Often referred to as an architectural footwear brand, United Nude are famed for sculptural and unexpected shapes, futuristic yet elegant designs, as well as making use of a wide range of technologies and materials in the design process.

For instance, on the more affordable side you have Coral – a 3D shoe made from lightweight EVA – while on the other end of the scale, you have The Frame, which is made with hand-moulded carbon fibre.
 

United Nude’s products are more than shoes, they are design pieces and the brand’s latest range – Lo Res (Low Resolution) – is no exception.

Creative director Rem D Koolhaas, a Dutch architect, founded United Nude with Galahad Clark, a seventh generation shoemaker from Clark’s shoe-making dynasty in the UK, in 2003.

The pair kicked off with several series of characteristically architectural footwear designs including their launch product Mobius, which conceptually looks like a single strip that forms the sole, heel, foot-bed and upper.

“When we began United Nude, we wanted to highlight the fact that we weren’t just another fashion company and therefore we said that we were a brand at the intersection of design and fashion,” explains Koolhaas.

The design team has since expanded to five (soon to be seven) and their spring/summer 2010 collection featured their widest range of products to date.

“We have clear concepts and our own design signature, balancing modern clean lines and shapes. We often create cool structures as heels, which then form as one shape with the continuing upper as sculptures around the foot,” he adds.

Today, the United Nude brand is sold in over thiry-five countries worldwide and its retail business includes a flagship store in Amsterdam’s city centre and proprietary stores in London, Vienna, Tianjin and Guangzhou.

This year also saw two further flagship stores opening – one in New York in May, where the new 2010 product lines including Lo Res were officially launched, and one in Shanghai in June.

The Lo Res project initially started out through an exploration of software. In fact, Koolhaas and his team regularly make use of new technologies and for a few seasons now have been using Rapidform® 3D Scanning Software from INUS Technology, a reverse engineering company and developer of advanced 3D scan data processing software.

“I wanted to make a faceted moulded shoe,” says Koolhaas, explaining how it all came about. However, although such advanced technology is not typically used in shoe design and is more commonly used for applications in the aerospace, manufacturing and engineering industries, Koolhaas explains that he enjoys exploring different tools and technologies.

“My background is in architecture and I studied at the Technical University of Delft so I have always applied an engineering point of view to the work that I have done, even when it comes to shoe design.

"Where it may be a big challenge for other shoe designers to work with this kind of technology or software in order to create a shoe, for me its natural to use this kind of instrument in the creation process. I think it would be unnatural for an engineer to have a non-engineering approach,” he says.

The project is based on a fairly simple idea. Essentially, every physical object is made up of numerous tiny 2D surfaces, which can be blown up into a larger, fragmented and ‘pixelated’ low resolution version of itself. The method involves digitally scanning an object into a 3D computer model and then regenerating it into various resolutions.

“We tested different options by designing the same shoe with different 3D resolutions,” explains Koolhaas. By looking at these different versions from the smoothest to the lowest abstract resolution the designers can then choose the option they prefer the most and use this as the starting point for their design.

“It is impressive to see how the scanning technology can be applied to the fashion design field. The results inspire my designer’s instinct, which leads me to continuous creative works,” comments Koolhaas.

In fact, this new semi-automatic design methodology, which fundamentally recycles existing designs to create totally new products, has been used by United Nude to create other objects apart from shoes including a Lamborghini Countach, a Verner Panton chair and a series of generic vodka glasses.

But this is just the start. United Nude was so inspired by working with Rapidform software that they are continuing to work with them to apply this methodology to other design applications.

“After successfully creating the Lo Res shoe by using Rapidform software and combining it with other soft-ware we approached Rapidform and began our collaboration,” says Koolhaas.

“The purpose of collaboration is about synergising strengths and since we are interested in technologies it seems likely that we shall continue to work with all sorts of companies including tech companies that can bring something interesting to the table.”

“I think what is most interesting about our upcoming collaboration,” continues Koolhaas, “is that we shall be jointly developing software applications and perhaps an entirely new software that can be applied by designers, not just to shoe design but to many other industries.”

In fact, he has hinted that United Nude may evolve out of being just a shoe brand and become more of a lifestyle brand. “Furniture, cars and other objects,” says Koolhaas. “I can imagine that one day we will make almost anything.”

One of the objects designed using this design methodology – a Lo Res Lamborghini Countach – became the main feature of the recently opened New York flagship store.

“We created the car sculpture in much the same way that we created the Lo Res shoe,” explains Koolhaas. In fact, Koolhaas was responsible for the entire interior design of the store and his aim was to create an environment that enables visitors to be immersed in the complete United Nude brand experience.

The reason why he is involved in both product and interior design is to ensure that the store’s identity is in line with United Nude’s brand identity.

“The shop concept we developed is a dark-shop concept where there is mainly light on the products. The centrepiece is a computer controlled RGB LED light wall as a product display, creating a theatrical experience,” explains Koolhaas. This dramatic effect displays each pair of shoes as though they are works of art encapsulated in geometric frames.

So far, the Lo Res shoe is proving very popular and the autumn/winter collection will no doubt see them launched in a range of bold new colours (the spring/summer 2010 colours included magenta, bright green, brown and black).

“It turns out that the Lo Res shoe is very popular,” says Koolhaas. “I think that someone with technical insight might look at it as a low resolution object and understand and appreciate it in that way but to the untrained eye, it still comes across as a very beautiful jewel-like shoe-object much like a cut diamond or any other gemstone.”

We can look forward to a men’s shoe line from United Nude next spring as well as a number of new flagship and concept stores opening up in regions around the world.   

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