Marc Newson: Yes, very early on. But I thought the idea of designing something that can perform both functions would be really interesting. And ten years on my daughter will be able to wear some, so that’ll be interesting! I mean I can’t imagine a better person to do it with than Nike, so I don’t think there’s any point. However, it led to this idea of a convertible shoe where you have sort of like a bootie which transforms into a fully functional shoe by covering it with a kind of sock. The political climate of the time was so toxic – for want of a better word – it was very, very difficult. «It was such a simplified process and led to new exploration in how products are made and the potential for customisation. «And he happens to be a particularly creative individual who respects other creative people.»
“For the Zvezdochka, we knew we had broken new ground: a shoe with four interchangeable parts,» said Parker. Marcus Fairs: How do they shape up as Earth-bound footwear? Who knows whether they were or not. That’s more of a marketing question that you’d probably have to pose to Nike. You know I keep seeing things even now that look in some ways inspired by that. One of the interesting things about Zvezdochka is that I approached it as a piece of industrial design. It’s a bit like wearing a very robust pair of socks which, at the time, was quite a wacky idea. Marcus Fairs: So there was no special footwear for cosmonauts? Because, you know, sneakers don’t have to perform in that environment the same way that they do when they’re on Earth — for a whole variety of reasons. Did Mark Parker approach you personally? But just the shape – you know, the holes and the alvioli style, with lots of holes… It’s a great example of how a functional innovation helps drive a completely new aesthetic.”
Zvezdochka was originally launched in 2004 as a limited edition in five colours. It’s a very organic way of working and our relationship over the last decade has remained very organic. It was a starting point, and it spawned a lot of other interesting ideas. So I’d gotten quite a lot of information about the zero-G environment. Marc Newson: Well, it’s interesting. Marc Newson: Yeah, which is interesting, isn’t it? «In terms of the idea of producing a shoe in a mould – like a one-shot, one-piece outer – that was pretty new as a concept.»
Newson was approached to design the shoes by Nike president and CEO Mark Parker, who himself has a background as a footwear designer. It would have been difficult for anyone to get these into space. The moulds involved were very, very complex to manufacture. I mean NASA don’t endorse brands or products, but the Russian Federal Space Agency does. You could pull the innersole out and everything is held together by friction fit. It was completely injection-moulded. Zvezdochka is obviously a Russian word, but it’s the name of one of the the Russian dogs that went into space [completing one orbit of Earth in March 1961]. Have they been tested in space? I mean we’re talking 2000 maybe, something like that. Marc Newson: Well I think the situation was unusual and remains very unusual because with Mark, just the simple fact that you talk about him and you refer to him as an individual says it all really. Below is the interview with Marc Newson:
Marcus Fairs: Tell us how the project came about. So I thought it would be really interesting to design a piece of footwear for astronauts or cosmonauts because, in a zero-gravity environment, there was nothing really specific that existed. And I think one of the big changes is that now you’ll find products are much more industrially produced. In fact, when we started, we looked at a variety of different things: we looked at sunglasses, we looked at bags and some other types of footwear as well. Marc Newson: He thought the idea was really interesting. What is your feeling looking back on that project? So it would be farcical for someone like me to come along and… Marc Newson: At that time I had been traveling to Russia quite a lot. Yeah. Crazy. Cool stuff. Certainly at the time I was aware of some limitations based on the production technology and the fact that it was just very new and no one really could get their head around how it could be. Dezeen Book of Interviews: Marc Newson features in our new book, which is on sale now»It was a really revolutionary idea,» said Newson. Marc Newson: Yeah, we have over the years. The shoes, which Newson described as «revolutionary» in an exclusive interview with Dezeen, were developed with astronauts in mind and named after a dog sent into space by Russia aboard Sputnik 10 in 1961. I can safely say! In a way, the whole product was convertible. Although it perfectly lent itself to industrial production, it was not very typical. I mean, it was always going to happen. Which, you know, back in 2005 was a very original idea. It’s a far more difficult environment in which to be originalMarcus Fairs: If you were invited by Nike now to do another shoe, what would be the technology that might feed into that? Marcus Fairs: And they’re still trading on eBay I noticed. I mean we haven’t gotten it together yet, but we’ve been talking about various things over the