worthy of respect. A similarly decorated
and prolific designer, Ive is the man behind Apple's sexy good looks, as the brain
behind the style sheet of the iMac, the PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro,
iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

"He's done such an incredible job, every Appple product he designs, he has basically
re-invented it. You never knew what was going to happen or (what it would end up
looking like) before he came up with the iPod or the iPhone. He just keeps going
and it's very impressive," says Newson.

Although Newson calls what he does a job—and is adamant about it even—but clearly,
drive and passion are at the heart of the man and contemporary legend. You could
say Newson is the work, even as he attempts to take a reprieve, "I'm big on holidays… just
being able to unwind and not think about work. But it's not easy because I always
end up thinking about work." For those who can't wait to see and experience the
next Newson project, that's good news.

The Ikepod Hourglass by Marc Newson
  • Transparent yet enigmatic, classic yet cutting-edge, the commemorative hourglass
    by Marc Newson's Ikepod watch firm for the 30th anniversary of The Hour Glass is
    intrinsically collectable. The hour-timer is made from 3mm-thick glass, which contains
    21 million nanoballs flowing in a mesmerising rhythm. A work of horological art
    as much as it is of exacting time-keeping science, it retails at S$28,000 exclusively
    at L'Atelier by The Hour Glass.

    2 Orchard Turn
    #03-06 ION Orchard.
    Tel: +65 6509 9268

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