Australian industrial designer Marc Newson can lay claim to being the man who designed the world’s most expensive chair: the Lockheed Lounge fetched £2.4m at auction in 2015. But his projects, known for their curved edges, also include more everyday pieces. He co-designed the Apple Watch with Sir Jonathan Ive and created luggage for Louis Vuitton, a camera for Leica (again with Ive), hobs and ovens for Smeg, a concept car for Ford and shoe designs for Nike. One of his more recent projects was a limited edition of 1,947 cases for a collector’s book on Ferrari, including some that featured stands of hand-bent steel made to look like an engine. In 2012, he received the British CBE honour for services to design.
Why did you choose this profession?
I didn’t choose it originally. I enrolled to study jewellery and silversmithing at Sydney College of the Arts because I was obsessed with making things. I learnt to weld, solder, set stones and use all sorts of tools. Then I became interested in making furniture and persuaded my tutors that chairs were a form of wearable body art. It went from there.
How would you characterise your style?
I don’t believe in having a style; I just do what I do. I approach every brief in the same way, whether it is an aircraft or a spoon. I see it as an object to be designed in a beautiful way, ideally using new materials, processes and technologies. My ultimate goal is always the same: to express order and simplicity.
Name your top three influences
I am influenced by popular culture wherever I happen to be in the world. Certain places inspire me, in particular Japan, with its extraordinary mix of ancient and new. I am still influenced by some of the old school of designers — postwar Italian designers such as Achille Castiglione and Enzo Mari, and American designers and inventors such as Raymond Loewy.
What has been your favourite project?
Whatever I am working on is always my favourite as I become enthused about learning new stuff. There are a couple of confidential projects launching in the autumn that I am very excited about at the moment and I’m working on a new solo exhibition with the Gagosian New York scheduled for early 2019. I can honestly say I have enjoyed all my projects, though some have been more smoothly achieved than others.
How surprised were you by the price fetched by the Lockheed Lounge at auction?
Quite surprised — and delighted. I wish I’d kept a few! That said, it didn’t happen overnight. Since 1986, when I first made the Lockheed Lounge, my work has steadily and consistently increased in value.
If you weren’t allowed, who would design or choose a chair for you?
[The Italian Art Nouveau designer] Carlo Bugatti because his work is utterly unique and makes me smile.
Is there anyone in your field that you particularly admire?
[Apple chief design officer Sir] Jonathan Ive, who I’ve known for over 20 years. He has huge intelligence and intuition, and an unswerving eye for consistency and beauty. He’s also fun to be with!
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
Before I had two daughters and a dog there were many things I wouldn’t have allowed in my home. But now it is littered with a lot of plastic and furry objects and pink sparkly stuff — and I really don’t mind.
What is the strangest request you’ve received or project you’ve worked on?
That’s hard to say. I feel lucky enough that in my career to date I have been approached to design for all manner of industries, which is what I love about being a designer. My work always varies from the everyday to the extraordinary. I suppose, to name one, the sex toy project Mojo for Myla in 2002 was a little unusual.
What do you look for in a client/customer?
Someone with a vision, who takes risk and believes in design as a way of differentiating themselves in the market place; someone who believes in bringing fresh eyes to their industry. I believe any kind of cross-pollination of disciplines is healthy. My work in one industry usually influences another project in a totally different industry.
A good example of this is my work in aeronautics. The air industry essentially leads the design business because of its access to new tech. When designing with Airbus I was exposed to technologies you never come across in the furniture industry and I have used materials and processes from this industry in my work for fashion projects, such as clothing ranges for G-Star and shoes for Nike.
What do you find most satisfying or challenging about combining technology and design?
Rapid prototyping and stereo lithography, which is a form of 3D printing for models, allow you to design an object in virtual space and transmit the data to another machine to “grow” or “print” that object in 3D. These machines will soon be available for domestic use. Kids will probably have access to a technology that can produce the toys of their imagination.
The worst thing about this, though, in my opinion, is that it removes the experience of making things.
What is the next frontier for design? What are the next challenges?
You can only take people into the future according to their comfort level and frame of reference. If you can create an object that is familiar yet new, as opposed to completely unfamiliar, it is an easier, kinder and more digestible transition.
Photographs: Marc Newson PR; Bloomberg; AFP/Getty Images