Dutch designer Marcel Wanders does not simply design interiors, he curates dreams, breathing life and imagination into the spaces which we inhabit. He creates eclectic environments that incorporate innovative materials with classic techniques and archetypes that make for timeless designs suspended between past and future. The spaces touched by Wanders' meticulous eye are filled with whimsy, luxury, unparalleled imagination, and playful twists and inversions. His mission is to "create an environment of love, live with passion, and making our most exciting dreams come true" – Marcel Wanders.
Wanders' career has been marked by an ongoing series of successes across the spectrum of interior to architectural to product design with an impressive collection of hotels, signature creations like his iconic knotted chair, private homes and his co-founding of design-collective powerhouse Moooi in his wake. After getting expelled from design school, Wanders went on to graduate Cum Laude from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten – Institute of the Arts Arnhem – after studying design in four different schools in and around The Netherlands. And after gaining widespread recognition for his iconic knotted chair in 1996, in which he incorporated high tech materials with classic production methods, Wanders went on to co-found Moooi, serving as art director for this wildly succesful designers collective featuring 50+ international design specialists, realizing over 1700+ projects in collaboration with brands such as Alessi, Bisazza, KLM, Flos, Swarovski, Baccarat, Puma, and garnered awards from design institutions from around the world.
Wanders has dreamt up iconic interior projects that range from the Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht, Kameha Grand hotel in Bonn, the Mondrian South Beach hotel in Miami, Quasar Istanbul Residences, and the Villa Moda flagship store in Bahrain. His impressive design accomplishments coincide with accolades such as being elected International Designer of the Year by Elle Decoration and receiving a solo-exhibition retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with being featured in just about every major design and news publications, he is a recurrent exhibitor at design shows such as Salone del Mobile and London Design Festival.
We met up with Marcel Wanders at London Design Festival during his Moooi showcasing to find out more about the creative mind behind these iconic design accomplishments.
"You want to curate life and your surroundings, which is one of those important aspects in which you are able to do that and design plays an important role." Marcel Wanders
CM: How did the story of Moooi start?
When I was younger, I made a few nice prototypes but nobody wanted to make them, so I thought, 'I'll do it myself!' It started with a collection of lamps which I produced, and then I took them to shop in The Netherlands called The Frozen Fountain, and I talked to the guy and said, 'listen, I have these lamps, and you're going to buy them very soon. Whose going to sell them?' and then he said, 'Casper's going to sell them.' So I met Casper, and he and I became business partners and out of that relationship grew a company which is Moooi. I was able to design, not only for myself, but also for other designers who had the exact same problem: prototypes and no realisations. Most companies want to work with very serious and senior designers, but we always look for young kids on the block, people who did nothing before, and we have done at least twenty collaborations with designers who have never worked with other people before.
CM: Apart from emerging talents, how do you choose your designers?
It's a bit complicated to explain, because basically there are no rules, we just follow our design love. We work with designers, but we don't tell them what to do, they tell us what to do. We are a design company, and we follow designers and out of everything they propose, we have to choose the right thing and the right people, and it's a bit from the heart and a bit from the brain; as any good design should be.
CM: What is the biggest challenge in doing so?
The challenge is to find the things you think are important for design–their interest and inspiration–and also that they will be able to find an audience. If the designer gets no royalties, we get no business. You have to make people happy and that is sometimes hard to predict and you have to give yourself a few chances every year.
CM: What is the origin of the word Moooi?
When we were thinking about the name of the company, I always like the logo of Audi which is four circles and at the time, it was a new idea to just add letters and make it more recognisable–protectable–so we looked for a word with three letters...and we thought zooi, which means rubbish, and said, 'no that's not it,' so we thought of mooi, which means beautiful and thought, 'lets take that one!' So Moooi became the name for the company and we added an extra O, because we wanted to do something extra interesting.
CM: Would you say your work is Dutch or is it inspired by different cultures?
If you want to speak to someone, you want to speak in your language, but you also want to make sure there's a connection so you want to do something which speaks of your interest and your culture, but which is interesting for the rest of the world. It must have both aspects. So I think it is inevitable that the company has a Dutch interest, because it is what we love, it's how we were brought up and what we see every day around us, so the company naturally has a bit of a Dutch tendency. But we also want to be an international company, and we work with a lot of designers from around the world and of course we sell internationally while retaining our own roots.
CM: Is there humour in your work?
I wouldn't call our work humorous but there is a sense of playfulness. I don't make crazy things people don't recognise, I make things that people recognise, like a table that has four legs. They are archetypes and work within the context of a tradition, but then you look closer, and you see that it is different than you think it is. They have that little twist and in the long term, it is what I consider an interesting aspect of the work. We find the twist that brings it value.
""We [Moooi] have no style, we just go and see what is in the world of design and bring that together. It makes us able to be different every year" Marcel Wanders
CM: What are your sources of inspiration to ensure a continuation in your production?
There is a need to make a type of design that is different; a design which is more romantic and that is less technological; more humanistic and anti-modernistic, and which is truly contemporary. Based on those hopes and dreams it is very easy for me to find new inspirations every day. Blindfold me and tie me up in a chair, and I will be inspired.
CM: What role does technology have in your work and how do you see it influencing your work in the future?
Technology plays an important role, but if you think about furniture design, we take into account that our bodies haven't changed over time so when you make a chair it still has to be within 42 and 45 cm sitting height. It's a given right? Sometimes you find innovation like the innovation of technology, which comes out more in other areas of design. For instance, we're now working on an anti-pollution mask which is a very technological object but it serves a good purpose, so technology is super important but in this area of design. I think we speak more about cultural innovation, which is the main subject of our innovation.
