Entering its 17th year, the organisers of 100% Design saw fit to launch the contemporary design trade fair to the press with a mini debate entitled, ‘Is Design Post National?’
Designer legend Kenneth Grange – who has designed everything from the Kenwood mixer to Parker pens and the Anglepoise lamp – kicked off proceedings by explaining how retail has a big impact on how design is perceived, determining its character in the process. While we are edging towards increasingly globalised (ie, homogenised) design – which, as Knoll’s Vice President, Graham Jones pointed out, is often dictated by manufacturers, it is the national peculiarities that make design interesting. Governmental trade bodies are grasping that a country’s national identity is a great marketing tool.
A lot of British design tends to verge on the provocative and subversive rather than being aesthetically pleasing – which perhaps reflects the UK’s melting pot of creative talent. But what’s with the industry’s obsession with British made design anyway? Most people don’t particularly care where the clothes are made. As with most consumables, the key purchasing factors, particularly in the current economic climate, are aesthetics and price. Furniture companies might have ‘made in Italy’ stamped on their designs, but much of the manufacturing process is increasingly being farmed out further east (which goes some way towards explaining the tedious three to four month wait when you buy such a piece).
Closing the debate, Grange implored designers to look at the ‘small matters’ and ‘local problems’ to make anything ‘immensely better’. Walking around 100% Design, there was little evidence of this being heeded.
When 100% Design was launched in the mid-nineties – it was the first trade show to focus on contemporary design and took great lengths to showcase good design by companies large and small, from individual designer makers to established furniture manufacturers. The show’s impact on the industry was widespread – with the mushrooming of design galleries, including Haus, Mission, Same and Space, and design trails including the Westbourne Design Route and satellite events at Selfridges and Habitat… Knoll celebrated its 60th anniversary with a party that was the talk of the town… and Wallpaper* magazine hit the newsstands. These were heady times in the design community, with a great sense of optimism and collaboration. (The London Design Festival was formed nearly a decade later).
So what has gone wrong? Walking the aisles of 100% Design, some of the UK’s most talented and respected designers and manufacturers were conspicuous by their absence – replaced by foreign pavilions representing the likes of Argentina, Austria, France, Greece, Norway and Taiwan – countries hoping to carve out a design reputation with their own home grown talent.
Then there were the exhibitors aiming at London’s growing segment of society; the newly wealthy from Moscow, Beijing and beyond… with serious money but precious little taste. Cue the Animal Chair collection by Maximo Riera; chandeliers by I-dogi (I kid you not) and Nef (surely a typo?) – a Turkish developer that is moving into interior and product design. What could their luxury properties possibly need? Why some musical instrument-shaped speakers of course. Architects who are working with Nef – including Fosters, SOM and Studio Dror – probably weren’t banking on their names being writ large on an exhibition stand closer to home.
100% Design illustrates how London is splintering into two communities; wealthy foreigners with a lack of time or imagination to furnish their multiple residences around the world – and the rest of us, who bit by bit, turn our hard-earned pad into a home.
What makes the offerings at 100% Design all the more surprising is that the show still has a Selection Committee – this year’s luminaries included Wallpaper* editor Henrietta Thompson, Sebastian Wrong of Established & Sons and Rhonda Drakeford, co-owner of the wonderful concept store Darkroom – who presumably are appointed to help provide an expert edit and quality control compass?
There were a few gems – mostly in the 100% Futures section, where subsidised spaces are offered to emerging designers. Highlights included Jay Watson’s thermochromatic ‘Linger a Little Longer’ table and bench, which aims to make entertaining more fun, while commenting on how precious we can be about our furniture and its impact on our surroundings… and Michael Thomas’s angular tables and stools, inspired by his local Cumbrian landscape.
Geometry was a dominant trend, as was leaning furniture (possibly addressing the growing band of renters in the UK who might not want or be able to screw items into the wall) – as witnessed with the quirky ‘Leaning Man’ table collection by Frank Flavell and the Nottingham venture &Then Designs; and a fashion-design crossover – with pinstripe upholstery and mixing materials, such as rubber, leather, faux fur and silk.
The piece de resistance was quite possibly Czech design studio, Process CZ’s ‘Princess’ dressing table. A sublime solution for an item which gets scant attention from most furniture designers. Paul Kelley is another name to watch. His affinity with graphic designers, such as Peter Saville and Jamie Reid, is evident in his work, such as his striking coloured side tables, inspired by the paintings of Josef Albers.
As the founder of 100% Design, Ian Rudge – who went on to create the more edgy design showcase TENT – makes preparations for his new show HOME (debuting in January 2012). Without the more individual exhibitors, 100% Design risks becoming a showcase for foreign pavilions, over the top kitchens and sliding glass door manufacturers. Perhaps it’s time for the original catalyst for bringing together the UK’s design community (before being commandeered by the LDF) – to take up the challenge and re-establish its rightful position?