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Mooi, Marcel Wanders, Robin Bevers

Moooi has made a number of moves – big and small – lately. The Dutch brand has gone from releasing its new collections exclusively in the design mecca (and pressure cooker) of Milan Design Week to staggering novelties throughout the year. It also announced a feature called The Button, an app-enabled symbol of authentication that connects the end-user with the provenance of a Moooi product. And just last week at Neocon, it announced a partnership with Steelcase that would make its furniture, lighting and carpets more accessible to the North American market.

But, perhaps more important than all that, the company that Marcel Wanders co-founded 18 years ago continues to do what it does best: discovering and working with new talents as well as seasoned pros (including Wanders himself) and making furniture and lighting that is somehow luxurious yet contemporary, ironic – and winking playfully at the past – yet in thrall to the power of beauty and craftsmanship. So, we figured NYCxDesign was the perfect occasion to sit down with Wanders and Moooi CEO Robin Bevers at their East 31st Street showroom to talk shop, authenticity, cuckoos and the mathematical proof that more is more.

One of your new strategies is called More Moooi Moments, and it’s focused on releasing new pieces throughout the year, such as you’ve done during NYCxDesign. You’ve stated that this is really to support your designers?

MW

If you are developing innovations all year round and they have to be ready in one point in time… that’s basically asking for trouble. But, still, you want to show all these things in Milano, so you go there, you show things that are on average not ready, so it takes maybe nine months to get them ready [for the market]. That’s annoying. Because a lot of people get excited about these things, they put them on Instagram worldwide. Then there are other people even faster than we are, who mainly live in Asia, and they copy what we do. That’s not ideal, and then, if we go to Milano, and we present eight new things, you go there, you might have seen two at the end of the day – you forgot the rest because you’ve seen so many things.

Because then there’s this other company, I don’t know the name anymore, but they also present in Milano, right? Maybe two that present …

Kranen/Gille’s new Plant Chandelier for Moooi.
RB

Maybe two. Or three.

A few others. A few Italians.

MW

It’s just an overwhelming place where, you know, if you throw in 10 things maybe it’s better to throw in the things that are ready. So that’s what we do. We divide up all these novelties throughout the year, which allows us to speak about the things that we make with our audience in a more respectful way, and we do it internationally. Today, [during NYCxDesign] we launched a table and a light, which are in stores around the world and deliverable today.

We believe that this strategy isn’t so innovative in our world, but it’s very un-innovative in the rest of the world, in a way. It allows us to say to the people that we work with around the world, our investors, that we are presenting Milano a new sofa, do you want to be part of this? Do you want to be in Vancouver and have a bit of Milano in Vancouver? Do you want to be the first in the world to have a new sofa system? That, you know, we are launching worldwide? You are important to us. It helps our network gain traction in their own areas, of course. There’s always a few designs that are not in Milano and they’re in Vancouver. And they have a bit of Milano in Vancouver, that’s fun.

You introduced a button of authenticity. Is it also a response the Asian market ripping off some of your designs?

MW

It is one of the reasons, but it’s not the only reason. We feel responsibility for the products that we make in the long term. We don’t feel that as soon as they’re out of the box they’re not ours anymore. We want someone who buys a sofa, and after five years someone puts a cigarette out on the sofa, we want to tell the person exactly what fabric’s on it, and how to restore it.

It’s about a relationship.

MW

It creates a long-term possible relationship. We believe that in the future, we’ll discover how it could be even more meaningful to both of us. We might give you complete transparency on the materials, what they come from, what they’re made of. There are tonnes of things that we will connect in the future.

RB

The initial take on things is the authentication, and we’re not alone in this. There are lots of great companies that have original design and that face the same problems. We’re all fighting the copycats, and we’re all fighting for originality and authenticity in the market. So we’re opening up this technique to other places in the market, through Be Originals America. We don’t want to make it like a Moooi proprietary thing.

Where are Moooi’s products being made these days?

MW

Most of our production is in the Netherlands. I would say 98 per cent is Europe, and of that 60 to 70 per cent is in the Netherlands. There’s two per cent that comes from Asia, because there are things that in Europe you couldn’t make, like The Emperor, a lamp made with this typical weave that comes from Asia. A lot from Italy, in fact: Balsa Wood is mostly from Italy. Our lighting comes 90 per cent from the Netherlands.

