Aside from the, inevitable, consolidation the main theme at Milan Furniture Fair 2019, and the one which occupied us much more than that which was on show for our perusal, is/was the international furniture industry’s increasing hunger for data; a hunger which embodied itself at Milan 2019 in a exponential surge in the number of manufacturers requiring potential stand visitors to either pre-register, submit a business card or have their Fair ticket scanned before being allowed onto the stand.

No data. No entry.

And a state of affairs on which we have penned several hundred (agitated) words; but, this is neither the time nor place for them. We will however return to them at a later date, not least because the scale of the shift we witnessed at Milan 2019 suggests that as a development it is on it way to becoming standard. Which ain’t good.

Elsewhere the halls of Milan were busier with visitors in 2019 than we remember them for many a long a year, the weather in 2019 cooler than we remember for many a long year, and despair and delight stood as close to one another as every year

And in that sense, and as ever accepting we may have missed one or two gems, not least because we decided against sharing our data in order to view new items of furniture manufacturers had, allegedly, brought to Milan to promote, and so subsequently weren’t on a lot of stands, a smow Blog Milan 2019 High Five!!

Milan Furniture Fair 2019 High Five

As regular readers will be aware, in these dispatches we, very, very occasionally, quietly bemoan a certain monotony at furniture trade fairs, protest that, if you will, we regularly find ourselves wading through an homogenous mass.

On this occasion we will however let someone else make that observation on our behalf.

In his 2015 book Swedish Design: An Ethnography the American anthropologist Keith M. Murphy notes of a visit to the 2006 Stockholm Furniture Fair, “[T]he only problem was, so much of the stuff here looked so similar, and I had a difficult time anchoring myself in the exhibition’s plan”, continuing later that, “[T]he place is predominantly suffused not with a variety of different kinds of objects, but rather with a variety of different objects of the same general kind.”1

So 2006. So 2019.

Though interestingly he does also note that, “one cannot evade the impression that Sweden endures under a tyranny of simple forms and solid bright colours”. These days it’s more solid pastel tones, but…..

Such isn’t exclusive to Stockholm, but can be experienced wherever the furniture industry meet to display their wares. Clearly there are a host of varied, arguably inter-related, causes for such a situation, but here is neither the time nor the space to discuss them; the consequence, however, is that walking through the halls of any give trade fair one finds that while many objects do speak to you, they all tend to do so with a repetition of the same limited vocabularies, often in a very forced, insecure, equivocal manner, and which thus, very quickly, becomes tiresome.

However as Keith M Murphy also notes, “not everything fit [sic] the model” and there are not only always objects to be found with something interesting to say, but which say that in an intelligent, literate and engaging fashion.

And so, and as ever, with the understanding that we have inevitably missed and/or not properly understood several gems, a smow blog Stockholm Furniture Fair 2019 High 5!!

Stockholm Furniture Fair 2019: High Five!!

As previously, and repeatedly, noted, one of the defining aspects about an office furniture fair such as Orgatec Cologne is that wherever one looks one sees a similar vista. Whereas in terms of domestic furnishings there are enough genres of furniture and interpretations of those genres to allow for a, at least relatively when not necessarily satisfyingly, varied landscape, office furniture is much more limited, not only doesn’t have the variety of genres, but has a few that are essentials; consequently every manufacturer has very similar product lines, every manufacturer has, for example, a height-adjustable desk, a sofa with high sides, a desk height rocking stool, a modular bench system, and an office chair with flat, slightly organic quadratic armrests that resemble cutlery Georg Jensen may have produced in the 1960s. The differences are, generally, to be found in terms of mechanisms, connection systems, interfaces, materials or textiles, so very technical aspects. Very important aspects, very fundamental aspects, but things that aren’t necessarily instantly visible. Hence the visual monotony. And aspects which when explored in detail aren’t always that interesting/innovative/engaging/sensible/relevant/practical/functional/etc. It’s a tiring, thankless, business working your way through such a landscape.

