The Contemporary Renaissance of Humanism
Interview by Viveka van de Vliet
As a student, Marcel Wanders went to Milan in the eighties. He never left. He launched his MOOOI label, which became an established international design label, and opened the first permanent showroom in Zona Tortona ten years ago. Now, ten years later, he changed his strategy for product launches. ‘Instead of presenting new designs once a year in Milan, MOOOI will introduce a new product six times a year at a specific moment somewhere in the world.’
The interview takes place at the Andaz Hotel on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, a hotel co-owned and designed by Marcel Wanders. As one of the high-profile designers at Droog Design, which heralded a new design movement in the early nineties, Marcel started in the tradition of Dutch design in 2001 with a small exhibition of a new, quirky brand. MOOOI became a leading international label of often exuberant, romantic, unconventional and entertaining designs. A brand that is on the map, as Droog was at the time. MOOOI shows work by international designers, including Arihiro Miyake and Neri & Hu, as well as Dutch designers, from the monumental ‘Raimond’, the only lamp by the then 65-year-old and now deceased Raimond Puts, to the recent Meshmatics Chandelier by young designer Rick Tegelaar.
Of course, this did not happen automatically. ‘They were hard times of making good money and spending good money until we broke even’, says Marcel. ‘We are now on the international stage and we’re successful, but I don’t see it very differently than in the beginning or ten years ago. It’s still the same company and it’s still our platform where we have something to say about design and the world. And I’m still happy that I have this podium for other designers and for myself’.
He was in his fourth year of his study at the academy in Arnhem and going to the Salone in Milan seemed like a good idea. Ed Annink († 2012), who taught there, knew that two students from Rotterdam were also planning to go. Dienand Christe and Joost Alferink, whom Marcel met for the first time on the train to the Italian design city, are still his good friends. They ran from design show to design show, from early in the morning until late at night – this was back when you could see everything, because it was not nearly as spread out as it is now.
Even back then, Marcel wanted to do something different from what everyone else was doing. So, in 2001 he began MOOOI, together with Casper Vissers, as a platform for both his designs and fellow designers. Giulio Capellini presented him with the opportunity to present MOOOI in Zona Tortona. Over the past ten years he has been showing the MOOOI collection here. Sometimes smaller and more modest, sometimes grand and spectacular in spaces of almost two thousand square meters. Ten years ago, MOOOI also attracted visitors into a seductive design universe, like a Wunderkammer in which exotic animals, insects, plants and flowers are blended with modern design. Or in an exuberant painting by a Dutch master mixed with photography by Erwin Olaf. ‘We want to hit them so hard that they won’t forget us for the rest of the year’, says Marcel.
What is a really exciting new step to Wanders, is that he takes up a different position with MOOOI than most designers do in Milan, as far as the strategy for product launches is concerned. ‘We introduce products when they are ready, when we can deliver them worldwide, not because the fair happens to be coming up. What’s more, the introduction of all our new products doesn’t match the times in which we live. Communication is fast, in April you are bombarded with design on Instagram. Chinese copies are ready before Milan Design Week has even yet ended’, he says.
‘Despite the fact that online has become a good platform, which you can use as a designer to become visible, it takes something extra special if you want to acquire a position in Milan that will endure’, says Marcel. This has not necessarily become more difficult due to the explosive character of the fair over the past decade, but different, he believes.
The design city is still one of the places to be, but not the only one, he says. That is why Wanders now introduces a new product for MOOOI anywhere in the world six times a year at an arbitrary moment, which immediately enters the world and is available. This has a number of advantages, he knows. ‘Every year, we want to launch eight to ten new products. Each of these products is given full attention for two months and won’t be overlooked in a large presentation at the fair. We also give a podium to new, unknown designers. The effect is great, it gives them wings’.
This became apparent when MOOOI first implemented this strategy in December 2018 with ‘The Party’ by Kranen/Gille. This collection of ceramic wall lamps – faces with headgear and LED light shining from the eyes and mouth – was simultaneously introduced on multiple continents and presented by Kranen/Gille from the showrooms in Amsterdam and Miami. In February, the international launch of ‘Iconic Eyes’ – a giant chandelier – took place at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. Marcel: ‘I used to be happy if I could hit our audience once a year so that they wouldn’t forget it for the rest of the year, now we hit them on the nose six times a year, just a bit softer’.
Despite a smaller presentation this year in Brera, Milan remains important; MOOOI attracted also this year many visitors, but the showrooms and brand stores in Amsterdam, London, New York and Tokyo are also places where people come together and where the MOOOI designers can be in the spotlights.
Wanders believes we must continue to embrace Dutch Design – which was launched by Droog Design, among others. It was never an impulse, we must be clear on that. ‘Design is in our DNA, and is nourished by our culture and world view, and the world has taken notice’.
‘One way to change or improve the design of something is by thinking and designing in a more romantic, empathic, and humanistic way. The human aspect is important, technology must be secondary’, he says. This, in part, he sees as the future of design. ‘We are done with postmodernism’. The new age does not yet have a name, but Wanders has ‘christened’ it the ‘Contemporary Renaissance of Humanism’.
Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Portrait Marcel Wanders by Boudewijn Bollmann