Interview: The wonderful world of Marcel Wanders

Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic talks to Dutch Designer Marcel Wanders about his upcoming projects in the region and the importance of staying different.

Always give people more than they expect is a phrase that most appropriately sums up the 25-year-long design philosophy of the provocative Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. Unexpected and often surprising, Wanders is still considered by many as an anomaly in the design world. Yet, he has made it his mission to “create an environment of love and to live with passion” while still bringing a fun and humanistic touch to his design.

New York Times described him as the Lady Gaga of the design world and his out-of-the-box thinking got him expelled from the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Today, with more than 1,700 projects to his name for clients such as Morgans Hotel Group and well-known brands such as Droog Design, Magis, Flos, Alessi, KLM, Swarovski, Puma and MAC, among others, Wanders continues to provoke and delight.

CID met him during Design Days Dubai, where he was showcasing his collection of limited-edition pieces, which he describes as his personal playground “a place without restrictions”.


Marcel Wanders, photo: Rajesh Raghav, ITP Publishing

“With this collection, I wanted to include work that celebrates humankind and highlights durability, warmth and imperfection. Handcrafted techniques and a sense of ornamentation dominate this collection and offer more surprise for both myself and those who experience it,” says Wanders.

The Personal Editions collection combines traditional crafts and industrial processes, offering fantasy and creativity, but also durability, which seems to be one of the most important aspects of Wanders’ work.

“It is important for us designers to have that special place where we can design on our own, just making things that we want to make,” he says. “When you look at the history of design, before there was a carpenter that would make a chair and sell it to his neighbour. With industrialisation, he started making 1,000 chairs, which his next door neighbour didn’t need anymore, so now the chair had to be sold worldwide. The chair had to fit in a box and it had to fit in a thousand different houses. So, instead of having this one chair, which is wonderful and unique, this chair had to be mass produced. It is still a good chair, but it is not as exciting as the first one he made.

“With the internet as a mass medium, the world has changed and we are again in the time zone where we can design this one chair, but find buyers anywhere in the world,” says Wanders.


Wander personally created 124 different basins for each room of the Andaz hotel in Amsterdam. Photo: Marcel Wanders

The story about the carpenter, in a way, reflects his own journey with the Knotted Chair, which marked his international breakthrough in 1996. The Knotted Chair was produced by the Italian manufacturer Cappellini in a series of 1,000 pieces and since 2011 has been part of the Personal Editions collection, touring with Wanders around the world. The Knotted Chair also sits within the permanent collections of museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Beyond functionality

Describing his work as a “fantasy”, Wanders explains why functionality doesn’t tick all the boxes when it comes to design.

“Don’t get me wrong, I find functionality to be the fundament of design,” he says. “But, if you have to qualify a good house, you don’t live in a good house because of its fundament, you live in it because it gives you more than that. The design industry can learn from other art forms, which are not about functionality at all. Functionality is not the reason why we possess things. It may be the reason that we need the chair, but it is not the reason why we need that particular chair.”

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