Designer Interview


Defying the status quo

Marcel Wanders shares his perspective

Dashing Dutch design superstar Marcel Wanders is a product and interior designer who first drew international recognition for his knotted chair in 1996. Today, Wanders is co-founder and artistic director of design label Moooi and, in addition to running his studio, has collaborated with a plethora of respected brands. Homefront caught up with him musing on his revolutionary anti-pollution facemasks, the use of technology and dancing drones.


hf-wanders2By Shelley M. Black

Q. How would you describe your work and your design style?

Marcel: I think my love of design has always been there. Growing up, it was second nature to look at and study the products in my father’s shop and decipher how they represented what people liked, needed and loved. It has always been my goal to bring products or experiences to people that change and improve their lives in some significant way. So you could say that my first impulse in design was very pragmatic and straightforward, yet deeply humanistic.

I hope, and truly believe, that creating meaningful products that deeply move people will also ultimately create products that are loved. These products will make a more rewarding contribution, have a longer lifespan and direct us towards a more sustainable environment. It was Jacques Cousteau who said “People will always defend what they love.”

There is nothing new in the world, but when we make something through different juxtapositions and combinations, we are innovating and making new relationships between things that already exist.

Q. What books are you currently reading?

Marcel: At the moment I’m re-reading The Barbarians: An Essay on the Mutation of Culture by Alessandro Baricco. It’s a wonderful and intelligent manifesto on the state and change of global culture and how we experience it. Baricco’s theory is that our present cannot be judged by the rules or ideas of the cultural elite who have built their ideas on the old status quo. He suggests it is painful for the elite to see the success of innovation since it breaks down their power and their truth, but it is even more painful if the innovator does not even try to defy the status quo and just ignores it. The book is inspiring.

And I just started a book by Dutch author Susan Smit. Its called The First Woman (De eerste vrouw). Susan’s a good friend.

Q. Who are the people who inspire you, and do you get inspiration from different disciplines?

Marcel: There are so many interesting things happening right now with technology and culture. I recently lived in San Francisco for a year, which was remarkably exhilarating. What excites me has to do with what people are doing, not the people themselves. For example, the “dancing drones” light shows in Germany. Last year they had 100 drones in the air, and you could see a bit and imagine the rest. This year, they created the show with 500 drones—it was three-dimensional and produced a super-interesting perspective. And I will take that as an interesting idea that I can now massage and mold to use in our own designs. When you print something, you get one moment in time—but with this technology, it changes and you see it rotating and mutating. It is like swarm technology. To see the end of an evolution is nice but, to me, to see the middle is even better.

Q. What is your favourite building in the world?

Marcel: For years I’ve been saying the Taj Mahal. But today, I want to change my answer and say the 160-floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I think it’s wonderful what happens when people are bold and ambitious. Dubai gets criticized a lot, but this building is the pinnacle of the city’s ambition and power and being bold. You have to have a very predetermined mind not to appreciate this building.

Q. How does the design work that you do influence the world?hf-wanders3

Marcel: Design used to be something small, and today it is something huge. It used to be about designing a better teapot for people and now design is in everything. Design goes everywhere, including into technology, philosophy… In all parts of life you can find design.

In my designs, there are very different needs for the things I create to be more or less democratic. Some of these objects are not intended to be shared with a lot of people: They are luxury products. People love to have the best of something that they can give to their children. These items are intended to be heirlooms and the new antiques. I love to make things that will stand the test of time and won’t be thrown away in 12 years.

This is how our industry works, and it gives people employment despite some of the criticisms we receive. I recently saw a post on Facebook where someone showed a photo of a luxury car and another commented, “Do you know how many people could eat instead of this car?” The reply: “Do you know how many people did eat from this car?”

The strange thing is that we always think things are political or social if they take care of poor people or are addressing a new political idea. I think that is a short-minded way of thinking. I think that if you support the existing, you are acknowledging the status quo and are not keeping our industry alive or helping us to feed and educate our families. That is important, too.

Q. Why did you find it necessary to design an air-pollution mask?

Marcel: Air pollution is a big problem in some areas of the world such as China and parts of India. This has to be addressed and changed at the sources but, in the meantime, we have created what we believe is one of the most important products in the world today. I partnered with O2TODAY in San Francisco, and we think that what we have is the best anti-pollution filtration facemask available in the world. It has an interesting design and a bio-degradable filter, and it is made of fantastic, comfortable materials. Another thing about it: It is not as disposable as the competition. You can keep it for one or two months.

Q. Which product do you wish you’d designed?

Marcel: There are a lot of fun, technologically advanced products out there. One of the strange things I am still mesmerized by, and I wish I’d invented, is Shazam.

I know it is almost 20 years old, but it’s magical to me. When I bought my first iPhone, the value of the Shazam app became clear to me. I’d love to be able to recognize a three-dimensional object in the same way.

hf-wanders4Q. A lot of your work involves collaborations with well-known product manufacturers such as Baccarat and Alessi. Why is that so natural to you?

Marcel: When you collaborate, you want to employ the quality and capacity of your partner. It’s as if you are going to make a baby together, so you want to make sure you have a good genetic foundation. But the father also wants to recognize himself in his child. Two weeks ago, I spoke to a friend who had seen an advert for Alessi’s Circus Collection. She guessed it was a collaboration with Marcel. She was able to recognize my design genetic formula. That happens when both partners have respect for each other.

Q. What’s on the horizon for you?

Marcel: We are in the last phase of completing the interior design of the Mondrian Hotel in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It’s a super-modern, outrageous hotel. We like to create multilayered experiences that appeal to all five senses of our guests. From the architecture to colours to the relationship between design pieces, in hotel design we aim to be not just a place where people stay, but a place that stays with them—where they experience a sense of true belonging. Now the Miami Mondrian has a sister.

We’re also working on a secret project in Budapest, some upcoming work at Moooi for retailers in Milan and a new collection of products.

Q . What do you value most at home?

Marcel: First, my Wi-Fi. I can’t live without it these days! From a creative perspective, I’m very partial to a special hallway I’ve created in my house. I cut out newspaper clippings and post them. I call it my “good news wall.”

Q. Do you have an ideal dream project that you would like to undertake?

Marcel: In my wildest dreams, I think I would truly love to create a complete opera that could be performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Q. So tell me, do you have a plan or a New Years resolution for yourself  in 2017?

Marcel: Yes. I’m calling this “The year for Marcel.” I’ve not been worrying a great deal about Marcel so I’ve promised to make time to take better care of myself.

Shelley Black’s career has spanned a unique range of editorial and corporate roles with Flare, Maclean’s and BMO Financial Group. She enjoys writing about all forms of design, travel and food.