The pain in Spain - Monocolumn | Monocle


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26 September 2009

Today sees the end of Spain’s largest furniture fair, Ideas & Pasión, which is held in Valencia every year. With almost 1,000 exhibitors from 15 countries spread over 125,000 sq m of exhibition space, the impact cannot yet be assessed but, judging from what we saw there, few will be going home full of fiesta spirit.

Big Spanish players such as Andreu World and Piferrer were present and correct, but the halls were worryingly empty of visitors and the area assigned to showcase young talent looked particularly sad. Most disappointing, however, was the lack of new product on show.

Look back and the fair used to be a key event on the international calendar, up there with IMM Köln in Germany and Maison et Objet in Paris. But in the past couple of years Ideas & Pasión seems to have lost its way – and also its pulling power. Given that Valencia is the traditional heartland of the Spanish furniture industry, it’s a double-blow. Spain’s economy could certainly do with some assistance from this key industry. Between January and June this year, Spanish furniture exports fell by 20.4 per cent.

But there are some bigger questions here for Valencia and other cities too. Quite simply, do we need all these fairs – and what’s the point of them?

Also closing this weekend is London’s Design Festival. With its eclectic mix of shows and talks, LDF is always good for inspiration, but just how much business it actually generates for the UK design industry long-term is an interesting question. Many of the young designers showcasing new pieces tend to get snapped up by the international manufacturers passing through London. Is this good for the city?

But the big fat cuckoo in the nest is Milan. Its ever-growing Salone eclipses all other design events. Manufacturers from around the world are increasingly ploughing all their budgets into exhibits there. How can anywhere else compete with that?

The answer: stand out. Valencia, for one, needs to refocus and strengthen its positioning. It must tap into its far-reaching manufacturing base. From the small artisans crafting bespoke pieces in the hills, through to the bigger manufacturers, just the very best pieces should be brought into the trade halls. And Spanish manufacturers must be bold – the promise of new products is not only a vote of confidence, it adds excitement and will entice. (They should check out the small and perfectly formed For Stockists in Tokyo.)

The city’s compactness could work in its favour too. “People tend to be quite stressed at Milan because there are so many things to see in such a short time. Here they can focus more,” says Jon Gasca, designer at Spanish furniture firm Stua.

As great believers in Spanish design, we hope Valencia’s fair goes on a crash diet over the coming year and returns leaner and fitter. If not, we look forward to visiting the Spanish hall in Milan.


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