Just Looking?

Carole Sloan, September 17, 2007

Don't know if the bigwigs at Printemps, Maison Lafayette, and Conran's in Paris do a traffic count on a daily basis, but the traffic on the Thursday before the Friday opening of Maison&Objet had to reflect a major spike over days prior and after.

It also had to reflect a significant increase in business as the "visiting firemen" walked the floors of each store making notes, buying stuff — and yes, even taking pictures.

There's so much talk and handkerchief-tearing about how the Asians are copying Western designs. And yes, there were a host of Asians walking the floors and making like Richard Avedon — but they were not alone.

The champion in this activity had to be an American — yes — woman, most likely a retailer from her activities, who was walking the floors and aisles of the home divisions at Printemps and Maison Lafayette. Our paths crossed on every floor as she examined product after product, photographed some with her cellphone, and made some purchases to put in her oversized briefcase on wheels.

Then there was the American male trio walking the floors and openly discussing that Chinese quality was as good as that of the products on the floor of the store. And wasn't it unfortunate that it's not financially possible to ship from China to Europe?

Looking at the exhibitors at both Maison and Decosit, there is a notable change in presentation. Significantly more booths have been enclosed, either partially — so the staff can better qualify who comes in and watch those who are suspicious — or fully enclosed with a single doorway. Visitors are asked for their badges and engaged in conversation to determine further credibility.

What this move, one that has been growing over the past few years, is doing is cutting back the impact of fashion and product direction as one walks aisle to aisle. The outside walls of these boxes are artfully designed to show little. In many cases, graphics or giant, artistic photo murals, or even just an enhanced company logo are used for the exterior of the stands.

And inside, product often is just presented on hanging samples for decorative fabrics, and in color swatches with a few focus vignettes for manufactured product.

This trend can have major negative impact on home furnishings exhibitions down the road. It will be a shame if the copyists spoil it for everyone.

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