Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Marc Newson

Take an hourglass. Widen the throat. Squash the ends. Use that shape to design, say, 100 different things, from a bottle opener to an airplane. If you can do that and still make each object seem seductive and fresh, you're probably Marc Newson. This is trickier than it sounds.

What are the odds of everything, no matter its purpose, ending up more or less the same shape? And each looking as if it was always intended to be so? And of their hitting the eye differently enough that the designer never seems to be repeating himself?

Newson, 41, made his name in furniture. His Lockheed Lounge, a kind of peanut-shape daybed, was featured in a Madonna video. A horde of chairs followed, some smooth and soft like sand dunes, others with surprising gullet-like openings at either end, slippery and slick. All were variations on a theme: sleek and low slung, a cheetah before the chase. And all looked surprisingly, almost alarmingly new. Since his furniture days, Newson has taken on a legion of projects. And if his creations lack diversity in angles, they don't in purpose. He seems unafraid to take on any challenge, from restaurant to watch, from car to soap dish, from plane to, well, vibrator. He was among the first to bust down the walls that separated the design disciplines, at least partly because in his native Australia, there isn't enough work for designers to stick to one field. But it's also because Newson is naturally brazen. He's not afraid of girth — his drinking glasses are wide and flat. Some of his furniture is positively squat. He smothered his designs in color back when most designers eschewed anything that was not white or stainless steel.

Newson has spent his life on the move, living in Tokyo, London and Paris, soaking up the design sensibility of each. Perhaps that's also reflected in his most recent ambitious project, a plane: low and wide like a stingray, it is classic Newson.

From the Archive
Style & Design: How Retro Can You Go?