Particularly a landscape such as Orgatec 2018 which was, at least as we experienced it, largely about consolidation, about manufacturers extending existing product families or presenting existing products in new materials, new textiles, new colours, new fragrances, etc, etc…..

Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a thankless and fruitless task, just thankless, and thus, and with the standard disclaimer that we have invariably missed numerous genuine highlights, a smow blog Orgatec Cologne 2018 High 5!!

Orgatec Cologne 2018 High Five

The top story from Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 is that use of the toilets is free. Jubilation all round!! Much as we like to think our campaign against the previous 50 cent charge was responsible, we suspect the answer lies elsewhere. But we made a stand, and that’s what’s important.

As is the fact that freed from our rage at the intolerability of the charges, and the thus ensuing intolerable bladder pressure, we could concentrate freely on the objects on show.

Accepting, as ever, that we missed one or the other genuine delight, a Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5!!

Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5

The biggest disappointment at Maison et Objet Autumn 2018 was that Announcement Lady wasn’t broadcasting across the halls, and so this year there was no continual “Mesdames, Messieurs”, and so we had no continual Sash soundtrack to carry us though our visit.

We just hope Announcement Lady’s absence wasn’t on account of us, we hope she didn’t quit because she felt we were mocking her, being cheeky, or otherwise making fun of her. We weren’t. It was genuinely one of our highlights at Maison et Objet Autumn 2017. One of the reasons we went back.

Fortunately, and as much as we missed her, there were a few other highlights to distract us in Paris this September.

And so with a hearty Encore une fois for auld lang syne, a Maison et Objet Autumn 2018 High Four!

Maison et Objet Paris Autumn 2018 High 5

On the train to Cologne the signs were unmissable, the sun may have been gloriously, victoriously, shinning, as it has done since Easter, from a clear azure sky: but autumn is definitely approaching. And while it may be a bit premature to start planning for next summer, at the annual spoga+gafa garden, freetime and equestrianism trade fair in Cologne, manufacturers presented what they expect us to sit on next summer in our gardens, on our balconies, while camping, the accessories they expect us to have around us while we do such and the ludicrously testosterone charged names of the barbecues they expect us to cook with.

But will we? Should we? Can we?

spoga+gafa Cologne 2018: High Five

Milan Furniture Fair 2018, at least amongst those more design led manufacturers, is/was largely about consolidation, largely about new materials, new colours, slight changes to existing objects, with one or the other family proudly presenting their latest members. Which is no complaint, far from it, Milan’s speciality traditionally being the new for the sake of the new, that misguided belief that one has to present something new every year. You don’t. Present something new when you’ve got something new to say, something new to contribute, something meaningful.

Largely ≇ exclusively and there were a few new projects to be found which did have something new to say, did have something new to contribute, were something meaningful. If not enough for a handful. Sure we could have added another project just to compete the quintet, there being no shortage of candidates to choose from, but then just as we don’t expect manufacturers to publish for the sake of the new rather for the quality, so we don’t publish for the sake of the five….

As ever we didn’t see everything, have without question missed things we shouldn’t have missed, things we will regret missing later, apologies all round, but, and with that in mind, our Milan Furniture Fair 2018: High Four!!

Milan Furniture Fair 2018 High Five

In his 5th century BC text “The Art of War”, the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu notes:

There are roads, not to take.

There are armies, not to attack.

There are towns, not to besiege.

There are terrains, not to contest.

There are ruler’s orders, not to obey.1

Were Sun Tzu’s metier the furniture fair rather than the warfare, we feel certain he would have added:

There are objects, not to produce.

IMM Cologne 2018 is awash with such. It’s not IMM’s fault; rather is endemic of an industry which supplies utensils of human need, objects which surround our every waking and sleeping moments, accompany the trials, tribulations, triumphs and temporality of existence, but which all too often do so not with the aim of improving our immediate environment, be that aesthetically, functionally or morally, but of generating profit.

The inevitable result is innumerate brands all desperately trying to prove they can do exactly the same as everyone else, can all do what the t**** soothsayers tell them the market(s) want.

