Marcel Wanders

Marcel Wanders was the host of the awards ceremony. His great inspiration Philippe Starck came to present the award. ‘The man is a superhero. There are very few like him.’

Left Phillipe Starck. Right Marcel Wanders fotocredits: James Stokes

If Philippe Starck is the Groucho Marx of design, then Marcel Wanders is . . . ‘Elvis Presley! I know that quote.’

And? ‘I’m just happy to be allowed to stand in his
shadow. Philippe Starck is a genius designer. I don’t think many people would
argue with that. He’s been able to create essential products for so long,
always based on a solid conceptual programme. Over the years Starck has put the
design profession on the map several times, created new impetus.’

Philippe Starck is to the world what Jan des Bouvrie is to the Netherlands: a popularizer. Almost everybody knows his name. And if you don’t know his name you at least know one of his lemon squeezers or chairs. ‘The man is
a superhero. There are very few like him. We have to cherish him. The absolute
number one. After him there is nothing for a very long time, and then, at some
point, I hope to be somewhere on that list.’

One thing Philippe Starck and Marcel Wanders
have in common is that they like to sketch vistas, scenarios for the future.
They’re not only interested in the quality of their last design.
‘No, because that design in itself
is not very much. It’s the expression of an idea, a chapter out of a larger
story. Like Starck I have rather outspoken opinions about the world. I
translate that into products that are connected, sometimes more and sometimes
less, to that story. In each case I do my absolute best to make it personal and
off-side.’

Like Starck you punctuate your arguments with big words: passion, love. You both present yourselves as artists, clowns, showmen. ‘Yes, but
with a mission. Listen, if it was exclusively about selling as many sofas as
possible, I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. I’m interested in the meaning of
architecture and design. How can we make the world a little more beautiful and
more human? I like to think about that and you’re asking questions about it, so
how ideal is that? It’s just that I might say something today that is totally
counter to what I thought yesterday.’

Marcel Wanders: a mass of contradictions? ‘What is more boring, more
predictable and more mind-numbing that people who cling on at all costs to what
they have always thought, who never deviate one millimetre from their opinions?
There’s something frozen about that and in fact it’s an obstacle to change and
progress. If you ask me a question now, I might give you two answers. Two for
the price of one. I’m alive. As soon as I’m dead, I close the box. Now it’s
open! Changing your mind? That’s a sign you’re alive. If I were always
consistent about what I think, there would be no point in giving interviews
anymore. I would just say, “I’ve already given one, just read that!”.’

The output of Studio Marcel Wanders is sizeable: a growing list of interior designs and products. Where does this drive come from? ‘I think it seems like a lot, rather than actually being a lot. Designers like Dordoni and Lissoni are much more productive. They produce so much for so many different
brands that it’s easy to miss something. Maybe what comes out of our studio
attracts more press. It gets written up because it’s visually attractive.
That’s also part of authorship. We want to be visible, even if only on a
magazine page.’

Ten finalists made the shortlist of the Frame Moooi Award, the award for custom design, for pieces that were designed for a specific interior. ‘Philippe Starck judged 891 anonymous entries. So there was no nepotism
or “aha” effect, just a level playing field for everyone. Those top ten are a
fine reflection of ripe and green, famous and not-so-famous names. And because
the winner is someone we at Moooi know quite well, I’m happy about that
anonymous process.’ (Bertjan Pot won the award for his Stairway to Heaven
hanging lamp: an upside-down kitchen step-stool with fairy lights, designed for
Grand Café Wennekerpand in Schiedam.)

What do you really want to achieve with this award? ‘You can
make something universal and hope it will fit in every living room. Fine. But
it’s also good for clients and designers to come together in the desire to
create the ultimate design for a specific place. We want to stimulate that.’

Our photographer just photographed the duo Wanders & Starck. Hand under the chin: like two thinkers. ‘Wasn’t that an idea from Philippe
Starck’s wife? Intuition is important, but if you want to be relevant, you also
have to use your head. In all these trade shows here in Milan you see how much
interchangeable and superfluous stuff gets produced. You might think you need
junk in order to properly appreciate quality. Personally I’d like to think you
can recognize beauty even if you’ve never seen anything ugly. Doubt is a
crucial condition for personal growth and change. You have to have the courage
to doubt, even the things you’ve always believed in.’

What do you believe in right now? ‘That people don’t buy things only
because they need them, but because it makes them happy. I believe in a world
filled with opportunities. They’re there, but you do have to grab them.’

Marcel Wanders (b. 1963, Boxtel), www.marcelwanders.com