Design Indaba 09 || Day 2 || Marcell Wanders

Marcell Wanders did not so much talk  as dance us through his presentation.  We needed this sparking energy to revive us at the end of  the long second day of the Design Indaba.


Here is another designer who’s presence dominated the occasion.  He looked like a smooth and charming  Lucifer, complete with casual jeans, jacket and a string of pearls.  And the work he showed us spoke of a world of temptations and luxury most of us can only dream of.

I must admit that I felt very ambivalent about Marcell Wander’s talk.  Here was the “excessive consumption” that one hears about.  The sumptuous life style, the extreme luxury.  And yet I appreciated the sheer passion of this designer.  He shared his designs with us with great humour and directness.


As a designer, says Marcell Wanders, he often felt that he should use euphemisms for the things he love the most.

He spoke about  Adolf Loos and his famous essay “Ornament and Crime” in which decoration and pattern are seen as degenerate, as  time bound and excessive.  Only the smooth uncluttered purity of shapes would ensure the timeless nature of design.

Eventually, he “came out” about his love for ornament.   This he shares with fellow Design Indaba delegate Patricia Urquiola, as can be seen in this crochet inspired sofa:


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Marcell Wanders has a unique take on the quest for timeless design.  He returned again and again to  the importance of  “the old”.  We are obsessed with the new, the young and the latest.  Yet “nothing grows old so fast as the new”.  Instead of discarding the past, he integrates the old and the new.  Here is an example of one of his “new antiques”.


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Like a number of other speakers at the Design Indaba, such as Commonwealth and  Tjepkema,  Marcel Wanders finds ways of using the techniques of mass production to create unique, personal items.  This seems to be the new peak of luxury:  The customised.

Here we have a vase made of taking the mold of a sea sponge. Each vase is different from the next.  I do shudder to think where the sponges must have come from.


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And here is another example.  This one is a “snot vase” which was created by scanning the mucous patterns of a sneeze:


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The legacy of the industrial revolution was another theme which many of the Indaba speakers dwelt upon.  Marcel Wanders spoke about the need for designers to design for people, not for machines.  Too many of the objects in our lives look the way they do not because “form follows function”, but in order to produce the cheapest and most efficient production line.

“Why must a speaker be square”?  And indeed, here we have one which is not.  It expresses nicely the thought that Marcell Wanders “loves to make artificial, natural things”


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He was asked by Puma to produce a line of outdoor clothing and furnishings.  The concept he came back with was “I hate camping” .  He explained that his was  gear for the kind of people who go camping on the beach with champagne and pizzas and then retire to the nearest hotel when they get too drunk.  The line is “for those who hate camping … but love lounging in style.”


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And in a bit of a tangent he introduced us to surely the most bizarre journey from art to performance – his choreographer girlfriend’s take on the hanging figures in  Francis Bacon paintings.  She turned it into a performance party piece complete with champaign, on a chandelier designed by Marcell.


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Despite the unease I felt at the images of ultimate first world luxury, I could not help warming to this energetic designer.  He seemed to defy all of the “rules of cool” with enthusiasm.  Where else would you find a man who tells you that his concept for designing the Mondrian hotel at South Beach was “the moment when Cinderella has just woken up”?


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Insights I was left with from this talk include:

“You have to trust yourself”

“We must find again what has been lost”

“Birds make nests, cows eat grass, we make things.”

And above all:

“Design is a gift.  A good gift says something about the person who it is for, and the person who gives it”.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Derek McCrea
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 03:38:31

    Design comes in many shapes, sizes and ideas, you have explained it very well and made me think deeply about the subject, thanks for sharing.

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