Australian designer Marc Newson has been riding a wave of success since his futuristic aluminum lounge chair first turned heads in a Sydney gallery in 1986. The limited-edition chair--named the Lockheed Lounge for its resemblance to an aircraft fuselage--promptly landed in six museums and in the lobby of New York's style-setting Paramount Hotel.
It also foreshadowed the seamless organic shapes that have turned Newson into one of the hottest names in contemporary design.
Tomorrow the designer's biggest project yet--a car--will make its American debut at the annual Detroit auto show. A bold concept car designed for Ford, the vehicle is known as the 021C, a reference both to the 21st century and to the official Pantone color code for its flaming orange exterior.
"My intention was not to redefine the wheel, but to invent something familiar," says Newson. "It really does look like a car, as if you asked a kid to draw one."
The 021C was commissioned by Ford design impresario J Mays and built in Turin, Italy. First shown last October in Tokyo, it has clean, simple lines and minimal decoration. But like Volkswagen's New Beetle, the 021C has touches of whimsy intended to appeal to a global youth culture.
To make the car "light, likable and fun," Newson gave it seats that swivel, a dashboard that appears to float and push buttons that control the gears like a Formula One racer. A row of funky gauges resembles Newson wristwatches. The single oval headlight echoes the shape of Newson's aluminum Event Horizon Table and other furniture designs. Even the air bag cover carries a Newson signature.
Wallpaper, the trendy London design magazine, immediately dubbed the car the "Newsonmobile." Mays explains the car this way: "We're thinking outside the square with this one. If you don't get the Ford 021C, don't worry. You probably weren't meant to."
Newson, 36 and based in London, has designed a steady stream of rounded, sculptural furniture, lighting and housewares. They are manufactured by a blue-chip list of design companies including Cappellini, Flos, Idee, Alessi, Magis and Iittala. His watches, such as the $3,950 Hemipode Chronograph sold at the Museum of Modern Art Design Store, are made by Ikepod.
Newson also has designed shop and restaurant interiors in Europe, including London's Coast. In October he completed his first project in the United States, a bright orange, brown and green interior for the new Canteen restaurant in New York's SoHo.
A bicycle designed for a Danish manufacturer is viewable with the rest of his portfolio on the Web at www.marc-newson.com. Mass market retailing could be next.
"I like to think I'm designing for everybody, but it's really up to the large companies to make that possible," Newson said this week from Sydney, where he was installing the first of two light shows that will play over the exterior of the Opera House there. The second will appear during the Summer Olympic Games.
"I don't want to create forgettable things," he said. "I hope my design will live a life of its own, that it will justify its existence, not end up on the trash heap of consumerism."
Whether it's Canteen's cushy orange chairs or plastic doorstops or the Ford 021C, Newson's designs flow from his original vision for the Lockheed Lounge.
Designed when he was barely 23, the piece was as improbable as it was technically challenging to construct. Then fresh from art school, Newson lacked the means to form metal like putty. So he hammered it together "like a giant piece of jewelry."
The result was the shape he has played with ever since: "A blob of mercury."
CAPTION: Marc Newson's colorful plastic doorstop called "Rock" and a limited-edition aluminum "Event Horizon Table," named for an outer space phenomenon.
CAPTION: Ford's 021C concept car is already being called the "Newsonmobile."