On cloud nine - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

31 October 2009

Another day, another furniture fair. Only this time it’s Tokyo design week – and it’s impressive. From the precise literature outlining key shows, through to the well-curated exhibitions, this is how a trade event should be.

Tokyo keeps it small but the standard is high, and that’s what counts. The two key shows – 100% Design and the Tide Exhibition, part of DesignTide Tokyo – do not take place in sprawling exhibition centres. Both comprise just a few modest rooms. Restricted floor-space forces the hand of organisers to be super-selective. The Tide Exhibition takes place in the sleek Tokyo Midtown complex where 250 designers compete for 45 spots. It’s not just up to one creative director to select potential candidates either – a board of 11 meet to discuss and decide who’s good enough.

This sets Tokyo design week apart. Usually when you walk around a design fair, exhibitors are regulars or are showing products they’ve presented elsewhere. In contrast, many of the designers are showing in Tokyo for the first time or presenting prototypes. When everybody (and that includes manufacturers, press and general public) are on the hunt for an exclusive, it makes the show genuinely thrilling. Film crews and photographers were clearly lapping it up at the press previews on Friday.

Among the most exciting launches was industrial designer Sosuke Nakabo, and Nosigner’s elegant dining table, Imaginary, and modular seating, Unit. Also drawing the crowds was Japanese stationery giant Askul, which launched its first pop-up shop, where you could pick up Stockholm Design Lab’s office wares. Testing the waters for a retail venture at a trade fair is a smart move. Could we see an Askul flagship shortly?

It was at the Tide Exhibition that a new standard for exhibition interior design was set too. The organisers used architect, Makoto Tanijiri, founder of Suppose Design Office (and one of our favourite architects) to design the show. Throughout the exhibition, Tanijiri installed inflatable, organic-looking structures covered with a kind of fluffy, white cotton wool. Areas were not broken down rigidly – instead these cloud-like formations loosely defined exhibition spaces.

“Typically, everybody has a booth. I wanted to question that stereotype and take a different approach,” he explained. Lighting was kept soft and gentle music played on in the background. It made for a peaceful and pleasant experience. You could intuitively wonder around rather than just march down lanes. Although next year, it would be good to see fresh thinking applied to 100% Design, which followed a more traditional format at its location in nearby Jingu Gaien.

With so many trade fairs getting it wrong, Tokyo succeeds with an intimate and highly edited showcase.


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