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Marc Newson: The Urban Superdesigner Hits the Waves

8 February 2011




Riva speedboat superdesigner Marc Newson shares his thoughts on luxury design with Christopher Kanal.


Marc Newson is in buoyant mood as he talks about his latest luxury project, a Riva speedboat, launched in September 2010 and designed in collaboration with Officina Italiana Design. "Aquariva by Marc Newson" will be limited to just 22 units and will be available through the Gagosian Gallery.

"I was aware of Riva even as a child growing up in Australia - it epitomised the jet-set glamour of the 1960s - the Riviera, Portofino, the Agha Khan, Bardot," explains Newson.

Flight of fancy

The Australian superdesigner has had a long association with Gagosian. He was the first designer to exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2007. The speedboat extends the 46-year-old's work, which has so far included aircraft - interiors for Qantas's A380s - and cars - the Ford 021c concept.

The sleek, seamless lines of the 33ft Aquariva combine a retro and futuristic design aesthetic. "I wanted the boat to look timeless yet very, very slick, very much understated and very, very cool," says Newson, who decided to use materials uncommon to luxury boats, specifically ones that differ from the traditional shining chrome aesthetic.

"Newson's career was launched in 1986 with the iconic aluminium recliner, Lockheed Lounge."

The boat is constructed from a laminated fabric composed of a phenolic compound that mimics wood. The material was a precursor of fibreglass and combines a natural appearance and texture similar to that of wood. Instead of using steel, Newson used anodised aluminium to give the boat a sleeker appearance, and help it reach a top speed of 41kt, while working within set parameters.

"It's the way I really like to work," he reveals. "Because that's what design is: solving the problems and joining the dots." Luxury is being redefined in a new age of austerity but it hasn't affected him. "Luxury in an object can be defined as it having a lasting quality rather than it being easily disposable," he says. "I have always wanted my work to be timeless."

Urbandesigner Newson

Newson, who has lived in London since 1997 and has a studio in Paris, currently serves as adjunct professor in design at Sydney College of the Arts, where he first studied sculpture and jewellery, and is the creative director for Qantas. His career was launched in 1986 with the iconic aluminium recliner, Lockheed Lounge, which he literally made with his own hands. Since then, he has amassed a vast and eclectic body of work that includes furniture, household items, watches, shoes and commercial interior design.

A few years ago, Lockheed Lounge sold at Sotheby's for $968,000 - the highest price ever paid for a work by a living designer.

Newson is currently busy working on projects ranging from interiors for private jets and jewellery for Boucheron to watches for Ikepod and designs for Dom Perignon.

"As a designer, I have a relationship with contemporary culture. If you don't, then you're irrelevant."

After graduation, Newson worked in Tokyo for Teruo Kurosaki and design company Idée, and Tokyo remains his favourite city.

He moved to Paris in 1991 and began to design for Italian furniture manufacturers, and created limited-edition aluminium pieces such as the Orgone chair and the Event Horizon table.

Newson has a coolness about him that has helped his poster boy image. When Lockheed Lounge came out, Newson, a youthful surfer, was a different type of designer who ushered in a new approach to design. But he is irritated by the rock star designer logo that is attached to him by the media. "I certainly don't feel like a rock star, nor does my life emulate that of one," he says. "Design is still a very pragmatic occupation. It's more like being a carpenter.

"I just do what I do," says Newson, a stylist without a creative philosophy. "It's important to be aware of, and to have a general appreciation of, and an understanding of what's going on around us. As a designer, I have a relationship with contemporary culture. If you don't, then you're irrelevant."

Australian superdesigner Marc Newson.
Newson's Aquariva speedboat.
Newson wanted the speedboat to look timeless, yet very slick and cool.
The Orgone Lounge, designed by Marc Newson for Cappellini in 1989.