“I’m an unusual designer,” says Marc Newson

“I think I’m a pretty unusual designer,” admits Marc Newson. We’re talking the back of his new task chair for Knoll, which debuted in late June and is slated for launch in September. Within weeks of launching the chair, the Australian designer also took over the Gagosian Gallery’s London store, stocking it with limited-edition and collectible pieces. The juxtaposition of the two situations – one launch for an office chair and the other a sort of exhibition of glass chairs – raised the question of whether or not Newson, now 58, prefers design to the constraints of a consumer product, or whether the conceptual nature of the gallery work is more fulfilling. “I’m unusual in that I appreciate both,” he continues. “Both bring different possibilities – if I’m designing an object that is hardly a piece of furniture, it doesn’t really have to do much for Gagosian – I just have to like it.”

Newson and I talk on the phone while he goes to a morning meeting. We start our conversation by talking about his new release at Knoll, simply called the Newson Task Chair. As expected, the design is a master class in terms of ergonomics. Overall, the support it offers is said to be undetectable to the eye. Its cantilever shape hides all of the chair’s mechanisms beneath the seat, while a honeycomb backrest has been crafted from elastomeric material – creating a hammock-like effect while providing comfort and structure at the same time. “Because of its complexity, a task chair is in many ways a kind of holy grail for furniture designers,” he says.

Sydney-born Newson was approached by Knoll about 10 years ago to design a task chair. Some are unaware that the process of creating a chair of this typology can be incredibly lengthy due to the legislation related to the requirements, which vary from country to country. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and you have a very lengthy process. “The landscape when we started working on this chair was very different than it is today,” he says. “People trotted happily into their offices with absolutely no idea what was going to happen in terms of the need to work differently.” Back then, offices were still commonplace; our dining tables were reserved for mealtimes; Bedrooms did not double as boardrooms; and the only chairs that mattered at home were the dining table, the armrest, and the sofa. For many of us, the look of an office chair wasn’t that important since it wouldn’t be in our homes. Flash back to 2020 and suddenly the office and home were merging and Newson’s design had to cater to a completely different environment in terms of presence and aesthetics.

“A swivel chair is something of a holy grail for furniture designers

“The task, if you’ll excuse the pun, stayed the same in an ergonomic sense because humans are still humans and they haven’t changed that much biologically in 10 years,” he says. “What has changed is that people don’t just want to work in these chairs, they want to relax in them — and they need to do a lot more these days, as they’re likely to end up in a home environment.”

Working under strict regulations has become commonplace for Newson throughout his career. In fact, it’s a situation he says he’s grown fond of – “I don’t mind borders as I enjoy the challenge of being able to express myself within them,” he says. Newson traces his interest in design to his childhood, when he built homemade go-karts from found objects and wheeled them down the nearby hill to his childhood home. Later, as he approached his teenage years, he was given a watch by his uncle. “The first thing I did was break it down and rebuild it into a new case of my liking, which was sort of a crude lump of plexiglass.”

“The most important part of my work is contemporary culture”

From garage robber to university graduate, Newson’s interest was cemented when he attended Sydney College of the Arts, where he studied jewelery and sculpture. After graduating in 1984 and after winning a grant from the Australian Crafts Council, he exhibited a work called ‘Lockheed Lounge’, made of riveted aluminum in the shape of a chaise longue, which became one of his best. well-known pieces, as well as a four-time world record-breaker for auction prices for work created by a living designer. Six years later he moved to Paris to open a studio and in 1997 he moved to London to set up Marc Newson Ltd with business partner Benjamin de Haan.

Since then, Newson and his team have worked in a variety of sectors – from fashion to technology and transportation to handmade gallery work. His collaborations with brands are also impressive and he can count Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, Hermès, Nike, Hennessy, Dom Pérignon, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Beretta among many of his longstanding partnerships. His friendship with Jony Ive, which began after the two met in Tokyo, led to them bonding during Ive’s time at Apple. Newson was hired as a special projects designer and was behind the very first Apple Watch, launched in 2014.

His career has spanned more than 30 years, but his output remains relevant and successful. Newson himself attributes this to his keen interest in the broader cultural context. “I’ve worked on a lot of different things in my life, and it’s not because I’m good at a lot of things or because I’m a jack of all trades,” he says. “That’s because I feel like the most important part of my job is contemporary culture, and it’s about having a really, really good understanding of all aspects of contemporary culture, whether it’s architecture, fashion, engineering or Design in the strictest sense.”

The world may have changed beyond recognition since Newson made his homebuilt go-karts, but his motivation, he says, remains the same as it was from day one. “My standard is to always think about whether there is a need for something or not, and if there is, I would go out and buy it. I think the best thing we can do is for designers to offer better choices regardless of the output.”

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