If the shoe fits

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By Joseph L. Garcia,Reporter

FOR A human to be in a state of nudity is to allow one’s self to be vulnerable. You are literally exposing yourself for another person, or the world, to notice your imperfections; the things you hide under layers and layers of clothing.

Rem D. Koolhaas, a nephew of esteemed architect Rem Koolhaas, created his first shoe in 1999 when he was an architectural student. He called the brand the shoe gave birth to United Nude — which meant “working together in total transparency,” he said during the launch of the first United Nude store in the Philippines, located in Resorts World Manila in Pasay City.

He created his first shoe after a heartbreak (though he has since found love, and is now happily married and with children). In a way, a heartbreak is like being in a state of embarrassed nudity — you’ve exposed your deepest self to a person, only for someone to reject what they’ve seen. When asked how heartbreak fuels creativity, he said, “It’s an emotional state of mind where you want to break out of something, and break through something. Therefore, you can end up finding yourself, or pushing yourself into doing something that maybe you haven’t done before,” Mr. Koolhaas told BusinessWorld.

During this period, he said, he scaled down to “the most vulnerable scale level of architecture, which is a woman’s foot.” When asked to define this vulnerability, he said it is something smaller than a human being; something that a human can easily crush. “A large building is not very vulnerable; it’s not very sensitive. Architecture is quite often about humans, but also about something bigger than a human being,” he said.

Asked about how shoe design is related to architecture, he said, “They’re both structural. They’re both functional; [they] accommodate human beings in their own way.”

It’s not mere coincidence that Mr. Koolhaas was studying architecture: as mentioned, he’s related to the great architect Rem Koolhaas, whom he refers to as “The Other Rem.” Their family is, apparently, chock full of designers and architects. “When you grow up looking at things by your parents being invested in looking at things, you already start your education in design.”

He also credits his avant- garde line of thinking to being Dutch, citing the country’s geopolitical positioning in history. The Netherlands was constantly fighting against the sea, which was why the nation built dikes. And in a land constantly fighting against the sea, it wasn’t too easy for much to grow and prosper, which was why the Dutch went out and sailed to build an empire based on trade and commerce. “You have to be innovative to survive,” he noted.

United Nude constantly teeters towards the avant-garde, which is its selling point. When he created his first shoe, the Mobius, no fashion designer would touch it as it was too unique and was not always in line with what they did. They did, however, encourage him to make his own brand, and market his own shoe.

If one takes a look at United Nude’s offerings, one notices optical illusions which make the shoe unique: there is, for example, a shoe made in collaboration with architect Zaha Hadid which follows the lines of a skyscraper. Mr. Koolhaas’ own creations, meanwhile, unite a shoe’s vamp with the heel in a seamless structure, implying the infinity symbol. A shoe’s heel, meanwhile, could be based on a chair, or else the entire shoe is made by simply folding one part of the material over the other.

“Shoes are the only independent structural garment piece. Clothing hangs on the human body, whereas shoes carry the human body,” he said. “What makes high heels so powerful is that it changes the very posture of a woman’s body, and makes it way more erotic, in a way. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

Not too many designers philosophize on the meaning of a shoe, so if a woman is looking out for a shoe that’s both smart and pretty, this is their brand.

“I would like to tick as many boxes as possible when we create anything,” he said when asked about creating shoes that were both, in a way, smart and pretty. “I want something to be comfortable, beautiful, smart, pretty, durable, inspiring — the more boxes it can tick, the more successful a shoe is for me.”