We go behind the brand with Desirée de Jong, Moooi art director and graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven who joined Marcel Wanders Studio when Moooi was just a dream.
"At Moooi you create a certain image and story and it’s really good to explain a bit more about it, but at the same time you don’t want to reveal all of the magic.” – Desirée de Jong
Going backstage at Moooi is an opportunity to explore the ideas and thinking behind one of the design industries most adventurous brands. With headquarters in Amsterdam and showrooms in New York, Tokyo, London and Sydney to name a few, Moooi produces collections and installations in collaboration with the who's who of design, photography and art – and a creative approach that challenges the public and also themselves.
Here we chat with art director Desirée de Jong who shares the role of putting shape to the Dutch brand’s vision with Moooi cofounder Marcel Wanders.
more space: You graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven which has laid the foundations for so many of the world’s really good creative thinkers. What drew you to study there and how has it influenced your path?
Desirée de Jong: When I started at the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) it was still called the Academy for Industrial Design. I was looking for a way of combining a creative approach with a more directed focus, which I couldn't find in any of the art schools. They really taught us how to expand our thinking, but I didn’t know that back then (laughter).
In the second year the path that fitted me the best was ‘man and identity’ which had a focus on the human being and on creating identity: corporate identity, brand-thinking, surroundings and stylistic elements that are combined to create one feeling or story. By intuition I really liked the approach and it has helped me to develop my interest in this area.
Was there a particular teacher who influenced you?
Ulf Moritz was the head of the department when I studied there and he really defined the standard and level of quality. Annet Haak adviced me when I came back from my internship in Finland and wasn't sure which direction to take. She told me to call Marcel Wanders. He was looking for interns and because of that phone call, I am here today. I ran into Annet in Milan this year and it was great to share that with her. It’s been a great journey.
You began working as a designer with Marcel Wanders in 2000 before Moooi had launched?
My first title was junior stylist for a new, to be launched, design brand. Marcel and cofounder Casper Vissers had a plan to move towards launching a brand and a lot of the thinking and the strategic and business side of it was developed at the same time.
I didn’t really know what to expect as I had just graduated from school and I was really happy to be in an environment where I could develop. Of course no one knew how big it was going to be. In that first year it was about defining what we wanted to be. Of course Marcel and Casper had a clear idea about it both from different angles, and at the same time, very much in line.
At that point my role was very supportive, Marcel and Casper were the ones with a very clear dream and a very clear understanding of how they wanted to launch Moooi. They took a lot of risk. What I truly enjoyed about that time is that we felt like pioneers and that Moooi shook up the design world.
Today brand thinking and building is a very common approach but back then a lot of it was intuition. Of course there was a lot of thinking behind it, but it was very much straight form the heart and the wish to create something that was very special and unexpected.
When did you move into your role as Moooi Art Director with Marcel Wanders?
That was actually quite recently. For many years I combined the creative approach with the organisation of things. I am not a purely creative person unlike many others who come from the Design Academy. I am always more on the crossroads of embracing creativity and then organize it to make it happen. From the creative process I always try to find the structure.
A lot of the work I did in the early years of Moooi was looking at processes to see how we were developing and how to improve. I really enjoyed that. If you look at an organisation you have chaos and order. With Marcel it is his task to create chaos, to be super creative and to be the one who sets the dot on the horizon. With Moooi we tried to put that in order and make a living out of it. So for a long time my role was to put chaos in order. That’s still very much what I do.
How have things changed for Moooi in terms of that dot on the horizon?
We are very known for our lighting collection. Now we move towards being a complete lifestyle brand and in order to do that we realised that it’s important to invest equally in furniture next to lighting. With that strategy in mind we decided to expand our presentation during the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2013 and to present Moooi as a strong and complete brand.
We had the opportunity to rent a 1700m2 exhibition space in via Savona (56). At that time the recession hadn't really ended and everyone was on a very careful path, but Casper and Marcel decided to invest in something so big and so brave. Very convincing. After the success of this unique way to show the brand strength and the move into a complete lifestyle collection, I was promoted to art director next to Marcel. I was so surprised. I never expected it and I was also relieved he was next to me. We have a very good way of working together. He points out the dots on the horizon and I navigate the way there with the team.
Can you describe a day for you at Moooi?
Our team works very independently at the same time it is not a very big team. We are seven in total and we sit around one table so we are very close to each other and it’s very easy to share things. That’s the way it really works. We are like a small advertising and marketing office and we have a very thorough creative process. All the aspects of the brand are created and communicated by us.
