What true value can the world’s largest furniture trade event offer the design industry today? This question formed the central theme of the lively panel discussion organised by Indesign Media Asia.
2 June, 2016
Top image: The panel of speakers from left, Priscilla Lui and Timo Wong, Studio Juju; Hunn Wai, Lanzavecchia + Wai Design Studio; and Lim Choon Hong, XTRA Designs
Indesign Media Asia held its very first Milan Design Week panel discussion on Thursday 26 May 2016 at XTRA, Park Mall. The event was full house with over 80 guests from the design industry filling up the seats to hear what some of Singapore’s leading design figures had to say about this year’s programme, and the event as a whole.
The speakers were Lim Choon Hong, Managing Director of XTRA Designs; Hunn Wai, Creative Director / Founder of Lanzavecchia + Wai Design Studio; and Timo Wong and Priscilla Lui, Designers and Founders of Studio Juju. Co-moderating and leading the discussion were Narelle Yabuka, Editor of Cubes Indesign and Habitus Singapore special issue – kitchen and bathroom, and Janice Seow, Editor of Indesignlive.sg, Indesignlive.hk and Habitusliving.com.sg.
Going beyond the gloss and latest product launches, the session was an invigorating dialogue on the realities of Salone del Mobile – which marks its 55th anniversary this year – and all the satellite programmes that together make up Milan Design Week. It sought to bring answers to the question: What true value can the world’s largest furniture trade event offer the industry today?
Responding to moderator Narelle Yabuka’s observation that this year’s Salone appeared to be a ‘safe’ one in terms of new product releases, Choon Hong noted that this has been the case for many years, and is primarily driven by economic downturn. He said, “When the market is down, sales drop and I suppose every brand’s budget at the Fair gets cut. So you see everybody trying to do something different but not too expensive – re-editions, new finishes [and so on].”
Priscilla said that the situation was, in her opinion, a positive one. “It’s good to revisit old designs, because they are still good, and to look at new fabrics, new materials, or even a better production technology. I think companies are moving in this kind of direction,” she said, adding that having to launch less brand new products also meant companies could focus on bringing only the best to market.
Hunn noted that a growing saturation in the contract and retail furniture markets have led more and more companies to diversify their product lines – such as Kartell with their new kids collection at this year’s Fair – and to leverage on their brand equity. Many of these companies, he said, were transforming themselves into lifestyle brands.
One of the key topics of discussion revolved around the representation of Asian design at the Fair, how it was perceived globally, and the opportunities available to Asian designers today.
Timo and Priscilla were at the Fair this year to present Studio Juju’s The Unfamiliar project as part of the Alamak! Design in Asia exhibition at Triennale di Milano. According to Timo, companies in the West were looking increasingly to Asia, and seeking to understand the Asian market and tastes. At the same time, designers here were looking to break into the Western markets. As a result of globalisation “everybody is trying to connect with one another” he said.
Timo stressed the importance for designers here to retain “the spirit of being an Asian.” He said, “We have a lot of manufacturing capabilities in Asia [and] as an Asian designer it’s quite important to hold on to these things and to really think about what we can do [here].”
Hunn, who was at the Fair to present his studio’s new Southeast Asian collection PLAYplay for Journey East, continued that line of thought. “Why not develop some kind of brand equity and value that stems from a ‘new Southeast Asia’ or a new craft? Indonesia has so much production [capabilities], it’s immense.”
From the business perspective, Choon Hong said that companies in the West needed to sell to Asia today. “They need to increase their sales; it’s an economics-driven trend.” He stressed, however, that more attention needed to be given to establishing production facilities in Asia. He said that in this day and age, contract clients could not afford to wait 10 to 12 weeks for products to arrive.
Also discussed were the projects at the Fair that explored the crossovers of the digital and physical. Hunn was particularly impressed by Swiss university ÉCAL’s presentation at FuoriSalone. Titled When Objects Dream, the project involved a series of everyday objects that invited new forms of interactions via virtual reality headsets and other modes of technology.
From left: Janice Seow, editor of Indesignlive.sg, Indesignlive.hk & Habitusliving.com.sg; Timo Wong & Priscilla Lui, Studio Juju; Hunn Wai, Lanzavecchia + Wai Design Studio; Lim Choon Hong, XTRA Designs; and Narelle Yabuka, editor of Cubes Indesign and Habitus Singapore special issue – kitchen and bathroom
The session ended off with each speaker giving his or her thoughts on the biggest value the Milan Design Week had to offer the design community, with Priscilla describing it in summation as “a report card” that captured the culture and aspirations of the day.
Look out for Cubes Indesign’s coverage of Milan In Review in the Aug/Sept issue.
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