During Milan Design Week, you showed some of the experimentation – in wall coverings and upholstery – that you’re doing with the Tokyo Blue line. Can you tell me more about this?

MW

For eight or nine years, I’ve really wanted to do denim on sofas. And it’s super-difficult, because denim fades beautifully, but it also stains with whatever it connects to. So if you have white pants, you sit on a denim sofa and you have blue pants. We’ve been trying quite a few things to get it done and at some point I gave up, and then started to move again. Now we finally found a way to create textile that really has this kind of indigo look and feel, and we know how to deal with it, to give it that character, with all those techniques.

Coincidentally, we found a company that was able to do what we want to do, in Japan, where the best denim comes from. Then we had this concept of the extinct animal, so we found a denim monkey. It’s called the Indigo Macaque: it’s an extinct macaque that inspired us to do the rest of the story. And so you’ve seen that one on the carpets and on the wall coverings.

Things that are loved will be protected. If we make things that are loved they’ll find a way. Nobody throws away things that are great.
Marcel Wanders

That leads to my next question: your Extinct Animals line is very lush and beautiful, but does it also speak to what’s happening in the world right now and the idea of the extinction? Are you tapping into that at all?

MW

It’s kind of … We didn’t want this to be … I had the idea of extinct animals at one point and I thought it was really cool. It was really hard to make this concept come alive in Moooi, it’s such a controversial subject. For me, it was clear that I don’t want the skin of an extinct animal on my sofa, I don’t want them on the wall coverings.

But we had a poetic take on it, meaning that we create an illusion of the diversity of the world and we celebrate the diversity of the world with that. I think that was really, really important – and that is political.

Jacques Cousteau – he didn’t speak a lot, but his grandson once wrote an article where he said that his grandfather used to tell him that people will always defend what they love. When I read that, it was a revelation, so beautiful. I thought, you know, this is so true. Just making things to love is such a fantastic, logical step. So to make people understand and love the diversity of the world, in a poetic way. I think that is what’s relevant. Without being part of the political discourse, I think we can inspire the world for thought. I think that’s what we’re trying to do.

A broadloom motif in Moooi Carpets’ Extinct Animals series.

I think that’s a very effective way to go about that. Now let’s talk about your designer roster. You have people like Maarten Baas that you’ve worked with for a long time, but then you’re also still accepting new voices, like Rick Tegelaar and Kranen/Gille, into your collection. How do you go about that? How do you foster a new relationship with an untried talent?

MW

One of the reasons I set up Moooi was that nobody wanted to make my work. I wanted to make this brand for myself and other designers that nobody gave a chance to. We are really looking for people, everywhere, but also we maybe take an extra look at young people. We think they need us more. And, for us, the fact that they haven’t made the work with others, it’s not a question mark – it’s an exclamation mark. Then, of course, we look for people with an attitude, with a mentality, with an idea on design, and that we think can do multiple good things for now and in the future, that are really great designers, that have their own opinion. Hopefully different than mine.

So we can do something together that alone I couldn’t do. We can create a true design brand that’s eclectic, that’s full of life, that’s full of spirit. That allows us all to enjoy design as it’s meant to be.

You’ve also recently shifted your motto from design as The Unexpected Welcome to A Life Extraordinary. What was the impetus for changing that messaging?

RB

Well, it’s actually along the way Moooi developed. We started with a platform for designers, people with good contemporary design that didn’t get an opportunity somewhere else and that we really wanted to make their dreams come true. So, it’s kind of like maybe a haphazard group of products, maybe they call it a collection. And it became more so a collection, of lighting and furniture, and gradually we realized we didn’t want to be a lighting brand or a furniture brand, but we wanted to be a lifestyle brand.

And, hence also the collaborations in more carpets, more wall coverings. More and more, we are bringing a complete lifestyle to the brand, to the market. So yeah, that’s then our mission, to bring creative luxury for a well-curated life. It’s innovative, provocative and poetic. Life extraordinary.

Vignette showcasing Kranen/Grille’s humorous The Party light fixtures, and the new BFF sofa by Marcel Wanders.

And this also ties into some things that you’ve said in the past, Marcel, about wanting to create fantasy and speaking to a skepticism about minimalism and functionality. What does great design mean to you?

MW

That’s a big question.

A lot of people wish to create that link between democratic design and functionality.

