MARCEL WANDERS, RENOWNED AND ECCENTRIC DUTCH FOUNDER, DESIGNER, AND ART DIRECTOR AT MOOOI, STRETCHES OUT HIS LONG LEGS FOR A BRIEF MOMENT BEFORE PULLING THEM BACK IN AS HE SETTLES INTO A DARK GRAY BART SOFA BY MOOOI.
We’re sitting in the impressive, high-ceilinged Moooi showroom on via Savona, in the Tortona Design District in central Milan. It’s midway through Salone de Mobile and tens of thousands of designers and design enthusiasts have descended upon the city for the annual furniture and design fair. The Moooi showroom, tucked away behind a friendly yellow brick façade, is currently displaying Museum of Extinct Animals, an enchanting showcase that includes wall coverings and textiles in collaboration with Arte, inspired by century-old illustrations of extinct animals reimagined and renamed with cheeky monikers such as Blushing Sloth, Blooming Sea Dragon, and Bearded Leopard. The original drawings of these bygone animals were collected from museums all over the world and shipped to Milan for Moooi’s exhibit.
Surrounded by dreamy light fixtures, luxury chairs and nostalgic objects, Wanders leans in close, his elbows on his knees, eager to talk to GRAY about his passion for design. As we chat his expressive gestures and amusingly salty language serve to punctuate his opinions (he’s not one to hold back), and his bright blue eyes light up at each little joke or uncompromising statement. He may be one of the most celebrated living designers, but like many of his contemporaries (Philippe Starck, Jaime Hayon), the 54-year-old Wanders still has a youthful sense of wonder and bold streak of humor—attributes that shine through his products and projects, making his work some of the most sought-after design on the planet.
What does design mean in your practice? It means everything. Especially now. We have taken a stand recently and are emphasizing that we are solely a design company. We are not stylists or interior designers. We are designers. Our collaboration with clients usually leads to a connection that is built upon their and our ideas and concepts. It is my job to completely understand each idea and concept and ensure that the result speaks to what they believe. This way of working means that I usually end up with a collection that is a bit eclectic, but that’s fine because this is what it means to be a design company.
Your collections show an element of fantasy and wonder. Where does that come from? I believe that design is a language that is humanistic. It’s not very rational. The best part of us humans isn’t our rationality anyway; it’s our imagination. And because our imagination is so rich, I want to practice design in a generous way. I don’t want to do it in a stingy way. I never give less than I can, and I love giving everything I have. When I‘m working on a design, I stop just before it gets chaotic—I’ll go until there.
How do you know when generosity turns into chaos? Sometimes I take it too far, so I just take things away. It’s really not that complicated. Again, I’d rather be generous, I’d much rather give too much. It’s a motto that I repeat over and over in my studio: ‘Let’s give people more than they expect. Let’s show them something amazing.’
Do you think about form and function in this process? A lot of people have written about form. And in my opinion form is always secondary; it always follows function, right? So, let’s not talk about form. Form is irrelevant. Form doesn’t matter. And as for function, that’s only important for things that you don’t care much about. For things that we love, really love, functionality is irrelevant. Your high heels are not functional, your Christmas tree isn’t functional. However, your vacuum cleaner that is hidden away in a closet is functional! If it wasn’t you’d do away with it. A little porcelain cat in the window is not functional at all, but people love it. That’s my take on form and function, and when it comes to beautiful things, they’re both completely irrelevant.
This makes me curious about your take on minimalism. I am lucky to live in a culture that embraces art, poetry, and beauty so much that you, me, and so many others can live off the enjoyment of that beauty. So, let’s give it our all and let’s not hold back. Why would you do that? I am so grateful that I can wake up late on a Monday morning, pick up a pencil and scribble funny drawings on a piece of paper. I mean, I don’t cure people, I don’t grow potatoes, I don’t do important stuff like that. So, the least I can do in my designs is give it everything I can.