CM: Can you tell us more about your latest Moooi Salone del Mobile collection?
As art director, I make sure that there is a space and that there is a way to for people to experience the story of the company. And in the case of this exhibition, we divided the show room into two big parts. One is the Central Square–which was elliptical not Square– so it almost feel like a ballroom, but it was covered and surrounded with black drapery and new works by Moooi which were displayed as an art museum; in an artistic setting so to say. Behind the curtains there were all little rooms with the existing collections set up so you could envision it as your house. There was a very different intimacy in those places. Altogether, I think it was very well received. It was a beautiful, theatrical presentation, and we wanted to make a connection to the senses, time and a strange situation.
"The question 'what is the future of design' is like asking what is the future of the world. Design has become ubiquitous. We have developed design thinking, which can be effective and efficient in so many areas of life and science and areas of culture, but the word is too big to have its own future. Instead it will be part of all the aspects of life." Marcel Wanders
CM: Can you tell us more about your design pieces at Milan Design 2016?
We have a few interesting pieces which are new. We have a blue sofa with fringes along the base that are ombre hued from blue to white so it appears to be floating. I made a chair from a sofa... we set the sofa on its side, so you can sit on the arm and use the bottom cushions as a back rest, so it's a bit of a weird object but a fun different. A lot of people are looking for objects which surprise and entertain; objects that tell people you have arrived in a place where things are different. These are the kind of things we like to do, like the compressed sofa which has a fantastic playfulness. More and more companies and institutions want to tell people that they are able to look at the world in a different way so they should have objects that can reflect that.
CM: What is the role of design for you? Is it theatrical?
When speaking about the sofa on its side, in theory, design is a stage; we make a stage where we are going to perform and if there are surrealistic elements on the stage, that makes us all feel like we want to understand it and that everything is different. That is a healthy stage for contemporary businesses or ideas. We also like to make objects that are the opposite: very classic and refined. I think that it is this kind of eclectic quality which makes Moooi different. Other companies have a very clear style, and they look for designers who are able to give them that style. We have no style, we just go and see what is in the world of design and bring that together. It makes us able to be different every year. It lets us be flexible and move around and find objects which we really love ourselves. If I look at my preferred house, it is not monotone, but rather an expression of who I am. It is an expression of my journey and it is an expression of my surroundings. I'm traveling around the world and see wonderful things, and I want to take them home, because they may belong to that place, and I don't want to forget it. When my mom dies, and I get the old cabinet from her, I want to keep that, and I think all these things make a house something that is personal and curated. You want to curate life and your surroundings, which is one of those important aspects in which you are able to do that and design plays an important role.
CM: What is the future of design?
The question 'what is the future of design' is like asking what is the future of the world. Design has become ubiquitous. We have developed design thinking, which can be effective and efficient in so many areas of life and science and areas of culture, but the word is too big to have its own future. Instead it will be part of all the aspects of life. Design as an expression of a minimal possibility has been done, because you can't go more minimal than we have. Dissolving products–that is going to happen a lot–products are going to dissolve, to be thrown out, like vacuum cleaners. We want them very functional but we have no real connection with them, so a lot of objects are going to disappear. The objects which are going to stay have some quality that makes us really want to keep them, like my mother's cabinet which is not functional and will never be functional, but we love it and that's why we keep it. There's so much design when it comes to science or to the digital world; a design which has a completely different future so it's hard to tell where it will go.
"That's another thing I want to tell the young designers, I do trust them. I trust them because I know they will do the right things even though we might not see that, but you have to be yourselves, be authentic, and believe what they think is right even if we might not agree." Marcel Wanders
CM: What advice would you give young designers today?
There are more and more designers but there is unfortunately more and more unimportant design work. There are not a lot of great designers and the design that we see has a particular style but it is often a reiteration of what we already know. I think it is a pity at the same time that designers don't find ways to interest themselves in a contemporary way. The role of a true designer is not so easy because you have to really believe what you think is right and follow that. It is much easier to follow other people who are great. You have to really believe in what you create and be perfect in expressing that, and that's annoying, and difficult and painful and you'll be alone, you'll be fucking alone. It's not even a nice place to be, but that's what you do when you're a designer. You must really express what you think even when you're wrong. If you don't want to do that, that's also fine, but you're not gonna be a great designer, and in design–I promise you–it's only nice when you're a great designer. So be great!
CM: Your view of the next generation of designers?
I remember when I was young, my generation was called the 'french fries' generation in my country. I was 17 or 18 when I read that, and I was annoyed and at 35 or so, I was still irritated by this comment, but I can start to see what happened when they said that. The people that were expressing those feelings were the people of the 60's and 70's–the people of the revolution–so they're expecting us to have another revolution, and we didn't do that. When I was 35, and I look back on that, I think we didn't do another revolution because we wanted to repair stuff; we wanted to mend and to connect stuff and that's what we did automatically. Even though we were bitched for not doing a revolution, almost unconsciously we did what was necessary. And that gives me a lot of trust in the next generation. I'm pretty sure that whatever we think of what they do, they'll probably do the right thing. That's another thing I want to tell the young designers, I do trust them. I trust them because I know they will do the right things even though we might not see that. You have to be yourselves, be authentic, and believe what you think is right even if we might not agree.
Photo © Marcel Wanders
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