MW

Let me say that functionality is one of the most overvalued things that we talk about, right? I mean functionality is super-important for things we don’t care about. But in the things we care about functionality is irrelevant. We don’t like vacuum cleaning so we want a very functional vacuum cleaner. If it does it without us it’s perfect. Right? So things we don’t give a shit about, or we don’t like, we want to have very functional.

The cat in your window, your Christmas tree, your high heels, your children, your dog – not extremely functional, but you couldn’t do without them. So, you want more of it. So if some stupid people have said that less is more, and they say plus is minus, then that’s not true. See? Plus has to be about something. [Wanders begins to scribble a formula set of pluses and minuses on a napkin].

So, plus of minus, is minus. More of less is less. More of something I don’t want is less. More of negative is negative. More of more is positive. I mean … This calculation is ridiculous, more is not less. More multiplied by something, in the context of something can be something. So, more of a bad thing is a bad thing. More of a good thing is a good thing.

A great thing.

MW

So if we have an inherent sense of guilt then more of what we do is less. If we have a sense of pride, then more of what we do is a good thing. If you really hate your job then less is more.

You’ve created an algorithm for it. But what do you think about that idea of democratic design? How does it fit into what Moooi does? Or is it something kind of off to the side?

MW

People think design is expensive. They have no idea. Design is for free. If Picasso goes out to his workshop and picks up his brush, he buys his paint, he picks up a canvas, he makes his work. He’s not painting dollar signs – he’s painting a work. That work goes into a gallery, photos are spreading around the world. He goes to museums, people talk about him, you talk about him, you hate it, you love it. You talk about it. Listen to your heart and in your head – you feel it. You’ve read about it. You’ve read again about it. You’ve compared it with things you love, you’ve compared it with things you hate, you’ve compared it with other stuff.

You’ve built your understanding of art based on it. That’s what art does, right? So that was all for free. The only thing that is not for free in art, and design is the ownership.

Moooi has moved confidently into finishes. Shown: Indigo Macaque wallcovering and Claire Vos’s Tangle rug

Right.

MW

Which is the least relevant part of design and art.

Really? In design, you think so?

MW

Think about it, you are making a magazine, people read that magazine – are they buying sofas? Do they need a sofa? Is that what they read the magazine for? Are they trying to buy something, or are they trying to inform themselves? Are they trying to have an opinion? Trying to be inspired. If that is what you do, you are not making a catalogue to sell someone something. All of these people are interested in a universe of thought. A universe of inspiration, and that’s all for free.

It would be nice to own one of those Horse Lamps though. I wouldn’t mind having one in my living room.

MW

Well, you know, that’s fine. We even make them if you want them. Even that, we do.

That’s an interesting take.

RB

Everybody can afford one, if it’s your priority, you can always afford one. Maybe you cannot afford everything. But, if you say, I really would like to have that piece, because it makes me happy, then maybe somebody has to save a little bit for it, but you can afford one.

MW

Then there’s a huge amount of second-hand products out there in the world that are amazing and cheaper than IKEA, but way more interesting than what IKEA will ever do. Even that is there. Now, you might not find the Horse Lamp there, because the Horse Lamp has legs and it will always find its way. Things that are loved will be protected, by you or by someone else. If we make things that are loved they’ll find a way. Nobody throws things that are great. Think about it this way, we think we have a material problem in the world. Seventy per cent of the things you will find in the trash are perfectly functional.

The Maze Miami rug by Note.

But they’re not loved.

MW

Functional, but unloved. We do have a material problem, but we have a larger psychological problem. That’s what we as designers should understand and work on. It’s been since 25 years that I work to create a different psychology in design, in our audiences. It’s why I’m pulling the past into today, because if something comes from afar it’s easier to travel farther. There’s nothing that grows old more fast than the new. We try to do things in Moooi that are not new once they are here. They’re not contemporary in the way that, you know, they’re new and therefore will be old fast.

Marcel, you’re also designing for other brands. Is there a distinction between what you do for Moooi and what you do for another brand? How do you get your head around that?

MW

How many boyfriends you have?

What’s that?

MW

How many boyfriends you have?

I’m single at the moment.

MW

Okay. If you had three boyfriends, would you be the same with all of them?

I don’t think so.

MW

That’s it. And you shouldn’t be, because you’ll have trouble with them. So, I do think that if you are in a relationship with someone you care about, that you have chosen because he’s important and cool and wonderful and there’s something special about them, and you want to make something together that is built from that togetherness. Not from you, but from you two together. From that conversation you have, together you arrive at ideas and possibilities, and from that you get results. You cannot bring a result to the wrong father, because the father will see it’s not his child, and he will not love the child. Fathers are very simple, they just want to raise their own kids, not other people’s.

