You wouldn’t have imagined five years ago, when he launched his celebrated Knotted Chair, that Dutch designer Marcel Wanders would have wooed the UK establishment to the extent that his work would feature prominently in a Victoria & Albert Museum show. His projects with avant-garde collective Droog Design put him very much on the fringe of contemporary design at a time when Italian-style minimalism still dominated the international scene.
But the idea-driven organic forms and experimental use of materials favoured by Droog and Dutch designers generally have informed the mainstream to an extent that Wanders will be showing 21 new designs at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair. Similar acclaim is now being afforded to Wanders’ Droog collaborators such as Hella Jongerius and their counterparts at Swedish group Snowcrash, which had a sizeable stand in the ‘contemporary’ hall at last week’s Stockholm Furniture Fair.
Establishment bodies such as the V&A have meanwhile lightened up considerably in their appreciation of contemporary design, staging shows such as Ron Arad and Brand.New shows of 2000 and Radical Fashion last year. Milan in a Van, planned for April and featuring Wanders, promises to be the most adventurous public event in this series.
Wanders’ success can be compared with that of Arad. Both are highly creative, both enjoy a technical challenge, and both have achieved international fame by being true to their ideas and open to challenges.
Inevitably, putting a design into production places some constraints on the designers and means collaboration with others, generally on the technical side. Otherwise, you are left with the highly crafted one-off. Designers like Wanders and Arad accept the compromises, playing up the positive aspects and learning through close involvement in the process.
Anyone persevering with the recent Channel 4 TV blockbuster on Andy Warhol will understand that this trait isn’t just limited to 3D design. Warhol, like Arad as much a designer as an artist, made a virtue out of duplication, shaping his work in line with technical explorations. Even in the early days as a commercial artist he had his own style, which changed over time as he amassed influences and teams around him. He didn’t stand still though the ideas were always strong.
Not every designer possesses the huge talent of Wanders, Arad and Warhol, but all have creative ideas. The secret is to stick with them and not be overly swayed by a fashion or a client’s whims. It’s about showing difference to make a mark, for the client’s success and the customer’s delight.