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Designer portrait: Marcel Wanders –  “enfant terrible” of the design scene 

The personality that is Marcel Wanders – and the extraordinary tale of his design career – are nothing if not spectacular. Wanders was expelled from his design course before the end of his first year, and other education professionals were equally late to recognise his raw talent. In spite of the many obstacles thrown in his way, Marcel Wanders has earned himself a place among the greats of the design world, and was recently awarded the accolade of “Designer of the Year 2018” at imm cologne.

Difficult beginnings…

Born on 2 July 1963 in the town of Boxtel in the Netherlands, the young Wanders discovered his calling at an early age: He wanted to design furniture.But when he embarked on a design course at the Design Academy in Eindhoven to realise his dreams, Marcel Wanders’ free spirit and independent personality quickly became a stumbling block: 

His lecturers didn’t recognise his talent, and eventually expelled him, writing off the young designer as “impossible to teach”. This was a difficult time for Wanders, but he refused to give up on his ambitious plans. He enrolled at Maastricht and Hasselt (in Belgium), before finally moving on to the academy of art in Arnhem, where he graduated with distinction in 1988. With all that has happened since, he can now look back on these turbulent years with a smile.

For the first few years after his graduation, Marcel Wanders worked as freelance designer. His early works won a number of small prizes and awards, primarily in the Netherlands and Belgium, which spurred the fledgling designer on to open his own architect’s office in Amsterdam in 1995. 

Quelle: Dutch Profiles / YouTube

A piece that changed the world: The Knotted Chair

In 1996, Marcel Wanders was thrust into the global spotlight for the first time with his “Knotted Chair” for Droog Design, which is now widely regarded as a classic interior design piece. In 2000, Wanders was awarded the Rotterdam Design Prize for the style-defining chair. The Knotted Chair – a comfortable chair with a curved, knotted-effect backrest made from carbon fibres and marine rope – is still inspiring countless design labels. The chair was originally created as part of a project for Delft University of Technology, centred on the theme of lightness and stability. The Dutch designer explains the origins of what is perhaps his most well-known piece: "I understood that the way to make something light as well as strong would be to work with space frames," Wanders says. "It's stable enough to hold a heavy guy, keeping the whole thing up and making it strong." The idea took off like a rocket: Wanders’ visionary Knotted Chair is now proudly displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art.

The hype continues

The early 2000s saw Marcel Wanders raking in yet more prestigious awards, including the Alterpoint Design Award and the Elle Decoration International Design Award. It was in this period that Wanders designed a number of his most lauded and well-known works: His VIP Chair for the Moooi label (2000), of which Wanders is now the Art Director and Managing Director, the B.L.O. table lamp, which is switched on and off by blowing on the candle-shaped light (2001), and the Carbon Chair (2004).

Countless projects followed, and the awards continued to stream in. These days, Wanders also designs for premium global labels such as Alessi, Swarovski and Bisazza, and develops interior concepts for design hotels across the world. The designer has a particular passion for seating, lighting and kitchen accessories, such as crockery and cutlery. His works can be experienced live at one of the Wanders-designed hotels or at the annual Salone del Mobile in Milan, where Wanders regularly exhibits his designs. 

Marcel Wanders

Loved and loathed: Wanders’ trademark style

In the architecture scene, Wanders is known as an intelligent free spirit with a gift for creating opulent and luxurious designs that refuse to be categorized easily. His style is often referred to as baroque or romantic – not an entirely adequate reflection of his multifaceted talents. From elegant, traditional lighting to comic-inspired patterns on furniture and life-size animal figures, one thing Wanders offers his fans is variety. The Dutchman's response for those who critique his creative style, playing on the authenticity that has always been one of his key strengths as a designer, is: “It’s always been me, and will always be me”.

Marcel Wanders: Entrepreneur & Designer of the Year

Marcel Wanders is an entrepreneur, artist and romantic – and these many facets of his personality are reflected in the many facets of his résumé. 

As well as producing works destined to be exhibited in museums all over the world, and running his own design label Moooi, Wanders also holds shares in a hotel on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht, which is furnished with exclusive and extravagant pieces from the Wanders collection. For his next business venture, the designer is toying with the idea of getting more involved in the property sector. Next on his design to-do list? “A mosque or an opera set”.

In mid-January, Marcel Wanders’ passion, drive and talent were recognised when he was awarded the “Designer of the Year 2018” trophy in the lead-up to imm cologne. The award, which was first presented in 1997, has also been won by design greats such as Tom Dixon and Philippe Starck. The winner of the prize is given the opportunity to mentor a promising young designer in the early stages of their career. Wanders chose to mentor Rick Tegelaar, an artist who works for Wanders’ Moooi label. 

Are you familiar with Marcel Wanders and his work? Do you like his style? Let us know in the comments!

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