Design maverick Marcel Wanders unveils his latest project, the Iberostar Grand Hotel Portals Nous, where hypnotic eyeball mirrors and pole dancing apparatus steal the show
Top tip for those looking to strike up a conversation with Marcel Wanders: functionality in design is a topic best avoided. Halfway through my phone conversation with the Dutch designer, I make the small error of referencing a previous interview, in which he declared his dislike of creating something simply for the sake of using it. This, I quickly learn, is the key that opens a can of worms.
“I am a fan of functionality; I think functionality is super important, but there is other stuff that is so much more important. Functionality, to me, is like the foundation of a house. Without it, the house would crumble – you can’t live in it,” he says. “But the reason that you live in that house and why you like it so much is not because there is a foundation. It just isn’t. If somebody sells me a house and says ‘This is your house, it’s got a foundation’, I’m like, ‘B****, of course it’s got a foundation! What are you talking about? Tell me something I really care about’.”
He says this jovially, but it’s by no means a joke. Crafting exquisite objects that capture the imagination – and yes, that function too – is Wanders’ USP, whether that be a storage box shaped like a pig, Pinocchio-inspired tableware or the knotted chair for which he is best known. His design ethos takes a no holds barred approach, and it is this that has earned him the accolades of the Crown Prince, Elvis Presley and the Lady Gaga of design.
Born in the Netherlands, Wanders found a love of creativity in his parents’ shop, where he would spend his time mending objects that had broken, or making new ones from the scraps. After deciding that this was the career for him, he briefly attended the Design Academy Eindhoven, but was soon expelled. It was, he reveals, a conflict of taste.
"I felt that design was something that you should experiment with"
“At that point in time the school was like so many other schools, advocating classic Bauhaus principles,” he explains. “Although I was absolutely not ready to understand all the theories behind it, I felt that design was something that you should experiment with, and classic Bauhaus principles were never attractive to me.”
In 1995, he founded his Amsterdam-based design studio, and one year later unveiled the object that would launch his career: the knotted chair. Reams of rope wrapped around a carbon fibre core make up the twisting object, which marries technology and craftsmanship. So innovative was its design, that today versions of it remain part of the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and London’s very own Victoria and Albert Museum.
While product design is still very much a part of Wanders’ world – he regularly works with the likes of Alessi and Baccarat, and oversees his own homeware company, Moooi – he often has multiple interior design projects on the go, working for private clients, retailers and hoteliers.
It’s the latter that we’re discussing today. Hotels, Wanders says, are “like the Premier League of interior design”, and this year he has put his stamp on two new openings. In October, the Mondrian Doha, a temple of gold and glass, will launch – but first is the Iberostar Grand Hotel Portals Nous in Majorca, a project that Wanders worked on for the best part of eight years, before it finally opened this summer.
"People don’t want to step in and feel as if they’re in Amsterdam or Miami; they want to feel like they’re in Majorca"
“The location is pretty amazing; if you know Majorca, there’s no hotel that really sits on the beach in such a fantastic way [as this], so the location was a great inspiration,” he says. “With all our projects, we try to make something new, but we also try to make something that feels authentic and that feels like it belongs there. People don’t want to step in and feel as if they’re in Amsterdam or Miami; they want to feel like they’re in Majorca.”
There are 66 suites to choose from, the majority of which are decorated in a crisp monochrome colour palette, with bursts of yellow, red and blue picked up from the soft furnishings and bright artwork on the walls. The standout feature is a mirror that is decorated with a cerulean blue eyeball: “It’s a little bit of a wicked idea that there’s a big eye that follows you around,” Wanders jokes.
The rest of the suites are themed, and range from the Games Suite – complete with its own pinball machine, table football and putting green – to the Heritage Suite, featuring paintings by local artists, and the Stargazer Suite which sits at the top of the hotel and comes complete with its own telescope. There’s also a Naughty Suite, a Fifty Shades of Grey-style room with mirrors on the ceiling and a pole dancing area.
“The Naughty Suite is fun because it speaks of another kind of aspect, about being in a hotel and having your own room with someone – or a few people, in fact,” the designer deadpans.
Wanders personally prefers the regular suites, and stayed in one recently while on holiday with his daughter. It was a rare break for the designer who’s constantly on the go. Next in the pipeline is the redesign of a palace and a six-star hotel, along with the launch of an innovative anti-pollution face mask currently being trialled in Asia. His dream project, he says, would either be New
York’s Metropolitan Opera House (“there is all the drama inside that you can wish for as a designer”) or a mosque in the Middle East.
“Every design we make has a political meaning, and I think that it would be great to have a contemporary, European designer who is trusted to do such an important building for the Middle East,” he says, “and it would be great if that designer could do an amazing job and do something that shows respect.”
Thinking outside the box is what Wanders does best, and is perhaps why he has been compared to Lady Gaga so many times. It’s a comparison that I’m reluctant to bring up, unsure what his reaction will be – but as it transpires, it’s an accolade he holds highly.
“I’m not someone who knows too much about Lady Gaga, but just for fun after this comment I Googled her, and if you Google her and really try to understand her videos and the creativity that she brings to the table, you will see that she’s just an amazing creative soul that has never been boring,” he says. “She takes her music further than just the notes and really inspires a lot of people, so it could be worse. I just wait for the day that they call her the Marcel Wanders of music...”