Last September, Dutchman Robin Bevers took the reins as CEO of Moooi from company cofounder Casper Vissers. This means that when we meet during Milan Design Week in April, it’s his first time running the show. Bevers speaks directly with visitors dropping by to view Moooi’s presentation, enthusiastically asking Hollanders whether they’re getting kippenvel (Dutch for ‘goose bumps’). He tells me someone even cried when they walked in – happy tears, I presume. It’s evident that Bevers hopes to provoke a strong reaction with the latest display of Moooi’s products. We take a seat among the new offerings to chat about his vision for the company.
Apart from hoping to give people goose bumps, what’s your goal for this year’s Salone event – and for the company in general?
ROBIN BEVERS: I’ve been coming to the Salone for 20 years in various capacities. Even though I’ve seen Moooi grow from its inception, this is the first year I’m responsible. Moooi is on a path towards becoming a more complete brand – more sexy, creative, luxurious, rebellious, harmonious. We take a step forward each time we’re part of Milan Design Week. Last year we launched our carpet range, and this year we’re releasing a more mature and luxurious collection with new fabrics. I don’t have a new vision for the company, as the strategy is already there. It’s about growth, and Moooi is growing very rapidly. There’s nothing I want to change; there are only things I want to add. We’re now investing in our product-development department and our sales team. Moving from an entrepreneurial state to a midsize company means overcoming certain barriers and becoming more professional. That’s basically the process I want to guide Moooi through.
How do you measure growth?
Growth can mean a lot of things. How good is your product? How complete is your collection? But it can also refer to how much you sell and how well you’re liked by architects and designers. Are you their go-to brand? It all starts with wanting to grow, both individually and collectively. We’re upping our quality and becoming more professional, but obviously we need to see a simultaneous commercial growth. Sales are a very easy-to-measure variable. Moooi will double in size financially in the next five years. We’re growing in all our key markets, including Europe, the US and Asia.
What’s the percentage split between private clients and referrals from architects and designers?
That’s difficult to track, because our distribution isn’t divided definitively between contract and residential, but approximately 60 per cent of our products end up in the contract market – a fairly large share.
You mentioned adding carpets to the collection last year. How do you get a feel for whether new ventures will be well received in the market?
You can’t test everything, but we rely a lot on the vision and entrepreneurship of Marcel [Wanders]. We don’t follow his vision blindly, and there are no guarantees. We occasionally go out on a limb and that’s fine. Everything we do, we do from our core values and identity. That means that even if something’s not a commercial success, it can still fit – and even strengthen – our brand. Fortunately, we have two very capable people taking care of this. Desiree [de Jong] and Marcel, our art directors, decide what’s on brand and what defines the brand.
How do you source new products?
There’s no set process. Marcel is an active product scout, as are Desiree and Casper, who’s still involved in the company. I also search for new ideas. We might pick up something from a design fair, and sometimes people approach us directly. On occasion we’ll contact a designer to make something for us. At certain points we sit down as a team to assess, and the art directors have a strong say in the matter. I think the best example of Marcel’s scouting capacity is when he noticed Maarten Baas’s final examination piece at Design Academy Eindhoven. Smoke Chair became one of Moooi’s bestsellers – and Maarten’s first product on the market.
Which new products best exemplify Moooi’s direction for 2016?
We’re conveying rebellious harmony, order versus chaos – call it what you will. Umut Yamac’s Perch Light is very irreverent. It’s a bird sitting on a perch that functions as a lamp. It could easily be corny, but it’s not. There’s a fine line between something that’s cool and edgy and something that doesn’t hit the mark. It’s important to find that balance. The Compression Sofa by Paul Cocksedge is almost insulting. Take a giant piece of foam, push it down, and – just like that – you have a sofa. And, hey, why not take that form and make a version in marble, too? They mirror and play off each other. Then there’s Marcel’s piece, the Charleston Sofa. I don’t know if you had a chesterfield growing up, but they’re as traditional as you can get. Marcel takes one, puts it on its side and turns it into a chair. That’s it. He’s connecting the past and the future in a way no one’s thought of before.
In Frame 109 we spoke to Vittorio Radice of La Rinascente about how design labels should be selling furniture these days. He said the focus is too often on the designers and not the brands. How do you feel about that?
