In the wake of a social media swarm, Rem D. Koolhaas would like to set the record straight.
The United Nude founder and creative director disputed reports of a controversial post that he was alleged to have made about China in the wake of Versace’s recent apology regarding China sovereignty. Koolhaas was shocked by the allegations that he had called the country “weak” and “a crybaby”.
Describing the media coverage that ensued as “a total misrepresentation,” Koolhaas claimed he never wrote the social media post that was attributed to him. Koolhaas took a break from a Los Angeles photo shoot with Shaun Ross to discuss the matter.
The comment was amplified, due to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and the U.S.-China trade war. Repeatedly emphasizing that he did not write the post, Koolhaas said Thursday: “I didn’t write it. I can’t say what happened, but I can say what did not happen. What didn’t happen is that I wrote that comment.”
“Whatever happened there, it wasn’t my voice and it doesn’t represent who I am,” said Koolhaas, who moved to Los Angeles from China two and a half years ago. “It totally takes away from my close relationship with China. My wife is Chinese, my kids are in Chinese school every Saturday. How can I not be supportive of China?”
He continued: “And I believe that Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are part of China. I totally see that. It’s not up to me to protest anything about that. It was just total misrepresentation and there was a snowball effect in a weird way.”
Hong Kong and Macau are former colonies that were returned to China as special administrative regions and enjoy a high degree of autonomy, while Taiwan is a self-administered region locked in a standoff with Beijing over its political status.
Koolhaas added: “I’m not a political commentator. That is not my role. My message to the outside world is that I am a peaceful, loving, caring person with a positive mind-set.”
Having always had a very positive experience working with people in China, Koolhaas said he feels violated by the backlash. “It feels indecent. It gives me anxiety to be violated like this because I don’t understand it. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know what it is.”
“What’s really sad is that I’m actually very pro-Chinese. My wife is a Chinese entrepreneur, I have three Chinese kids who I haven’t even taught my own language [of Dutch]. I have them attending a Chinese school every Saturday,” Koolhaas said.
Uncertain how the post was written, Koolhaas said it may have been a matter of having been hacked or Photoshopped. He continued, “I have been very wrongly represented. I don’t mind if I say something that people don’t like. I will speak up for myself. But if somebody represents you in a wrong way or twists something to make you look really bad, that is just somebody trying to hurt the brand. But without knowing the brand or understanding what the brand is about.”
While people may think of United Nude as a Western brand, Koolhaas has Chinese partners. “It is a very international brand. It is not owned by one nationality,” according to Koolhaas, who had spent a lot of time over the past 15 years in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, as well as Europe. “In fact, I have a combination of Chinese partners. So it’s as much a Chinese brand as it is not.”
With 30 to 40 stores and concept stores internationally, United Nude has more outposts in Asia than anywhere else. Sales in China account for about 20 percent of the company’s total volume. He was not certain whether the post might have been a matter of hacking or Photoshop, noting that his e-mail had been hacked several years ago. Whatever the source was — being “slandered on social media and in the media for something” that he didn’t say and that is not representative of who he is has made him worried about his reputation and that of his business.
Koolhaas said he has not discussed the issue with his uncle Rem, the prized architect whose vast portfolio includes some of China’s most iconic buildings including CCTV’s headquarters in Beijing. The younger Koolhaas said, “I don’t like to be misrepresented by anything or anybody — if I’m represented at all. I want people to know that I’m not against anything or anybody.”
Moving forward, United Nude’s latest photo shoot, which features 14 models, was its most diverse to date. The brand plans to host a New York Fashion Week one-day pop-up event on the Lower East Side to celebrate the launch of a collaborative men’s and women’s high-heeled shoe with Ross.
When the company’s seven-year lease on Bond Street ran its course, Koolhaas opted not to renew, preferring to open more pop-ups and to build up online sales.
“We’re selling more and more online. Stores have always been difficult because the good streets are too expensive and then the quiet streets are too quiet,” he said.