FirstDibs by Amor Maclang • Published 15 September 2019


While architecture and shoe design are two entirely disparate disciplines, one forward-thinking shoe brand fearlessly merged the two concepts together to come up with a line of groundbreaking shoes that defied how people normally see footwear.

The brand is United Nude, a premium Dutch designer footwear brand whose appeal lies more in its being enhanced more by an appreciation of design history than trends. United Nude co-founder Rem D Koolhas used his architectural background to create shoes that carry designs or ideas that can be put into buildings on a different scale.

Rem was in town early this year to conduct a masterclass billed “Re-inventing shoes--Pushing the boundaries of footwear design” at the United Nude flagship store in Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila.

In the talk, Rem shared how he used architectural concepts as predictive model for his avant-garde product design. The talk kicked off with a conversation between Rem and design enthusiasts as well as Architecture and Design students from leading universities in the Philippines. Rem shared how his creative side unraveled before delving on the principles of design and the rest of the story behind the intriguing brand, including memorable collaborations with high-profile creative luminaries.

The United Nude brand that Rem nurtured has global cachet. The footwear line commands the attention of individuals who value unique design and style.
Asked if he considers himself first and foremost as an architect or shoe designer, Rem stated that he regards himself a brand maker.

A brand is born

Rem was studying architecture in the Netherlands back in 1999 and nursing a broken heart when he ended up sketching shoes. He was then working for his uncle and namesake, the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
Before long, he was showing his shoe designs to established footwear makers, but the younger Koolhaas was told that his concept was not aligned with their `signature’ and that if he wanted to launch it, he needed to start his own brand.

A pivotal moment was when Rem was introduced to Galahad Clark, who represents the seventh generation of shoemakers from the Clark shoe clan. With Rem’s design skill and Galahad’s financial backing and business clout, a strong team-up was formed, leading to numerous artistic, unique, and experimental footwear collections.

Fashion-forward designs

In the masterclass, Rem discussed the thought process involved in developing a design, particularly footwear design. In this part of his talk, he not only delved on the principles of design, he also shared the stories behind the designs of his shoes and the creative inspirations behind each one.

Design is making an idea possible. Yet, as Rem noted, “Something that’s very important for us is that we design for a much larger group of people who have great interest for design, and not so much for trends or following trends.” According to Rem, it is more for people who adhere to their own style. The outcome also has to be good enough to last long.

Rem also stressed that each pair of United Nude shoes is a reinterpretation of an architectural object or a reflection of the possibilities offered by movement, colors, and materials.

Each United Nude footwear design is one-of-a-kind. Every design has its own vibe and personality. Some designs may appear wild and flamboyant but are really among the most comfortable or wearable pairs around.

Buying United Nude shoes is like buying a piece of art where there is a story, and the shoe wearers – not just the designer -- serve as storytellers of the brand.

Breaking boundaries in shoe design

United Nude, which is already being sold in over 50 countries, is looking to enter new markets. Its current roster of concept stores includes Tel Aviv, Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, Vienna, and Amsterdam. Aside from shoes, United Nude also has edgy collections for sunglasses, watches, bags, and belts. A mini Möbius pendant in silver is available as well.

Rem’s class ended with an impromptu activity in which the participants had to design their own shoe, considering the concepts and techniques that Rem discussed in his talk.