Design Stars Shine at Marcel Wanders Event

Inside the luncheon at Art Basel Miami celebrating the opening of the Miami Beach Mondrian, the first hotel created by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.

The lunch started badly. A waiter spilled a glass of red wine down the back of Dutch design guru Li Edelkoort’s black silk caftan. She was not amused, and stormed out on the balcony with her plate of sesame noodles to dry off in the sun.


David LaChappelle strolled in wearing a trucker’s hat and found a seat in the back. Benjamin Noriega Ortiz, who designed the Mondrian in L.A., and is in the process of designing the new one going up in Soho, dashed in just as the grilled chicken was being passed. Yves Behar grabbed one of the few remaining seats to make it a full house.

The occasion: a luncheon celebrating the opening of the Miami Beach Mondrian, the first ‘real’ hotel created by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders (if you don’t count his little Lute Suites in Amsterdam.) “I did it because they were the first people to ask me to design a hotel,” he volunteered, when asked “Why Morgans, why Miami?”

The opening, which was rushed a bit to coincide with this year’s Art Basel Miami, showed small signs of its hasty debut. There were no hair dryers or bathrobes in the rooms, much to the chagrin of Morgans’s CEO Fred Kleisner (“They just arrived, and hadn’t been unpacked yet,” he said, with the shrug of an experienced hotelier. “They promised me they’d be in the rooms tomorrow.”)

For his part, Wanders was trying hard to be chill. “Just remember to tell people it’s not done yet,” he told me before the two of us launched into our post-lunch Q&A, the ‘entertainment’ portion of the event. The lollipop-like sculptures in the bar, which were supposed to be black, he said, were white. Curtains were billowing where there was supposed to be a view. The trees in the dense little labyrinth in front were still saplings. “People tell me it takes a year before you get all the kinks out,” Robin Brevers, Wanders’s business manager confided. “We told them we’d be coming back to make sure it was all done right.”

For his part, Kleisner was giddy with the project. So giddy, in fact, that he virtually offered the job of creating new Morgans hotels in Dubai, Amsterdam, and Toronto to Wanders on the spot.

“We brought this one in close to budget,” he crowed. “If we can keep our powder dry and continue to get financing, we’ll come out of this [recession] ahead of the competition. We’ll be one of the survivors when others are falling by the wayside.”


Meanwhile, Wanders, who had “poured his heart” into his next design for Morgans’s — a brand new hotel in Las Vegas — is chagrined that that project has been put on indefinite hold because of the devastating effects of the downtown on gamblers’ pocketbooks. Is he willing to risk doing the same for other Morgans projects? Maybe if those lollipops are back in the black.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.