Friday, 29 July 2011

Brand Of The Week: United Nude

Last week I was invited down to the soft launch of a new footwear store to hit the heart of Covent Garden, United Nude. Tucked neatly around the corner from the tube station on Floral Street, this vibrant new concept store opened its doors on 20th July. A brand founded by Rem D Koolhaas and seventh generation shoemaker Galahad Clark (yes, I do mean of high street footwear store Clarks fame), United Nude was launched in 2003.
Deftly fusing the spheres of architecture, design and fashion; United Nude work tirelessly to drive the footwear industry forward. From injection moulded shoes to high-end carbon fibre heels, the brand focuses on conceptual design (that at times appears to defy gravity), elegance and innovation. Signature characteristics of the brand that are akin to DNA are evident throughout the expansive range of shoes, linking directly to the interior and concept of the stores, all devised by architect and creative director, Rem.
Whilst visiting this first stand alone store in the UK I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Rem himself, who was bursting with passion for his brand and product, excitedly talking me through the range, which even includes moulded carbon fibre chairs, based on a classic Eames design. As a trained architect, Rem is as equally passionate about the construction and aesthetics of the stores as he is the intrinsic design and integrity of the products.
Mirroring their Amsterdam flagship store and the 2010 New York and Shanghai openings, each outlet follows the brand’s ‘dark shop’ concept, which means the store is completely dark in all areas other than where the product is displayed. Literally highlighting and illuminating shoes in their trademarked Wall of Light, the brand have devised unique technology that consists of a computer controlled installation that displays each product as a work of art encapsulated in a geometric frame.
With several metres of the store (from the entrance to the rear), taken up by a curved Wall of Light, and full-length mirrors wherever possible, the space is stark, minimalist and feels cavernous. So much so that one can imagine it’d be a pleasure to visit even on Saturday lunchtimes when other stores would feel rammed. A beautifully orchestrated design, I can imagine this innovative space doubling up as a great events location.
Having met Rem in person, the story of how the brand was formed begins to make a little more sense, as I saw firsthand how infectious his passion is. Almost a decade ago Rem was heartbroken and attempted to win back a girl by downsizing architecture to its smallest and most vulnerable scale, that of a woman’s foot. In working on this project, Rem created what was later to be named as the ‘Möbius’ shoe, which would go on to be nominated for a Rotterdam Design Award.
When Rem and Galahad first met, Galahad saw the ‘Möbius’ shoe design, and he was instantly convinced that a new brand had to be formed. Then came the name. United Nude derived from the fact that products evolve from international teams in an open way with direct recognition.
Since the‘Möbius’ shoe’s release in 2003, United Nude has established itself as an iconic brand at the intersection between design and fashion, creating dozens of new lines each season. Specifically for SS11 United Nude has launched a menswear collection, which even to my eye is just as tantalising as the women’s. Continually pushing the boundaries and creating new constructions and styles such as Abstract: a vertiginous heel with a platform base. Comprised of wooden blocks to form the heel, the construction is rustic and well altogether Abstract.
Unsurprisingly the pairs of shoes that most caught my eye both taking pride of place in the window and in store were those created in collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for SS11. Available as a sculptural high-heeled platform ankle boot adorned with a complex weave of leather lace detailing or elegantly draped with thin chains, the intricacy and precision of these beautiful shoes are testament to the fact that they are 100% hand crafted. With only 100 limited edition pairs, these are sure to sell like hotcakes.
Of the collaboration Rem says: Working with Iris and being an admirer of her work has been a real pleasure. The result of our collaboration this season is truly about facilitating her captivating work in fashion. In the process the shoe that we created together is a product that stands on its own and gets attention for all the right reasons.
My favourite products in the store were the 'Elastic Tango Hi' shoes below, the ones I was thrilled to be offered to take away with me (the 'Universal Lo', above), and the 'Stealth' hat – very cool indeed!
Currently sold in over 40 countries worldwide, there is no stopping United Nude.

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