Interview: Marc Newson


My new article for COOL HUNTING

Recently, we reported on the launch of a new collaboration between Safilo and acclaimed Australian designer Marc Newson, meant to celebrate 80 years of activity for the historic Italian eyewear company. At Milan Design Week, we had the honor to talk to Newson himself. In a totally white space filled with light, in the historic halls of La Triennale, the designer spoke about manufacturing processes, signature products, heritage and the future of design.

How did you get in contact with Safilo?

I was approached by Safilo about 18 months ago and, in terms of industrial design, it was a relatively short period of time. I automatically assumed it would be sunglasses or something more fashion-oriented, but they said they were actually interested in optical frames. I became very excited about that because for the first time three years ago, I had to start wearing glasses. As a consumer, I found it really difficult as a male to go and find nice optical frames. It sounds like a crazy thing and there’s so many products on the market,but I really, really had difficulty. So I was using an old pair of frames which I liked and I put lenses in, but they were antique frames and didn’t work very well.

You also had the chance to get in with the production side, since you have worked a lot in recuperating specific techniques and materials.

Safilo is an old company with a really rich history, and that’s always a wonderful place to start. I work with a lot of brands that have a rich history and it’s good on one hand, it’s difficult on the other hand. In some cases it can be quite heavy and inhibiting. In other cases, depending on the mentality or the philosophy of the company, it can become a fantastic kind of wealth of information.

Safilo is a quintessentially Italian company, so they’ve lived through the greatest periods of design because they’re in the spiritual hub of design. To go through the historical archive, with products, techniques and philosophy, it’s an inspiring process, it’s a much better place to start.

Did you start from already existing styles in terms of shape or did you start from scratch?

It was a combination of three things: it was starting from scratch on one hand, on the other hand looking through the range of products that have been produced by Safilo for the last 80 years. Not only to take ideas, but to understand the philosophy of the company because there is a kind of deep design DNA, there is a way that Safilo does things, which is different to other manufacturers. And then the third thing is to simply create something that I’m happy to wear as a consumer.

In this specific project and other projects you’ve made, how is it possible to keep to the next level, to remember—but not too much—what was before?

My job is not to reinvent the wheel, but it’s a reinterpretation. It’s a way just to make it more contemporary. Probably it also has something to do with the fact that I come from Australia. I was born in a culture with no sort of historical baggage in design, so everything for me was new in one way. It’s like if I work for Riva, the most important thing for me is when somebody sees a boat 100 meters away, they say, “Ah, it’s a Riva”. They don’t say, “It’s Marc Newson.” It has to look like a Riva. The same happens with the Atmos clock for Jaeger-LeCoultre: the first thing they see it’s an Atmos clock. It’s not about me, it’s really about the product and that’s the same thing with Safilo.

If you were to give advice to a young designer or design student, what would it be?

I think designers need to spend as much time as they can studying technical things because you can’t work anywhere in the world with design if you don’t have a really great technical understanding. And the only way you can achieve great results is if you are able to communicate with manufacturers on an equal kind of basis, so I spend as much time as possible learning how to do that. It’s not just about sketches, it’s not just about concepts, it’s really about understanding production, materials, technology. And getting some kind of commercial knowledge as well, that’s also important. Every designer I know—every single designer, all of my contemporaries—99% of the time they have to teach themselves about the commercial side of design.

Is there something you haven’t designed yet that you would love to design?

I’ve been asked the question a few times and I always struggle to find an answer. I’ve worked in so many different areas, but the point for me is that it’s all design. People think you need to specialize, but I’m thinking I am specializing actually: I’m specializing in design. Design is always a problem-solving exercise. It doesn’t matter if it’s glasses or a frame, doesn’t matter if it’s automobile or a telephone. It’s a problem-solving exercise, absolutely. That’s what I’m doing. But maybe it would be nice to design nothing for a while.

The Safilo x Marc Newson collection is on sale at Colette in Paris, 10 Corso Como in Milan, London’sDover Street Market and online at Mr. Porter.

Safilo by Marc Newson


My new article for COOL HUNTING

Italian eyewear brand Safilo is turning 80 this year and instead of hosting a retrospective celebration of its achievements, they chose to honor the important occasion by asking Marc Newson to work on their next set styles, drawn with inspiration from their historic catalogue. An Australian designer extraordinaire, Newson is very well known for his ambitious projects, having designed everything from chairs to airplanes, watches to speedboats, and clothing to cameras, lamps and shoes. He’s also considered to be the initiator behind today’s contemporary design art market, of which he accounts for almost one quarter. His unique pieces often sell for staggering amounts in record-breaking auctions. Altogether, Newson’s ability to innovate in different fields coincides well with heritage brand Safilo’s ability to engage in so much experimentation.

The guiding principles behind Newson’s approach to the archives of Safilo have been transparency and transformation. In particular, the resulting capsule collection consists of five optical frames and two pairs of sunglasses, each of which manifest in five variations through five specific materials and technologies. Newson not only revised the styles, but also combined different peculiar techniques and patents he found across Safilo’s portfolio; like ultra-lightweight Optyl (a trademark of the Italian brand), the Elasta 80 hinge, the ultra-thin steel wire of the historical UFO collection and the combination of aluminum and steel.

The general vibe of the collection is retro-futuristic—clearly inspired by the past, but perfect for the current day. The capsule collection, Safilo by Marc Newson, is completely manufactured in Italy and will be officially presented next month at La Triennale di Milano, in occasion of the Salone del Mobile.

Check out more of the Safilo by Marc Newson sunglasses in the slideshow.

Flos 50th Anniversary

My new article from Cool Hunting

In its 50-year tenure Flos has truly embodied the spirit of Italian design, serving as a laboratory of experimentation for designers such as Ronan and Erwan BouroullecAchille CastiglioniAntonio CitterioPaul CocksedgeRodolfo DordoniRon GiladKonstantin GrcicPiero Lissoni,Jasper MorrisonMarc NewsonTobia ScarpaPhilippe StarckPatricia Urquiola and Marcel Wanders, just to name a few. Entrepreneurs Dino Gavina, Arturo Eiseinkeil and Cesare Cassina established the brand in 1962 based on the simple values of talent, art and culture, and in 1964 Flos— meaning “flower” in Latin—moved to the Brescia area under the guidance of Sergio Gandini, the visionary who brought in legendary talents like Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and Tobia Scarpa.

Gandini thus began the brand’s remarkable story of passion, hard work and a near obsessive devotion to experimentation, research and innovation—all of which has been diligently documented in the Flos Historical Archive by Gandini’s wife and the 2011 Compasso d’Oro winner Piera Pezzolo Gandini. With the help of a team of professionals and friends, for the last six years Pezzolo Gandini has undertaken meticulous research, restoration and classification work to bring together prototypes, designs, original drawings, packaging, graphics, advertising, photographs, film clips, books, catalogues, awards and appearances at trade fairs, exhibitions and museums. The archive takes various forms—multimedia, paper and collections of products and objects.

In order to celebrate this important anniversary, Flos is launching an iPad application developed by Mobile Dream Studio. We recently had the chance to preview the app in Milan, and it is not simply a catalogue, but a true journey in the history of design. Sergio and Piera’s son, Piero, the CEO of Flos, collaborated with writer and journalist Stefano Casciani and photographer Ramak Fazel to create a real family history focused on “precision, project and poetry”.

The app—available late April 2012—offers a detailed chronological sequence of facts, full of archived images of the people who started the company, as well as sketches, prototypes, games, products and videos of the production processes.