It’s a Wanderful World

Marcel Wanders opens his mind for Target

Marcel Wanders worked as an industrial product designer for 10 years before his big break came along in the late ’90s. Break? More like an avalanche. After designing the “Knotted Chair” from resin-coated cotton (1997, Crochet Series, produced by Capellini), and other experimental furniture for Droog Design (translate from Dutch, to dry), Wanders became a certifiable star.

Years later, his track record compares favorably against any designer around. Mixing Starck’s democracy and ubiquity, with Hayon’s graphic humor and Bauhaus School techniques, Wanders revels in the unexpectedly logical. Or is it the expectedly illogical? Whereas Starck aims to “crystallize at the very minimum,” Wanders’ approach is more for the unapologetic maximum, restrained by the boundaries of taste and aesthetic, but unbound by modern functionalism.

In his new holiday collection for Target, Wanders offers a 300+ page catalog with more than 30 products. It is a remarkable type of Americanized diffusion from his own 2008 Christmas Collection for de Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam. The actual products are designed for accessibility, with a top price of $39.99 (big-ups to the marketing geniuses who still hold on tightly to those .99 cent price points, even in the face of today’s technology and attitudes).

Driven by a dreamer and offbeat character, the Studio Marcel Wanders mission statement reads, “Here to create an environment of love, live with passion and make our most exciting dreams come true.” Take, for example, the Soapstars bathtub found just outside Amsterdam at Lute Suites (2003). The striking, porcelain bubble shape contrasts with the 90 degree angles of the cut-out tub. Proving hotels don’t need lobbies, Wanders (functioning as both architect and interior designer), along with Chef Peter Lute, created a masterful boutique with seven, modestly sized, 18th-Century houses. Each unit offers a distinct design identity ranging from historical and Gothic, to modern and light.

Like many of his best creations, the result might appear to be some type of inside joke if the design had lacked comfort or function. It’s a type of dry humor that spins form to look at itself. While refuting a function driven dynamic, this often culminates with Wanders looking right back at the viewer, almost asking, “Whatcha laughing at, punk?”

In ’01, along with managing partner Casper Vissers, Wanders formed Moooi and functions as art director. Moooi takes its name from the Dutch word for beauty and adds an extra “o” for “extra beauty.” The collective also features work from Jurgen Bey, Jasper Morrison, Ross Lovegrove, Studio Job and Maarten Baas. This all puts Wanders at the center of a tangible design movement that involves updating traditional techniques. Other notable contributors include photographer Erwin Olaf and futurist Li Edelkoort.

At this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, Wanders debuted a handful of new ideas for Moooi, full of humor, wit, irony and whatever. The works all include a type of chuckle, but refuse to fully qualify as novelties. “Killing of a Piggy Bank” (2009), produced by Royal Delft has a comment on paper money. “The Parent Table and Chairs” (2009) plays with scale and offers a hefty appearance, but comes fabricated in lightweight styrofoam. He’s also expanded to technology products like “The Wave TV,” a microwave with LCD screen and multimedia support as part of a home collection for Holland Electro (2008).

One significant motif that appears frequently through all of Wanders’ work is his self portrait. His silhouette pops up again in “Naval Brass,” in a set of lacquered, brass table pieces. It is also usually included as some type of self-mockery of the designer as the star. What is a candlestick? But what is a Marcel Wanders candlestick? If there’s any doubt, his face will be right on it.

The designer’s first comprehensive monograph, Marcel Wanders: Behind the Ceiling (Gestalten), was released in 2009. It includes his most well-known designs for Cappellini, B&B Italia and Poliform Mandarina Duck, Kartell and Cacharel; plus architectural and interior projects like the recently opened Mondrian South Beach Hotel in Miami, Villa Moda’s flagship in Bahrain, Thor at Hotel Rivington and Blitz restaurant in Rotterdam. He’s also the subject of a current, self-curated exhibition, “Marcel Wanders: Daydreams,” at Philadelphia Museum of Art through, June 13, 2010.

The Target catalog features lots of non-product pages which show the inspiration for how Target fits into the Wanders world: dream facades like a vision of Santa’s lounge in the new summer polar castle (complete with a Knotted chair and giant candlesticks); a ride in the Bisazza car pulled by Target dogs through the sky; a geometric portrayal of the polar landscape in summer without Santa; and a futuristic skyline of Target City. Along the way, he shows how not to use the various items, designs “rejected by Santa,” and prototypes like a helium-filled balloon chair (a variation of the Knotted Chair), a Moooi’s VIP Chair, designed for Santa’s North Pole Castle. Some pages are stamped with the logo “against design fundamentalism.” It’s almost easy to miss the actual products, like bells, ornaments, candlesticks, plates and wrapping paper (which fall stylistically in line with some of his lush wallpapers for Graham & Brown). The whole thing is whitewashed in a red and white color palette and presented with a childlike sense of curiosity.

Wanders’ rebuff of form and function is based on a concept that furniture’s function isn’t only for sitting (take for instance, a chair). Instead of a narrow function, Wanders asks if the chair’s function can include shape, color, form and texture. Similar to how Feng Shui examines space in the context of resources wasted versus used, Wanders comments on the used-ness of the chair. In this way, Wanders is still function-driven, but he aspires for the most pleasing result in his own context. Even if the result is an inefficient but ornate economy, its function is more than fulfilled through aesthetic.

– Michael Cohen


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