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Road trip

Gary Evans, Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, September 30, 2002

After about a month of travelling through five European countries and visiting seven home furnishings trade shows, one significant point stood out.

We're in a period where exuberance in both design and presentation is taking a back seat to conservatism and a heavy degree of caution. But unlike what would typically be the case in the United States, this is not to say that everything looks same-old, same-old in the boutiques and major stores of these countries.

The most obvious area of this era of caution was seen in the stores known for their adventurous natures in contemporary design — both in apparel and home furnishings.

Many of these stores typically push the envelope when it comes to what they offer and how they present the stuff. And typically, for several years hence, their influence follows with the more mainstream designers and retailers.

Not this year, however.

Especially in product innovation and creativity, home furnishings design has been reined in — probably a result of the sagging economies and questions about the future in these countries.

But some of these stores are doing other things — one might call them tricks of the trade — to make themselves stand out from the crowd.

Typical of what can be done was seen at Conran's, the legendary Sir Terence's palaces of contemporary furnishings in London and Paris. Much of the product was familiar — somewhat like revisiting old friends. What was not was a tie-in with artists and their contemporary works. And it worked.

Moving to Barcelona, Vincon, one of the most enthusiastic and supportive boosters of contemporary design, used presentation and a degree of sleight of hand to continue to keep the store ahead of the crowd. Items including a collection of "can't keep your hands off" pieces designed by Marisol made customers stop in their tracks and buy — not just those pieces but stuff throughout the store.

Nowhere were there shrieking signs blaring terms, sales, and the like.

As for home textiles specifically, there was not one massive towel wall to be found. Lots of window coverings were offered, and bedding featured lots of brands and designers in specific offerings — little in terms of mass presentation, and lots of private label.

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