There were more than 70 design fairs or festivals held around the world in 2010. Given that they last on average five days, that means you could feasibly spend the entire year attending one.
Hosting one of these events doesn’t just provide an opportunity to show off local creative talent, it has significant business potential. In 2011 the number of fairs will increase to more than 80 – but more doesn’t mean better. The problem is that too many are trying to emulate Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, rather than carving out their own identity.
Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile is the biggest fair of the year in terms of business and attendance figures – in 2010 there were more than 2,500 international exhibitors – and its undisputed circuit dominance leaves little room for the younger fairs to edge in on its territory. Indeed the bigger Salone gets, the more peripheral the others seem by comparison. “Salone is unmissable,” says Judy Dobias, founder of Camron PR agency. “It is where ideas debut.” 2011 will see Salone celebrate its 50th anniversary and you could argue its dominance in the industry means you can forgo any other fair and still be a design expert each year.
Why then the need for any other fair? “There’s a discrepancy between Milan and elsewhere,” says Tulga Beyerle, director of Vienna Design Week. “Away from Milan, everyone agrees there is time to really see and talk. Competition is good for everyone. It forces everyone to sharpen their profile.”
Vienna Design Week is a model every fair outside Salone would do well to follow. It pairs rising international designers, rather than superstars, with local heritage craftsmen to design something unique, using their joint experience to show how traditional skills can be incorporated into contemporary design. It showcases talent, craft, skill and, above all, the city.
As the number of fairs continues to expand and competition for attendees becomes fiercer, fair organisers would do well to visit Vienna and see how it operates. Beyerle is on the money when questioned about the importance of Vienna going ahead. “We don’t want to grow in size but focus on quality,” she says. “We want to develop a good education programme and0 invite more designers from abroad to work with companies based in the city, strengthening the network between designers and businesses.” If you only have room in your calendar for one fair outside Milan next year – make it Vienna.