Marc Newson Wants to Change People’s Lives, Profoundly

Ever since breaking out in 1988 with his curvy, biomorphic Embryo chair, Marc Newson has put his slick stamp on everything from kitchen products to private jets, in the process changing the way we think about design. Now Newson introduces the Aquariva, a stunning luxury yacht that can be had for a cool $1.5 million. Clearly, for the Australian-born, London-based designer, convention is just a technicality.

A collaboration with the revered Italian boat-maker Riva, the Aquariva serves as the centerpiece for Newson’s latest exhibition, Transport, at Gagosian gallery. Along with the speedboat, the show explores Newson’s other forays in locomotive design, including the lightweight Zvezdochka sneaker commissioned by Nike for use on the International Space Station and a surfboard—the world’s most expensive—made of high-sheen nickel. We caught up with Newson to find out what makes him go…

First off, tell us about the Aquariva. How long did it take to design, what it’s made of…
I had always been aware of Riva as an iconic brand. When the proposition arose to reinterpret their existing Aquariva, I jumped at it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted the boat to look timeless, very, very slick, very much understated and very, very cool. So I decided to go a bit against the grain, using materials uncommon to luxury boats, specifically ones that differ from the traditional shining chrome aesthetic. I replaced stainless steel and brass with anodized aluminium. Instead of wood for the deck and instrument panel, I used a fiber-based laminate that retains the organic feel and essence of wood, while being significantly more durable and even slightly anachronistic. There were many stages of development, roughly 18 months to 2 years.

You’ve designed a prototype for commercial space tourism, a multipurpose shoe for cosmonauts, and now a luxury yacht. What is it with you and transportation?
I’ve always been interested in things that move. As a kid I always built and engineered things like surfboards, go-carts and bikes. Australia is an odd place in that sense. It’s got a great tradition of invention, with some of the most inspiring people just designing things in their sheds. My family did. My uncle built hot-rod cars, and my grandfather and his family of eight were carpenters. Growing up in this environment, I picked things up by osmosis.

How is it that you can go from kitchen utensils to a spaceship?
I have never been completely satisfied with designing only domestic products. In terms of designing, I can’t see a fundamental difference between a car and a bottle opener. It’s all design to me. In fact, while a car is more complex, the opener could be more technical, because of the development of new types of plastics and polymers that provide a lot of radical possibilities. The way cars work, with an internal combustion engine, is not exactly a modern invention.

Out of your entire oeuvre, if you could pick one piece as your favorite or most emblematic of your style, what would it be?
All my projects are in important to me, but frankly the current project I am working on is usually my favorite. That’s where my interest is most acute. So the Aquariva. I also enjoyed working on the Kelvin40 because of the physical aspect of hands-on building in the workshops at Bodylines. I also loved the 021C concept car that I designed for Ford. It was particularly special as it was so challenging, like designing 500 products at once.

When do you feel a sense of accomplishment with your work?
When I have the opportunity to design something that will profoundly changes people’s lives. For example, the Aquariva is a serious product that people will drive around and, you know, risk their lives in.

Tell us about your exhibition at Gagosian. Do you enjoy the time away from clients?
When I get to work with Larry Gagosian, it is like making things for me again. I have fun, the way I used to. It allows for more freedom and more excellence. It is the only way I truly have the opportunity to express myself without being held back in any way. On this project, Riva gave me the same level of creative control, which was amazing. It made perfect sense for these two forward-thinking entities to join forces and make this unique project a reality.

Do you consider yourself an artist or a designer?
A designer, but I don’t like labels. Truthfully, I just follow my instinct.

Do you follow any rules when designing?
What I strive for in all my work is to create something that will stand the test of time. That is incredibly important to me. I apply the same logic, the same design language, and the same vocabulary to all the things that I design, whether it is an airplane, a watch, a car, clothing or a cooking utensil. For me, it is exactly the same thing. I forget about the function and look at the piece as an object that needs to be designed. I always want to design something beautiful and take the opportunity to explore new possibilities of technologies and materials during each design process. A lot of innovation is actually taking materials intended for one purpose and using it for another.

Is your own living space designed with aesthetics or functionality in mind?
With regards to the entire apartment, the brief was to be eclectic yet simple, which suits the space. But I didn’t want it to feel like a loft. It’s a family home. As such, we wanted to preserve the sense of volume, but at the same time create an atmosphere and warmth, which is quite difficult to achieve in such a large space. The same brief applied to the bathroom, which is also a fairly large space with high ceilings.

How important is humor in your work?
A sense of humor is an important part of what I do. The bright colors…there’s something about my work. I wouldn’t say it’s witty, but that is what I aspire to.

Transport runs through October 16, 2010, Gagosian gallery, 522 W. 21st Street, New York City