The Entertainers: Why Moooi is not a furniture or lighting company
Marcel Wanders explains how Moooi’s new tagline, ‘A Life Extraordinary’, manifests in everything that the brand touches.
Making a Motto
‘Every so often we take a look at the entire company. What is our vision, and what are our values? There’s nothing wrong with the old tagline, “An Unexpected Welcome”, but why not simply change for change’s sake? While “An Unexpected Welcome” was about a first encounter, about design, “A Life Extraordinary” is about you. It has less to do with one object; the whole experience is extraordinary. It’s holistic. We’re more of a brand than we were three or four years ago. We used to be a company with designs; now we’re a company with collections. As things evolve, the overarching concept is to be extraordinary and surprising. That doesn’t mean that every moment you open your eyes you’re going to be astonished. And that’s a good thing.’
‘If you have a party full of A types – screaming, demanding attention, being amazing – it’s going to be a horrible event. If you have only B players, it’s going to be very boring. You need both. Moooi’s always had quiet pieces, but they play a different role in life. Just like my Monday mornings are different to my Friday evenings – not worse, just different.’
‘A lot of our products have the capacity to be more or less present. Say you want a pink, orange and red sofa. The best thing to do is to go for a really quiet form. If the shape and the colour are crazy, it doesn’t work. In “A Life Extraordinary”, not everything is extraordinary. That would be “A Life Extraordinary” on steroids. You don’t want that.’
At Moooi, Marcel Wanders has a threefold role: owner, artistic director and product designer.
Yes, we’ll make it for you
‘We’re not a furniture company or a lighting company. We’re a design company, which means the only thing we need to do is to follow designers. If we ask the right people, our part of the job is done. We don’t tell them we need a sofa or a lamp with this or that amount of lux. We ask them what we have to do to make their product a reality.’
‘The design world is becoming so big and so ubiquitous that it’s beginning to have its own inherent boredom. There’s so much design that a lot of it is irrelevant – not because it’s bad, but because it’s everywhere. It’s so democratic that there’s no excellence. Everybody tells the same stories. Design could grow and lose importance at the same time, ultimately becoming generic. That’s kind of what I see happening. We can only hope for a group of people truly interested in the quality of design – design that speaks of something we care about, something relevant today. A lot of beautiful things out there say nothing about today’s world. It’s our task to find a way to connect to the quality of design and to educate and entertain others. We try to find designers who can help us do this. We want to work with people who have their own voice – a voice embedded in who they are. People who do something others don’t necessarily do.’
How Moooi is this product?
‘I’m the first to say, let’s study history and expand on it for today. I don’t like it when things from the past keep on going and lose their relevance. At Moooi we use the past to show our respect for it; we don’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.’
‘In the end, it’s about finding great design. It’s sometimes difficult, but that’s the core of what we do. Moooi is a platform that allows a designer’s work to shine. Because – well, I would hope – it holds a certain quality of communication and execution. I hope we do that well, and in such a way that respects the designs while not putting them on an austere minimalistic pedestal.’
‘A lot of the products we’re showing in Milan make you look at the object in a different way. Luca Nichetto is closely connected to the Venetian area. The way he translated the idea of a boat into the Canal chair is quite remarkable. I think it’s a super interesting idea to design an archetypal chair that’s so nearly the archetype of a boat. It’s a beautiful thing – especially because Nichetto’s made it work so well. Imagine a set of these chairs around a table, as if they’re in a harbour. They could live in bars, in restaurants, in your home – it’s a world unknown. We want to work more with this idea in the future. Think of the colours, the lines, names on the hull. What’s on the backs of today’s chairs? Nothing. But transplanting ideas from the nautical world to the world of chairs could lead to a new culture.’
‘We go way back with Maarten Baas. We basically picked him out of design school and have loved working with him ever since. Now was a good moment to reconnect and to do something very different, something with another part of his language – a kind of broken imperfect world that’s unmistakably Maarten. Because of our long-standing relationship, if he wants to do a Something Like This, a monumental sculptural sofa, we’ll do it. We had fun producing his Turbo tables. The products aren’t what you’d expect from other companies, but they fit with Moooi’s DNA.’
Luca Nichetto channelled his personal association with Venetian waterways into the Canal chair. Moooi wants to push the link between boats and furniture even further in the future.
‘Luna Piena, a product from our own studio, uses LEDs, a young technology that still provides so many opportunities for the renewal and reinvention of archetypes. One form that keeps cropping up is the disc. When you illuminate a disc-shaped lamp from the sides, the whole thing glows. It’s a nice typology, but you can do it differently. Most designers working with LEDs focus on dissolving the idea of multiple points of light. A disc-shaped lamp becomes flat. That’s not bad, but it’s really boring. If you create a surface that makes light dance, you suddenly get something extra for free. Your movement makes it come to life. All the lamps are visible, but they fracture into one big sparkle.’
