Marcel Wanders. Dutch product and interior designer. He designs for such leading brands as: Alessi, Puma, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, MAC Cosmetics, Cappellini, B&B Italia and Moroso. Apart from running his own design studio, he’s the co-owner and artistic director of the Moooi brand. His projects can be found in the important MoMA collection in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the V&A Museum in London.

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL CATASTROPHE

TEXT: EWA TRZCIONKA, PHOTOS: ERWIN OLAF, WOJCIECH TRZCIONKA, COURTESY MARCEL WANDERS STUDIO

AMSTERDAM 20.4.2016

DESIGN PEOPLE

This Dutch eccentric is capable of putting on a clown’s nose, hound’s tooth patent leather shoes and a shirt unbuttoned to halfway down his chest, allowing him to put joy and fun more effectively into the often po-faced world of design. A smart, level-head postmodernist removes his clown’s mask.
His designs are on the cusp of kitsch, tradition and jokes, and nothing gives any hint about how clever what Marcel Wanders does is. But actually he’s a very responsible thinker with a clear mission. A long time before the interview, I asked Gosia Mozolewska what it was like to work for Wanders. Particularly since many people treat him – to put it mildly – with a dose of scepticism. „He has a clear, intelligent vision of what he does and what is important,” said Gosia. „I admire him. I like him a lot as a designer, but also as a person. He really is a big-hearted guy. It’s great that you’re writing about him. He can inspire people!”

We meet at Portobello Docks in London, near his showroom. Before I’ve even asked him a question, he puts down his telephone and begins to start talking animatedly: „We live in a postmodern time. But ninety percent of designers don’t know which it means and are still stuck in modernist thinking.”

And what does postmodernism mean to you?
- If we want to create a more sustainable world, we have to stop creating a world where we look for the “new” every day. Modernism is rational and rule-bound. It seems to us that technology and innovation are the solution to all the world’s problems. For me, it’s a direct route to a catastrophe. Modernist ideas assume we are making something for the future, not looking back at the past. In this way, we create objects like orphans – children without parents. If we bring them to life tomorrow, they won’t be new the day after. And we’ll be needing something new once again. Which means that the things we create – and even worse, our psychology – are totally at odds with sustainable development, at a time when it’s the one thing we ought to be doing.

Sustainable development and recycling are not immediately associated with your name and designs.
- I’ll begin at the beginning. The world today is egocentric and negative. That’s a mistake. We keep creating modernist ideas. We try to make new – always new – things. We say: „OK. Now we’ll change the material, and now we’ll change the technology and now the output.”

But that isn’t important, that isn’t the essence of the problem we have to face in today’s world. The really important thing is to begin to think sustainably and not to manufacture sustainably. We have to change psychologically. For the last fifteen years, I’ve personally been trying to get into the market’s head that design can be between the past and the future. It may be between my mother and my daughter and may function for both of them. I don’t need design which struts around saying: “Look at me – I’m new; I was made today!” No. Let it be something we already know from our surroundings, something that already functions in our consciousness, maybe a little bit unclear when it’s made.

It can last forever like that. So engineers who make all that technical gear and we – designers, and poets, and the cultural people of this world – all have to change the psychology of our consumers and our own psychology, because right now we are behind them. Our culture is quicker than us, the designers, and we are hanging back towards the non-sustainable side. We’re training lots of designers now, who create products with recycling in mind. Why? Why not just make things that people simply won’t want to throw away? What’s the point of recycling an antique Chinese cabinet? There isn’t any, because no one would even think of throwing it away, when it’s so beautiful, so wonderful! So as you can see, something’s not right with our psychology.

Marcel Wanders portrait by Erwin Olaf

So what’s beauty to you?
- That cabinet is beautiful. But it’s not old beauty, or futuristic beauty, or today’s beauty. It’s simple something we like, because it demonstrates the skill of the craftsman who built it. It’s said that we’re standing on the threshold of a new culture. Digital printers, the fashion for DIY. What will happen to style, trends and beauty then?

What will happen if beauty becomes democratic? Or chaotic?
- Do you think people will only design something because they can?

It’s tempting, since they have the opportunity.
- But they have now. To give you an example: making your own clothes. People have been able to do that for years. But is there a mass movement of people designing and making their own clothes? The fact that people can design something is not new. People can design and even make themselves a little candlestick. Or make themselves a nice skirt. But that doesn’t change the idea of fashion. There are designers, there is fashion and trends. Perhaps people really are more interested in fashion, are paying more attention to what they wear.

...but that doesn’t change much.
- Exactly. Let’s say I’m a dentist. I don’t want to think what my table should look like. I need someone to tell me that table is great and I ought to have it. For that reason, I have an interior designer who will decorate my house. For the same reason, when I look for music I turn on a radio station, because I know that someone has made a selection, has suggested what I can listen to, what has just come out. He’s my adviser. I don’t have to listen to the entire contents of a music shop. I have an authority in the field of music. And that is precisely the role of a designer. To give advice in the field of design. I mean, people don’t have to design their own chairs. A dentist can be a dentist and an insurance salesman can be an insurance salesman. And they want to be designer they should have studied design.

So we assume he has a vocation, he will get an education and the tools are secondary?
- I also have a dictaphone. So what? I can run an interview. And do you think I’ll do it? No, because I don’t like to. Just because I have the tool, I don’t have to do the job. I can also buy scissors and needle and thread. But I won’t make myself a suit. I’m happy that someone does it. Because they love doing it.

Mr.-Marcel-W

Unless, like the theoretical dentist, you decide to change your profession.
Of course, that’s always the case. Anyone can say they want to be a designer. They can always do that. But believe me, they don’t need 3D computers or 3D printers, which are incredibly complicated. To be honest they are so complicated that I – as a designer – don’t know how to operate them. But there are people working in my studio who do. And believe me, they aren’t designers...

...they’re operators.
- That’s right. My little daughter can design her own online girl: she chooses eyelashes, hair, legs and clothes for it. There’s a limited number of combinations. Perhaps that’s how people will make their own chairs in the future, but that doesn’t change anything. It’s unimportant.

Is it hard to be a designer?
- Not at all. It’s the most wonderful job in the world. But, when I think about the need to change the thinking, I confess it’s sometimes hard for me to live in a world of ignorant people, who don’t want to solve their problems. I’m really tired of that. We have to put more pressure on. A world of permanent novelties is unacceptable. Negating the past every day has no future. We have to slow down.

Do you believe it will happen?
- Yes, because it has to. We have to keep pressing. We have to stop throwing away what is best every day. Children without parents.

Interviewer: EWA TRZCIONKA

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