So, with each one it’s a different chemistry.

MW

It’s chemistry. It sounds all very poetic and feral. But it’s also: one company wants to invest in moulding, another has international distribution, there’s a company that lives around the corner. If you make something within the relationship, you have to look at all the possible sides there are – and a lot of those sides come from the other side of the relationship. And so your genetic formula, your history, my history, they live here, and if there’s not there then basically this is a, what is it called, a kid you get from someone else?

Adoption?

RB

A cuckoo.

MW

Cuckoo egg – or an adoption, which can be loved, but not if it’s an illegal adoption…

These are funny analogies.

MW

I’ve never made this distinction, so it’s for sure not perfect. But I like to be a nest builder and not a cuckoo. I like to put the eggs in a place that I build together with someone. I think it’s super-relevant, and in that way it’s also a compliment to the relationship, a compliment to both parties. As an example, a few months ago I was called by a friend and he says, “Marcel, it’s funny, I saw in a magazine this Circus series that you made for Alessi. It was so great, because it didn’t credit you or anyone else. I thought, Wow, that’s cool, who did that? And I was pretty certain it was you and Alessi – and then I thought, that’s a big weird because Alessi never made colour on their metal stuff. I don’t even know if they have the technology for it. And Marcel never did figurines. But it feels like it is Marcel and Alessi.” To me that was a big compliment. So you can do something authentic in a relationship that is new to a relationship. It’s what we do in hotels all the time, right?

You want to do something really local indoor but also for an international crowd. We always have these two polarities and we have to bring them together. So we have to oversee not only ourselves, but that whole idea of that relationship. That’s why we study the place where we are, that’s why we study the clients we deal with. We don’t make a chair and then throw it to five companies and ask who wants it. Some designers do, and that’s fine, they do what they want. It sounds like critique, it’s not. But we don’t do that, we just don’t. Because I don’t believe it’s my way.

Breakout star Rick Tegelaar’s Meshmatics chandelier.

You had a relationship with B&B Italia, where they owned part of the company and then you bought it back and so on. This year, they announced this huge collaboration with Flos and Louis Poulsen. Which felt very new and interesting – and then Piero Gandini left Flos. I’m just wondering from your perspective is that kind of collaboration among brands something that you are still interested in?

MW

We are now discussing whether we should buy B&B and Flos and Louis Poulsen.

Oh really?

MW

No.

I’ll be on the phone in like two seconds, guys, I’m reporting from the front. I’m just wondering if you had any comment on what those relationships are like and if there’s a future for that kind of thing? [In fact, Steelcase announced last week that they’d formed a relationship with Moooi to offer Moooi products and Moooi Carpets to customers in North America.]

MW

It’s wonderful if there are consolidations, because it makes the market stronger. It’s wonderful if there’s diversity, because it gives us all more fun. I mean there are wonderful little companies that need our attention, because they create the diversity of this field of design. And it is in the logic of business that companies grow and they consolidate, it kind of looks like that’s normal. So that’s the new rule of the world. I think diversity will be there, you just have to find it in a different place. And that’s fine.

What do you think will make Moooi thrive into the next decade? We’re now to almost 2020, so what will define the company and the …

MW

Besides buying Flos?

Besides buying all of the companies.

RB

I would be very much against buying Flos.

MW

Yeah, me too.

RB

I think our authenticity, our strategy really hasn’t changed from the beginning. But it has evolved. It’s become richer, we’ve learned more, and our strategy is clear, you know? To grow our brand and to be a complete lifestyle brand, we want to put our customers central and we want to achieve excellence. There are a lot of people that have to be proud of what they do. And if we have little victories every week, every month, we celebrate them and it gives us energy and it gives us a good flow and that’s how we move on…

MW

Micro-ambitions.

Micro-ambitions?

MW

Yes, we celebrate every little victory. And then you see there’s a lot of them, and it makes us all very happy.

Moooi is More: A Conversation with Marcel Wanders and Robin Bevers

During NYCxDesign, we sat down with Moooi co-founder Marcel Wanders and CEO Robin Bevers to talk talent scouting, timeless design and taking on the design world one small victory at a time.

AZURE is an independent magazine working to bring you the best in design, architecture and interiors. We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.