years, and it’d be great to be able to do something. Marc Newson: Well when you’re just sort of floating around [in a space station] you wear socks, and when you get onto the treadmill to exercise you wear trainers, because you’re running. Marc Newson: I’m not sure to be honest. «It’s not often when you interact with the head of a company the size of Nike,» said Newson. Marc Newson: I think it’s a far more complex environment now for the reasons we’ve elaborated on. I’m going to start wearing them again, yeah. There’s never any pressure and there’s never any urgency – I mean, obviously, there’s urgency when something’s put into motion, but, y’know, if it feels right it tends to happen and if it doesn’t then it’s no big deal. What’s the cutting edge of footwear potential now? I’ve never felt the need to go elsewhere and do something with anybody else. The brilliant thing about Nike and working with Mark is that it’s always very relaxed. It’s one of those sorts of relationship with a client that you’d like to haveMarcus Fairs: So back to you, Marc. That particular shoe has spawned a lot of other interesting conceptsIn many ways I think the iconic nature of that piece has become evident in a way that I probably didn’t anticipate at the time. They’re using far more intelligent industrially oriented processes in terms of moulding, in terms of materials – things that are just far more technological. And the International Space Station had just started – various bits of it had just started being launched. Not necessarily about sneakers or Nike, but just about… stuff. So there was absolutely no fabrication whatsoever. Marc Newson: You know, it was a really revolutionary idea. It’s how I would build an appliance rather than a garment. Nike is now reissuing the shoes in the original five colours through selected NikeLab stores and nike.com/nikelab from December 29. I mean, I think the simplest way of answering that question is that I won’t be embarrassed to put a pair on. Marc Newson: Nope. Marcus Fairs: The shoes were released as a very limited edition ten years ago. And I don’t mean industrial in terms of quantities. Newson claims they were one of the first items of footwear to be designed as an industrially manufactured product rather than a garment made by sewing pieces of fabric together. Nike spokesperson: The idea is to celebrate the ten-year anniversary by bringing back the shoe in the original five colours. It’s not just a case of sewing things together any more. Not as a garment. It was obviously an ambitious idea – not least for political reasons. We remain friends. It’s very, very easy to collaborate on that level, rather than being given a strict brief. It was quite out there. There’s really, really interesting and innovative technologies being used. So that was always going to be politically challenging. Back then Zvezdochka was pretty radical, but what’s your opinion on how the sector has changed? And I make it sound very lackadaisical, but it’s one of those sorts of relationship with a client that you’d like to have, rather than the typical situation where you’ll be given a brief, work for a client, do the project, finish the project, and then the relationship generally tends to end after the thing’s done. Marcus Fairs: They become quite iconic very quickly, and I suppose the fact that they’re being reissued ten years later is testament to that. And doing all of the sizings and things like that. Was that already happening? And so the whole space reference became incidental towards the end of the project. A very long time ago. Marcus Fairs: What’s the concept behind the shoes? Marcus Fairs: It’s now the tenth anniversary of the shoe. Marcus Fairs: So that was quite innovative for the time? A further edition was issued in 2010. Marcus Fairs: Ten years ago the sports footwear market was quite different from now. And that led to a whole other area of investigation about moulding shoes as opposed to fabricating shoes. In terms of the idea of producing a shoe in a mould – like a one-shot, one-piece outer – that was pretty new as a concept. And I think it was one of the very first shoes Nike made that was made in a mould. (Laughs) I’ve always preserved a relationship with Nike, so if it’s even going to happen again I think it’s going to happen with them. But what’s it like working with Mark Parker? I knew astronauts and I knew cosmonauts and had actually started doing some work with the Russian space agency on a completely unrelated project. Garments are fabricated but products in industrial design are made using truly industrial processes – injection moulding and things like that. And it’s generally after ten years that you can assess whether or not it’s done what it has set out to do, or in fact whether it ended up doing things you never imagined it would do, or whether it’s done nothing. «I thought it would be really interesting to design a piece of footwear for astronauts or cosmonauts because, in a zero-gravity environment, there was nothing really specific that existed,» Newson told Dezeen. Obviously the probability of working together on a sort of sneaker concept was pretty high, so that’s where we ended up. So there’s little glue.