For photography we usually work with external people and for styling we always look for the right creative partners. It’s a very good thing to be able to steer things so directly. We think about the brand, we think about the new products, and all the ingredients we need to present. We make very conscious decisions about how we want to transmit that to the public. From Milan's Salone del Mobile presentation we distillate what we will do for our brand stores, showrooms, for dealers and other clients.
The Salone del Mobile is the biggest design event of the year, could we talk about the creative journey for the Moooi shows?
There are many ingredients to take into account for the Moooi presentation during the Salone del Mobile. We start with defining that. What are the new products that we want to present? What is the focus of the product collection? Which photographer shall we choose to collaborate with? How can we create the ultimate brand experience?
In Milan we can go crazy. In our showrooms we have to be aspirational but accessible as well. In Milan (Salone del Mobile) the audience knows about the world of design and our main focus is to surprise and to create what we describe as 'The Unexpected Welcome'.
The success of storytelling is always so successful at Moooi and the joy of making those exhibitions shines through.
If you enter a museum and you see something that really connects to you on different levels, you walk out a richer person intellectually – you were inspired and you have been taken on a journey. I think that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to reach out and appeal to people's hearts, not only their minds. It’s a story and at the same time it’s about combining all the senses into one feeling, or one emotion.
The presentation we made in 2013 was a tremendous step. What made me proud is that we were able to do this with such a positive vibe and that transmitted into the presentation.
I imagine it’s wonderful to see people’s reactions to the show?
Every year it’s exciting to see how people respond. It’s one of the most rewarding times of the year. Marcel told me to really enjoy it and remember it and put it on the hard disk for the rest of the year. The positive vibe is not always there on a rainy Tuesday in November, so all of us try to capture this and we can go back to it when we need inspiration.
Can you tell me about the 2016 show?
What we tried to do this year is to create spaces where people can see how the collection comes together and to imagine the visual future we have in mind. In past years we started with ‘Find your Way Home’ which is something we deeply believe in.
It was created in a kind of observational way. This year we invited people in, so they could walk into the presentation and really find their way home... They could sit and adapt and be part of our world. It was a big difference.
We tried to transmit a comfortable and exciting home, what we called ‘Rebellious Harmony’, homes that are comfortable but outstanding. Ecletic but balanced. Aspirational and understandable.
In contrast to our world we asked the photographer Rebecca Bathory to collaborate. Her work deals with our cultural heritage and focuses on abandoned architectural spaces that reflect chaos in the world. The ingredients we choose to work with are always really amazing. It’s a big puzzle but it's the best part of the job I think.
How does the creative process unfold for you?
The creative process is hard to define. A lot of it is not done in a specific moment, it’s between everything. It’s a short call with Marcel, it’s a brief moment with Casper. It’s all these bits and pieces and once you have the ingredients it adds up. We all look together at what is designed and I think Marcel has a final critical note as well. It helps to shape things.
Which project, or projects, have had the biggest creative impact?
The presention in Milan at via Savona in 2013 during the Salone del Mobile. It was a game-changer for me and also for Moooi. We really challenged ourselves on different levels in the company at that moment. And we keep on doing that every year now.
What are you reading right now?
I read a lot of magazines. I have a subscription to Stack and every month they send a selection of independent magazines which I find really nice and interesting. The graphic layout of those magazines is amazing and they have great illustrations. The topics vary from art to food to philosophy and photography. I really enjoy reading them. Books at this moment... I don’t find the time to read them!
Who inspires you creatively?
I was thinking about that and I find it hard to answer. I think I’m inspired by a lot of things. Sometimes it’s a quote. I am very texturally inspired. Surreal art I like a lot and we have been looking at the Australian artist Ron Mueck. The skill of his artwork is amazing. I am really deeply touched by that. At the same time I also really enjoy the work of Takashi Murakami which is more Japanese illustration art, very poppy. I saw him at MoMA in New York and the show was very impressive.
What are you looking forward to?
Within Moooi we are developing the company and the brand and we have a very ambitious future. What I really enjoy is how we get there. I think we are proud but never satisfied, the journey we are in and the way we are growing is very much part of the fun.
Marcel and Robin, our new CEO, realise that as the company grows they need to take a step up. I realise that too and I ask different things from my team, this whole process is very interesting and rich. Sometimes I look around me and I realise how lucky we are. At times it’s stressful but its something we love doing so much.
See the Moooi furniture, lighting and carpet collections at Space Furniture Australia and Space Furniture Asia.