You can count on Marcel Wanders to unveil something eye-popping at the Milan Furniture Fair each year. Last year saw his Can-Can lamp for Flos—a dome filled with a ruffled underskirt like a chorine in the Folies Bergere; in 2008, he fielded a shower stall paved with Bisazza tiles in which bikini-clad models cavorted under a shower head embedded in a Swarovski crystal chandelier.
This year, the Dutch design superstar seems to be obsessed with his own mortality. In advance of the show, which opens on April 14, Wanders sent us an image of his "Monster Chair," a grimacing, anthropomorphic leather-upholstered number that looks like it escaped from the set of a Maurice Sendak movie.
More puzzling was the story Wanders appended to the image. It's a mediation on what he expects to find when he crosses over that dark river. Evidently, in Wanders's afterlife, paradise will be a long banquet table, in which the seven women who have served as his life-long Muses will each have a place. Around the table will be seven dark leather chairs, while the table itself will be set with silver cutlery, white porcelain plates, and tons of white tulips (this is a Dutch vision of heaven, after all!).
Callas and Puccini will be in the corner, making heavenly music, and the wine will be top shelf.
In a fantasy that sounds vaguely like a Muslim hoping that seven black-eyed virgins will be awaiting him in paradise, Wanders dreams that "all the beauty I discovered and hoped to have in my life will suddenly be there for me eternally."
Then, veering into the realm of John Fowles in The Collector, Wanders talks about collecting these beauties as if they are butterflies—although he's quick to note, "I will never pin a butterfly down to keep her from flying."
But after his death, he ruminates that he'll likely be sitting around, at the head of this lavishly appointed table, waiting to see if they'll show up. In a Tiger Woods-like moment, he writes, "I hope that with time they can forgive my stupidity, disloyalty and little lies. I will hope that I fed them enough flowers and sunshine, poetry and fantasies for them to desire a seat at my festive table."
If she shows up, each Muse will find her own little seat—a black leather chair, embroidered with the face of a monster. When all are assembled, the wild rumpus will begin: "There will never be an end to this orgy of sensibility and passion. Wine will not give us headaches, sweets will not make us fat, cheese will scent like perfume, for always, for ever..."
But if one of the Muses decides to boycott the feast, all hell will break loose. The frozen monster in the chair will come alive, reveal its claws, and spit fire. The black leather will turn red, and long, sharp needles will spring from the monster's chest. Then the beast will attack the other Muses, leaving the designer alone with his rotten wine, fat-inducing pastries, and stinky fromage: "The stench of the cheese will make me want to cut off my nose, for always, for ever...."
When I saw him last December, at a small show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wanders seemed weary and beleaguered.
As I was leaving, he called from the door of the party house, "See you in Milan!"
"Here's hoping next year is better than this past one," I responded.
"I hope so," he said. "More than you know..."
[Photo of Marcel Wanders by Jake Chessum]