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Summing Up

February 1, 2010

As Maison & Objet came to an end last week, a quick recap seems in order. No revolutionary changes were observed, merely evolutions of design directions previously noted.


The revived interest in rustic furnishings and interiors was front and center. It is a continuation of what I previously described as "Chalet Style," derived as it is for the most part from mountain resorts, stretching from the Adirondacks to the Alps.

Large scale and rough hewn furnishings are the hallmark of this style – with architecture hewing close to nature and hand craftsmanship an important contributing element. Its growing influence is recognized in a new book, "Chalets: An Art of Living" by Gwenaelle Leprat. Chalets in Chamonix, Megeve, Gstaad and Crans, Montana opened their doors to the photographers Christine Bresson and Philippe Saharoff to share the rustic lifestyle in the mountains and by the slopes

Directly related is another book devoted to wood architecture being rediscovered in response to a desire for home environments close to nature and more suited to sustainable development.  

Mother Nature Rules

Reaching out to nature as partner was also paramount in the broadening commitment by M&O exhibitors in "green" projects and the substantially increased use of "green" materials for products and interiors.

One of the things I find most rewarding when in Paris is how many adjunct events, publications and exhibitions take place at the same time as Maison & Objet serve as both inspiration and confirmation of emerging trends.

For instance, I don’t think it a coincidence that the magnificent glass domed Grand Palais featured an exhibition and re-examination of Art Nouveau – a movement, if we remember, representing a revolt by designers, architects and craftsmen against the excesses of behavior and design of the Victorian Period. Is it such a stretch to connect the dots to the present as we seek absolution for our own recent sins in the comfort of nature and her gift to help us rebalance and redefine design in our own time.

Heritage & Tradition In Transition

Exhibits at M&O tend to be equally divided between contemporary and traditional statements.

For at least the last decade, however, there has been a concerted effort to bring traditional design based on historic forerunners into the 21st century by streamlining furniture forms, stripping away gilt, showy finishes and hardware, and substituting linens, wool and other informal textiles for formal brocades and damasks. 

The best of these efforts have served to refresh, revitalize and make more accessible, a genre which had all but lost its relevancy and seemed mummified in a sort of petrified state.

The worst of the efforts have produced lifeless replicas, modified to the point of mediocrity and the kind of vacant sameness which can also be the result of too aggressive a face lift.

The dilemma of how far to go with nips and tucks and where to stop was brought into focus for me by the January couture shows, which run concurrently with Maison & Objet. offering a rare opportunity to compare cheek by jowl what’s happening on the  runways to what’s being proposed on M&O’s walkways. It turns out, there are similarities we don’t often think about.

I have been a fan of Susan Menkes, the formidable fashion journalist and analyst of the International Herald Tribune, as she can always be counted on for her laser sharp eye in spotting trends and a voice to match in articulating what she sees with disturbing precision.

Within the context of how we view and use history in design today, her headline on opening day of M&O read "Heritage: Shake It, Break It or Fake It (?)" In the ensuing article, she singled out Lanvin as "the rare historic house where the clothes seem to live in the moment, yet embrace a traditional culture." "The Paris men’s wear season was all about handling the heritage. Should you shake it, break it or fake the style of the past?"

The very next day, she panned John Galliano’s couture collection for Dior as out of touch. While she praised the execution of a collection based in every detail on the historical Belle Epoque clothes of the British aristocracy, she lamented, "If Mr. Galliano could just once make the starting point of Dior couture not the fashion’s sweet memories but a clean sheet of paper on which he writes 2010".

Food for thought?