Some brands do ride off the fame of designers, but I think people see through that. Our criteria are: is it good design? Does it fit into our collection? Is it on brand? We don’t always work with well-known designers. Maarten Baas was one example, and Umut Yamac is not a household name either. Then there’s Rick Tegelaar, who isn’t exactly famous but we really liked his lamp. It fits into our world. We may end up using the names of some designers a bit more often, like Marcel or Bertjan Pot. Bertjan has really earned it though. Time after time his pieces are huge hits with the audience – and great commercial successes.
Umut Yamac’s six kinetic Perch Lights were set in motion after Moooi spotted a functional prototype at the 2014 edition of Design Junction in London. Bevers calls the bird-themed collection ‘irreverent’ and adds that ‘it could easily be corny, but it’s not’.
How do you communicate the brand to people who know none of these designers?
That’s the good thing: you don’t need to know the designers to get to know the brand. But we do think it’s important to credit them. We would never manufacture a piece just because it’s from a big name. It’s about the piece, not the designer. Design aficionados come here to see the latest work of the so-called ‘stars’, but people who aren’t in that world can still be emotionally and intellectually moved by Moooi. During the Salone, we have them to ourselves. Within this 1,700 m2, we control the sound, the visuals, the light, the smell. Here you can feel our world. You don’t need to know designers for that.
You said you can’t fill a home with statement pieces. Is Moooi’s focus on the home?
Our focus also includes hospitality: your home away from home. Some brands do ride off the fame of designers, but I think people see through that. Our criteria are: is it good design? Does it fit into our collection? Is it on brand? We don’t always work with well-known designers. Maarten Baas was one example, and Umut Yamac is not a household name either. Then there’s Rick Tegelaar, who isn’t exactly famous but we really liked his lamp. It fits into our world. We may end up using the names of some designers a bit more often, like Marcel or Bertjan Pot. Bertjan has really earned it though. Time after time his pieces are huge hits with the audience – and great commercial successes.
Earlier on, Moooi was very much about statement pieces like the three you just highlighted. But you’re also trying to create complete furniture solutions. How do you combine these two directions?
You can’t fill your home with statement pieces; you’ll go crazy. Yes, we want to offer a complete solution, but in a Moooi way. Some of our products are what we call ‘silent friends’, and some are grand gestures. Again, it’s about balance. As you become bigger you need to pay closer attention to that balance. That’s another reason why we’ve increased our ranges of materials and finishes this year.
You said you can’t fill a home with statement pieces. Is Moooi’s focus on the home?
Our focus also includes hospitality: your home away from home.
That reminds me of a statement Marcel recently made about how private spaces are becoming less personalized. Because of the likes of Airbnb, he said, people are less inclined to convey too much of their own personality in their homes. Conversely, the opposite is happening in commercial spaces. Do you agree?
We’re definitely monitoring and trying to anticipate that trend, but Marcel is an early adopter. We also have to realize that Marcel – and maybe you and I as well – are not representative of our wider target group. Marcel is so far ahead that he basically doesn’t want to have a house or a car any more. He’d prefer to travel the world with a few suitcases. He just moved into a house in Milan, and in a year he’ll probably move somewhere else. It works for him – and that’s the future for a certain group of people – but I think the majority of people want to stay firmly rooted where they are to raise children, work close to home and live near family and friends. They still want a secure and comfortable place for themselves. I think that’s where we come in. There’s definitely a need for individuality, though. People don’t want their homes to look the same as their parents’ did. They’re looking for something different, and I think they can find it at Moooi.
You’re launching 22 new products this year. What’s your reaction to the criticism of manufacturers bringing more stuff into the world?
We do try to be considerate of materials when creating our products, but to us sustainability is about making pieces that people love and want to keep. I’m sure 90 per cent of the stuff people throw away isn’t broken; they’re just sick and tired of it. We aim for timelessness. Some of the designs on show here are from Moooi’s very first year – and they don’t look dated. We continue to produce them today.
Do you think brands will have to start offering experiences instead of products?
Not instead of, but we’re very interested in sharing the Moooi experience. Our Salone stand is a physical experience, and by tomorrow there’ll be a 360-degree panoramic tour online for everyone to access. It’s a multichannel thing for us. We want our website to be interactive, but we also want our brand stores to double as event spaces and gathering places. Whenever we host an experience, we want it to affect people. We prefer to provoke a reaction of love or hate than of indifference.
Portrait Winter Vandenbrink
Photos Andrew Meredith