Salone 2011 is being heralded by many as the first post-recession edition. There’s also a feeling running through the industry that now is the chance to move on from the follies and failings of recent fairs – the over-sized, under-functioning excesses of 2007 and 2008 and then the brave-faced, lacklustre showcases that came in their wake.
Monocle arrived at the fair yesterday and made a beeline for a brand that has come to define the Salone experience, to find out how it was tackling this anticipated wind change. British manufacturer Established & Sons is only seven years old but has become a benchmark by which many judge the fair as a whole.
In September last year Alasdhair Willis, the founder and CEO, resigned – a move widely believed to be the death knell for the young brand. And then last month Established sold its London west end gallery space, which it had used to showcase its limited edition projects. Prior to this year’s Salone, there was no inch-thick party invitation, no VIP plastic wristband and no email with preview images to drum up pre-publicity for its launches. Gone too was the spectacular, cavernous La Pelota venue it had used for five years.
But the brand is far from dead. “Call it the seven year itch,” says creative director Sebastian Wrong. “I’m not going to lie – we’ve worked on a much tighter budget. Instead of topping ‘the shows’ of the past, we wanted to emphasise what the brand is about now and show that we run a business.”
Far from muted, Established has taken residence in Teatro Versace, the Kubrick-like former cinema owned by the eponymous fashion house. In a mirror-lined room are 27 new designs spanning lighting, seating, public space furniture, storage, rugs and accessories. “All are in production and ready to order now,” says Wrong. “We have pieces that are good for the contract market, some that are entry level [the anonymously designed Estd accessories] and some that are statement designs. But nothing that is limited edition.”
Everything is produced in Europe except the rugs – which are handwoven in India – and a beautiful collection of Japanese ceramic containers. “We originally intended to solely manufacture in Britain,” Wrong says, “but we soon realised that, if we wanted to work with different materials, we’d have to open our remit. We want products with character and quality. I’m not ashamed to admit that we are continuing to learn.”
The rest of the fair has yet to be unwrapped, but if Established & Sons’ seventh show reflects the mood elsewhere, then it’s good news for the industry. Here is a brand that boomed with the best, at times excessively. But in one short year it has dusted itself off and is now looking better than ever.