Q+A: Marc Newson



It’s been more than a decade since Marc Newson, 43, launched his groundbreaking brand of Swiss-made Ikepod watches. In the interim, the Australian-born designer has put his sculptural touch to everything from cell phones to private jets (and, most recently, a suborbital space plane). But despite his freelance success, all was not well with his luxury-watch business. In 2003, having filed for bankruptcy protection, Ikepod seemed but a cultish dream. Now, after a fresh injection of cash from New York art collector Adam Lindemann, and hosting a new management team, Ikepod is back, more exclusive and covetable than ever.

Congratulations, I hear you’ve just become a father. Design-wise, are you struggling to equip the baby?
Yes, it’s pitiful really, a completely woeful industry. I can safely say I scoured the internet for weeks and weeks for a decent cot and there is nothing.

Does it make you want to jump in and put some good stuff out there?
All someone’s got to do is ask me. I’d love to have a go at designing a decent pushchair [stroller]. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would be light.

Let’s talk about Ikepod. The brand has been on a long hiatus and the new watches are signed, limited editions costing upwards of $50,000. I take it you’re targeting an even more select clientele this time around?

What we’ve done is embrace that kind of consumer rather than spreading ourselves thinly over a big market. So we’re using platinum, gold, and titanium—all noble metals, which are very nice to work with and great to wear.

Your new business partner, Adam Lindemann, is a luxury-watch enthusiast, isn’t he? He told me he had a great collection of vintage Rolexes.
Yeah, it certainly helps when you’ve got someone tuned in to the collector’s mind-set as opposed to an accountant’s mind-set.

You’ve stuck with the front-access monocoque case design and the rubber strap. What was the original thinking behind that?
It’s a slightly nerdy thing, but I always hated that watches were constructed in fundamentally the same way, with a back that’s completely flat. Because there’s nothing on the bottom of the watch—no crevices or cracks or joints—it’s a completely flush surface. And I just like rubber; it can do things that metal can’t. Personally, I rejoice in juxtaposing materials that most people would think of as completely inappropriate together. It’s one of the things that differentiates us in what is essentially a very conservative market.

The luxury-watch market—a bit like the baby market—is like the land that design forgot, isn’t it?
Yeah. I mean, honestly, someone that goes into a watch shop and looks at one of our watches and says, “Oh that’s rubbish, yuck!” I mean, forget it, I’m just not interested in that person. If they don’t have the imagination to look beyond their limited perceptions of what rubber is, or synthetic materials, there are plenty of other shitty watches they can choose from.

The new watch, Horizon, has a very distinctive face and absolutely no frills, not even a date or second hand. Is that because you figured people are relying on their cell phones for those functions?

Perhaps. It never occurred to me. I still like the convenience of a watch. It’s a lot faster than putting my hand in my pocket and pulling out a phone. At the end of the day I want my watch to tell the time. I don’t need it to do a hell of a lot more than that.

The mesh pattern on the face seems to be a recurring theme—I’m thinking of the Zvezdochka trainer you did for Nike and the carved white marble Voronoi shelf in your recent show at New York’s Gagosian Gallery.

It was also on one of the early watches we did way back. It’s based on a type of geometry that I personally like. Geometry is an integral part of what I do. It’s really intrinsic to being a designer to be interested in that kind of stuff. That and nature. Not the randomness that exists in nature, but it’s the order and the way that things are replicated, the recurring patterns, that I find fascinating.

You originally studied jewelry and sculpture in Australia, and now you’re working in precious metals and marble. Do you think if someone looked at your student work now, they’d be able to tell it was by the same person?
I think the stuff I did for the show at Gagosian and the watches are more clearly linked with what I was doing at the beginning of my career than with any other time. As soon as I left art school, I started making bits of furniture-slash-sculpture. It’s not a wacky new phenomenon I’ve inadvertently found myself in. It’s just attracted a lot of attention now because of the prices. I designed a piece called the Lockheed Lounge that continually sets records at auction for the highest price made for the work of a living designer. That’s when people notice.

I asked Adam Lindemann why he thought your work was the most sought-after by collectors, and he said, “There’s something about Marc’s work that makes you horny.”
[Laughing] Jesus, that’s unusual. I don’t think so, personally. What differentiates my work from somebody else’s? I’d be the worst person to ask. But in terms of why it costs so much now, and do I have any issues with it, well, people have no issue with it in the art world. I mean 50 years ago, decorative and fine art were considered very, very similar. It’s only in really recent times that there’s been this big schism. But there’s a huge degree of speculation involved—you may as well be in the stock market buying shares. So maybe you could say the design world has something to learn from that.

Except, unlike stocks, the work can only get more valuable if you die.
[Laughing] Yeah, well, that’s a good idea.

Fiona Rattray is a freelance writer based in London.

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