Yet as George Nelson teaches us, don’t produce for a perceived market, produce for yourself. Your customers will find you. And those who don’t, aren’t your customers.

As we say, its not IMM’s fault, IMM is one the major furniture industry platforms, and consequently its visitors are exposed to a very concentrated dose of the unnecessary and unseemly

However it’s not all soulless pastiche, lazy appropriation or “cocooning” at IMM Cologne 2018, there are also works which demonstrate as Sun Tzu reminds us, and despite what we may believe in any given moment, “Anger can turn to pleasure.”

As ever, we’re not claiming to have seen everything, have invariably missed some gems, while there are a few projects which may in retrospect have earned a place in the following list, but on which we are still in the process of forming an opinion.

With that in mind, and in no particular order, our IMM Cologne 2018 High Five!

1. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by John Minford, Penguin Books, 2002

IMM Cologne 2018 High 5

While figuratively “blowing the roof off” is arguably an aim of every design festival; physically having your roof blown off is not.

Sadly that is what happened to Designblok Prague 2017; Storm Herwart, when not completely de-roofing the Art Deco Palace of Industry which hosted the event, causing damage sufficient to force organisers the cancel the last two days of the five day festival.

A situation not only unfortunate and irksome for the organisers and exhibitors, but disappointing all those who had planned spending the Sunday and/or Monday at the event.

Does however give the organisers a relevant and fitting theme for Designblok Prague 2018 …… but before we get there, our Designblok Prague 2017 High 5!!

Designblok Prague 2017: High Five!!

Although as an event Dutch Design Week has always had a focus on presenting design in context, design in practice, our feeling is that of late that focus has intensified, something we thoroughly approve of as it helps make tangible that design is, can be, more than pretty objects; does however mean that you increasingly need to take more time with you to Eindhoven. Or accept that you are going to miss a lot of, potentially, interesting and thought provoking presentations.

Necessity meant that this year we followed option two.

But that still left us more than enough time to discover projects to get cross about, be confused by or simply quietly admire.

Or indeed vocally admire: our Dutch Design Week 2017 High Five!!

Dutch Design Week Eindhoven 2017: High Five!!

As regular readers will be well aware, here at smow blog HQ we’re very much of the opinion that fashion isn’t design. Never was. Never will be. Design, and without wanting to wade too deep into the definition quagmire, arose from applied craft/applied art, fashion is applied craft/applied art. And so while unquestionably a creative discipline, isn’t design. Neither is Graphic.

Design can however inspire and influence fashion, past decades recalling numerous occasions of fashion houses being motivated by designers’ works, a particularly apposite recent example being the news that Swiss fashion house Akris have based their Spring/Summer 2018 collection on the works of Alexander Girard, news which motivated us to retrieve a few classic items from the smow blog wardrobe……

If Milan marks the start of summer, Paris marks the end: the gentle warmth of the Lombarden sun and the fresh alpine breeze blowing over the Saloni ceding as it invariably does, nay must, to the brisk crispness of Maison et Objet.

C’est la vie!

The September 2017 edition of Maison et Objet was a disconcerting mix of baroque revival and picturesque, fantasy, Scandinavian, as if late 1980s Philippe Starck discovered hygge.

And over large stretches Maison et Objet 2017 is/was just as terrifying as that sounds. Our only consolation being the certainty that those responsible are but blindly chasing the shadow of a fashion, ’tis but a trend, and trends always, but always, fade.

Fortunately some objects on show arose from more honest origins. As ever we didn’t see everything, apologies to all we missed, but here our Maison et Objet Autumn 2017 High 4!! And some poppy, late ’90s dance…

As older readers will be well aware, little gets us down quite like Milan Furniture Fair. Every year our only wish as we cross the Alps is that we will find something to make us thankful that we did. Milan Furniture Fair 2017 produced more such moments than the average year, which we suppose means we’ll be back next year!!

Our Milan Furniture Fair 2017 High Five!!

As a fair IMM Cologne 2017 didn’t impress, but one or the other product did. Our IMM Cologne 2017 High Five!! And a few words of comfort from Epictetus.

IMM Cologne