Marcel Wanders' quirky, yet brilliantly conceptual style signature redefines contemporary design.
Blazing a trail in contemporary design, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders imbues modern ideas with old-fashioned romance.
Decked out in a gold clown nose and creating forms inspired by juvenile subjects such as body fluids, Marcel Wanders may be the clown prince of design, but his visionary talent is no joking matter. Since his Milan debut at the famed Furniture Fair in 1993 as part of the creative collective Droog Design, Wanders has become one of the biggest talents of the 21st century. In 1995, his Knotted Chair caught the attention of the revered Italian furniture manufacturer Cappellini, and a design classic was born. Since then, he has created innumerable iconic works for the world's leading manufacturers, including B&B Italia, Kartell and Flos.
Since Droog and Wanders emerged on the scene in the early '90s, bringing a fresh, highly conceptual approach to decorative and industrial design, both have played a monumental role in placing the Netherlands firmly on the map, heralding a new generation of talent. "I'm very happy that Droog was able to play a role in bringing design to an international world and communicating it to the people. It's been important to people in Holland, not only in the design world—it's made an important mark, I guess," he says.
Wanders's continued support for Dutch design remains staunch, with recent projects such as Westerhuis, a cultural workspace in the heart of Amsterdam. The 60,000 square foot complex will become the city's new design destination, as members of the creative industry take up residence in the five-story space. The idea came about as Wanders sought space for his expanding studio. "My studio has grown pretty rapidly over the past two years. We've gone from seven people to 25—it's just gone crazy. We were looking for a new studio, but this house is so big that we invited other creative people to join us. We're making a space that can be important and interesting, both for them and for us. We want a kind of community that is about creativity and art," he explains. The space will also include a special area for up-and-coming talent.
While Wanders remains avant-garde, with highly conceptual, often left-of-center designs, it is his astute business acumen that has propelled him to the top of his game. In 2001, he founded the design label Moooi. While Marcel Wanders's own studio remains a laboratory for creative experimentation, Moooi addresses the need for saleable design. He is the first to admit that there is doubtless no shortage of innovators originating from the Netherlands right now, but conceptual doesn't necessarily equal commercial, and this is where the designer excels. Moooi, which is part-owned by Italy's B&B Italia, offers a commercial platform for more conceptual creators, such as Maarten Baas, Front and Studio Job.
With Italy's revered heritage based on its daring approach to design, and B&B Italia's incredible success and strong brand identity, Moooi (Dutch for beautiful, with an extra 'o' for emphasis) has captured the attention of a market of young buyers hungry for something different. "A lot of designers create something like a chair with a red cushion over some legs. All you have to decide about is the color. I think that we deserve more, and the companies should be able to give it to us, so we have to find ways for this. For me as a designer, it's so nice to work on a project that's so different and also make decisions on the distribution. Not only do I make a nice sketch, but then I go in and follow it deeply. This is what I really like, I think it's a big project," says Marcel. Big is an understatement; Moooi Boutique, launched this year, has already opened no fewer than 45 corners around the world, with 60 or 70 planned by the end of the year. At this year's Milan Furniture Fair, the company will add Swedish designer Matti Klenell to its impressive roster of names. "We tried to work with Matic before, in the first year of Moooi, but we were unable to do it. We were not able to produce this work before, so we're very happy to show this piece from him."
In addition to product design, the 43-year-old designer has moved into interiors. He has already garnered a notable list of projects, from Miami's Mondrian, due to open early next year, to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Amsterdam and possibly his most conceptual project to date, Lute Suites. In 2005 he and co-owner Peter Lute took hospitality to unparalleled new heights with the first chain of 'suites' scattered around the city of Amstel. Beginning with a row of 18th century cottages overlooking the river and Lute's restaurant and dinner cruise boat, the concept extends across the city.
More recently, the designer has turned his hand to architecture, despite a lack of training—although for the creative force, this is a mere formality. "Creative people are better in things they don't know about, because they have to save their ass. If I can do something with a chair or a business card, even, then why can't I do it with architecture? I've never done a business card, but it doesn't mean that I can't. I would just need someone to perhaps show me. It's the same with architecture; I don't want to simplify, but there's no reason for complexity. I spoke with some guys about architecture; it's all the same, if you can't find an idea you are not a designer," he says, adding "I guess I'm also lucky that a good architect will save my ass." With an audacious spirit mixed with a heavy dose of childlike romanticism, Marcel Wanders has made a formidable mark on design.
Marcel Wanders's definition of luxury
Time is the biggest luxury there is, but only if you dedicate it to some moment, to something, does it become a luxury. Time is nothing, but to dedicate it to something, to be able to do that—that is luxury.
If luxury were a place
It would be high in the sky, flying around in a big zeppelin with all my friends.
A peacock. ("That's not a person," I tell him. "I know," he responds.)
Being born. That is the biggest luxury we have.