ALESSI CIRCUS– Dutch master designer, Marcel Wanders, is in the spotlight this fall. His new collaboration with Alessi brings his love of wonder and technique to the forefront. A pioneering Italian design company with an impressive list of creative collaborators from Philippe Starck to Zaha Hadid to Michael Graves, Alessi has been a part of the William Ashley family for over 20 years. We touched base with Marcel for an in depth interview on the Circus Collection and what he means by studying what he can’t do, and jumping the hurdles on his way. Welcome to the big top, as William Ashley celebrates the fantasy and whimsy of the circus!
Visit William Ashley at 55 Bloor Street West on Saturday October 1st, from 1pm to 5pm, for a chance to meet Matteo Alessi, fourth generation and C.C.O. in person. He will be happy to engrave all Alessi purchases.
“The very best design, I feel, is that which resonates so deeply that people can’t help but discover something within themselves when they see it.” Marcel Wanders
How did the collaboration between Alessi and you come to be? Was it a long process?
MW Alessi has been the standard for excellence in the area of kitchenware, particularly in stainless steel. We explored how we could merge colour and stainless steel in fun, unexpected, and unique ways. This collection was an amazing undertaking. We worked on the entire set for five years. We were very inspired by the challenge of combining the functionality with imagination and circus pageantry. We were able to bring colourful delight and energy to what Alessi has built its reputation upon.
What were the design and cultural references that inspired the Circus Collection?
MW The circus is that sensory experience that never leaves you. It’s magical. It’s mystical. It’s larger than life. That’s what we capture in this collection, that one-of-a-kind spectacle. The concept throughout the pieces borrows from the historical, unexpected archetypes from the circus universe. The collection resonates an experience of wonder and amusement. In addition to this, our goal was to create (new) collectible heirlooms.
“Our commitment to leading edge design has been the foundation of our partnership with Alessi. Holding a place in our home décor category for over 20 years, Alessi’s visionary design has remained a customer favourite.” Jackie Chiesa, President.
What do you mean by an authentic design?
MW To me, great design is so many things all at the same time. It is emotional, functional and responsive. It creates an unwritten dialogue, a connection between itself and those who experience it.
Alessi is synonymous with Italian design and Milan Design Week is the launch party of the world. Twenty years after presenting your iconic Knotted Chair, does it still excite you to unveil your products in Milan?
MW Milan Design Week is where I meet all my friends. It is the culminating moment we work towards every year, where we feel proud, and present all the work we have done in the last 12 months. It is like New Year’s Eve. All my friends gather. We talk about last year and our plans for the New Year. There is champagne and fireworks!
“At the launch of the Circus Collection, in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to ask Marcel to pick his favorite item within the collection. He told me, ‘It’s the Ballerina music box,’ a cherished heirloom, that plays a soothing lullaby.” Jackie Chiesa, President.
Designers usually advise others to concentrate on their talent but your work philosophy is quite the opposite. Can you explain?
MW I’m a curious person and I’ve always tried to educate myself in all kinds of ways. One and a half years ago, I graduated from the MBA program from INSEAD. I am an eternal student! I love to find ways to learn more. Because I do so many different things, people often tell me to focus on my talent. I never did, and I think it’s also not my way.
The Tao of Marcel: Let’s say you are a runner. You run fast, but then there are the hurdles- there are always hurdles. You have to study jumping them. That’s not your talent, that’s your challenge. You have to study them and I’ve always studied and concentrated on jumping hurdles. That’s annoying, it’s complicated, but that’s how, at the end, if you jump that hurdle, your running will automatically improve because that’s your talent.
“Rembrandt is not in a hurry.” Marcel Wanders
At William Ashley, we pride ourselves on knowing the history and provenance of brands that have been in existence for over 200 years. Can you tell us why you gravitated to the tradition of Dutch Delft Porcelain?
MW By re-inventing this technique (Delft Blue Porcelain) in a contemporary way, I start(ed) an interesting dialogue. It has been pointed out that my work brought Delft Blue beyond Dutch tradition and into the realm of international and contemporary design. Hand-made techniques are a way for me to humanize design by adding a personal touch to each piece. Timeless design can only be achieved when building a bridge between past and present- while designing for the future.
Congratulations on your first solo show in New York, at the Friedman Benda gallery! Can you explain how the life-sized rocking horse came to be?
MW In Tempter, I revisit the utmost magic and wonder of childhood. This rocking horse- turned unicorn- is a fantastical creature that recaptures youthful imagination and unconditional freedom.
What is your philosophy for collaboration?
MW It is exciting to collaborate with clients. They come with their identity and expertise. The challenge is to come up with a product we both fall in love with. If you take a look at the Circus Collection, you can see the meticulous stainless steel work Alessi is traditionally known for, and the coloured imaginative technology we developed for them with the launch of The Fatman in 2012. We work with clients we respect and can learn from. More than collaborating, we inspire and stretch each other to go beyond a comfort zone.
What are your thoughts on entertaining at the table? Tell us about your work with Christofle.
MW We create things for people. Whether we are trying to make someone’s life better or bringing people together, our purpose is the same. I believe that people find happiness when they experience belonging and a sense of place. The dining table is where we connect most. The very best design allows people to feel welcomed and a part of the design experience. Christofle is one of those brands. It has the highest reputation of making only the finest. Dining with a Christofle item is like being entrusted with the brand’s entire history, because every item is truly a treasure. (Jardin D’Eden by Christofle)
You recently collaborated with dozens of creative icons on a visionary book based on Dutch Masters from the newly re-opened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. What did you hope to achieve?
MW The Rijksmuseum was under renovation for almost ten years. When it finally opened, it felt almost like a miracle. I could finally go and visit the masterpieces in the Gallery of Honour, the works that are the foundation of Dutch identity. The book was born of my profound appreciation for this outstanding cultural heritage and its timeless significance. Through the lens of 30 thought-leaders across a variety of fields, I wanted to answer the question: how did the greatest masterpieces influence how we see the world today?
It took us more than three years, but the book needed to be perfect. I kept telling my team, the client is not in a hurry. They were puzzled. There was no real client. It is our own project. Then I told them, Rembrandt is not in a hurry. The book needed to stand in the shadow of these masterpieces, it had to be the best book we could make- maybe the best art book ever.