The big Salone show
‘It’s always a challenge to offer the unexpected to people who are expecting something, as they are in Milan. But that’s our goal. That said, if we’d really do something unexpected on all levels, people wouldn’t even show up. We would be in a strange place with a different name, and we’d be doing . . . vegetables. You need to be a recognizable brand. And you want to be new, to reinvent yourself. To excite people. To show a different side of yourself, not of someone else. I’d say 80 per cent of our collection doesn’t change. Our DNA doesn’t change either, but we do try to put a fresh perspective on it.’
Moooi reconnected with Maarten Baas to create Something Like This, a sculptural sofa, and the Turbo range of tables – products Wanders says ‘you wouldn’t expect from other companies’.
‘Our brand vocabulary and philosophy allow us to work with emotion. Quite a few companies have a very restricted language. It’s harder for them to be surprising if they still want to be themselves. I imagine that at some point the space we’ve been using in Milan will be difficult to reuse. Every year we consider moving to another spot, but the space is so great.’
‘I hope we can give people something that makes them feel great. You want them to discover the unexpected somewhere, but not everywhere. Maybe it’s in a detail. We have to show ourselves in a moving world – with a moving design sensitivity – that reflects today. It’s like making a portrait of yourself every year. You don’t completely change, but you’re never the same.’
‘Since the brand’s beginning, we’ve understood that a small company can’t be at all the shows – Stockholm, London, Cologne. It’s not even about the money; we simply don’t have the manpower. We knew we had to go to the place where everyone who’s in the business will be. And let’s not punch them in the face; let’s punch them in the face so hard that they’ll remember it for a year. That’s where photography helps. To remember a show, people need to recall the atmosphere. But it’s difficult to explain afterwards. People who’ve been to our shows can talk about the photography and relive the whole experience. They feel it; they’re back in a flash.’
Luna Piena, a design by Wanders, rethinks the archetypal flat disc associated with luminaires. ‘If you use a surface to make light dance,’ he says, ‘you suddenly get something extra for free.’
The scoop on shoots
‘Photography has always been part of Moooi’s DNA. When we saw the big space [in Zona Tortona, Milan], we knew we could create a furniture show and a photography exhibition simultaneously. That hasn’t changed, so visitors won’t be surprised about that part. But the content will surprise people.’
‘The imagery has to be very different each year. We want the wow factor. We first worked with Erwin [Olaf], a logical choice, as we’d collaborated with him before. Erwin is all about people. The beauty lies in colourfulness, diversity, the human side, sense of scale. [Massimo] Listri is the opposite. His imagery shows almost only architecture, but not beautiful, shiny and new as we’re accustomed to seeing it. It’s silent, inaccessible, from different eras – a world unlike Moooi. We asked Rahi Rezvani when we wanted to do black-and-white portraits. The following year photos made by Rebecca Bathory reflected the breakdown of the world. There was a lot of terrorism going on. The soundtrack was Portuguese fado. It was painful, broken.’
‘The photography this year is a bit of an introduction to something we’ll show next year, but it’s too early to say much about that. We’re highlighting something the world doesn’t see. Levon Biss’s intricate insect portraits aren’t just fantastic photography. They also play with scale in an extreme way. Besides their obvious positive traits – very surprising and tactile – the images use a delicate and odd language that’s not about design but fits with Moooi.’
Moooi’s series of ‘visual haiku’ shows how products work together in settings.
Milan versus the market
‘The way we show products in Milan has a homey connotation, yet a lot of our designs are used in commercial settings: hotels, restaurants, lobbies. To help people understand the duality, we’ve been searching for a way to tell the story without being too boring, incomplete or explanatory. That’s the challenge.’
‘We’re innovating the idea of a corporate lobby to make it look like a home. But it’s difficult to show people a setting that looks like it belongs in a private residence and tell them it’s a lobby. You can do that in a lobby but not in a presentation. You could allude to it, but they might not get it, and if you present it in a more obvious way, it’s no longer what you wanted to show. We’ve made a step in the right direction this year, but we need to assess how we can do it better. We make it, we study, we learn and we take the next step.’
‘In other parts of the world, we try to be less rigorous than other brands with our visual look and feel. By definition, each of our showrooms has its own quality and possibilities because of size, setting, city and locals. But we do try to embed a sense of the Milan-fair flavour into each showroom. We want to bring a good part of that to the world. We might make a setup at the fair and think about how we could use it in a store. And vice versa. But maybe not. We keep our eyes open, and we don’t have many rules. Moooi is too small for that. We need to invent as we go along. I never thought about it this way before, but we’re such a young company, and all this is still kind of new to us. At some point – when we know how to do it – we might have rules. But right now we don’t know. We just do.’