Beauty, intelligence, boldness, and humour can be used to describe the work of this iconoclastic designer who keeps surprising us ever since the creation of his studio in Amsterdam in 1996. Marcel Wanders collaborates with some of the best companies such as Alessi, Baccarat, Chrostofle, and Roche-Bobois. In 2001, he founded the label Moooi to ensure the proliferation of his work while opening doors for a new generation of exceptionally talented designers. We had a chance for a rare discussion with a true design influencer.
By Stéphane Le Duc
Is there very often humour in your work? Why is it important for you? There are different emotions that you want to share, and I am doing that in the context of design. In design, I try to share and multiply what is good and beautiful. There is a sense of humour, but it is never a joke because a joke is only good for a moment. There is a lightness in the work. We don’t think that everything in design has to be a geometric reproduction of functionality. There are more interesting ways to look at products.
In order to become a great designer, you have to create your own universe. You need to find your own personality. Were you different from other kids growing up? My dad was a proud man, and, as a kid, he said to me and my brother and sisters, “You are a Wanders.” For some reason, it meant something, even if we did not know what it meant. Later in life, it gave me a sense that we were able and allowed to maybe do things differently than was expected from us. It allows us the freedom that maybe other people did not have. It’s the way I felt all my life.
Amsterdam seems a great city for design – why is that so? I think, for hundreds of years, we have been a culture that is more open minded than other ones. It’s a country that people have fled when they were in trouble elsewhere. I made a large book called Amsterdam Creative Capital, and I investigated on 700 years of creative findings, and I should one day calculate, but I think 30 or 40% of the big new ideas made in Amsterdam were from people not native to the city. It has always been a haven for people that have ideas.
“THERE IS A LIGHTNESS IN THE WORK. WE DON’T THINK THAT EVERYTHING IN DESIGN HAS TO BE A GEOMETRIC REPRODUCTION OF FUNCTIONALITY. THERE ARE MORE INTERESTING WAYS TO LOOK AT PRODUCTS. ”
One of the first iconic pieces you created in 1996, called the Knotted Chair, had an amazing impact in the world of design. Did you expect such a reaction? The first year when I was part of Droog Design, the results and the reactions were overwhelming because we were just a bunch of kids doing some prototypes. We were looked [at] as a group of people doing something different. I was sure that for the second year, that people would come and show up for our presentation in Milan. I knew if I could make something really important, then it would make a difference, or, at least, it would be seen. I was fortunate enough to make something special.
You do many collaborations with great brands like Alessi, Louis Vuitton, and Christofle, to name just a few. One that I find really impressive was the Le Roi Soleil chandelier that you did for Baccarat. We started working with Baccarat 10 years ago in a very humble way. We just did a few little things that were beautiful but took so much time to get it right. It is wonderful to work with such a company that respect traditions. They asked us to do a chandelier that is the center of their existence. We were super excited about that. We wanted to use the heritage of the company but also something that is contemporary, different, and modern, otherwise, why would we be involved? We did not want to lose the structure or the fibre of this crystal rain forest. At the end, we found a way. Instead of changing the fibre and the structure, we only cut out the shape in a very different way. We adapted the original design to a geometric form that can adapt more easily to modern architecture that can be identified as a Baccarat icon.
Almost 20 years ago, you co-founded Moooi, which means ‘beautiful’ in Dutch, with Casper Vissers. What does it represent? Well I wanted [to work] with my good friend to represent more than just my work but also other talented designers. For three years, we suffered; we had to sell our houses and had no income – it was ridiculous. We fought our way through, and we thought it was important. Today, we have a company that made its mark through time and a little bit on the history of design. It has launched about 20 designers that are now well-known. That is beautiful! It has made me a stronger designer and made me tougher on myself. Moooi is my school, and I learn from it everyday. It is probably my biggest project and maybe one of my best.