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Opening Day

January 23, 2010

All Gates were mobbed this morning, registration desks and coat checks bottlenecked. While opening day is usually the busiest, I haven’t seen such crowds in a long time. French news reports that French business psychology and expectations are up. Let’s hope the show does not disappoint.

A few observations to start:

Faced with the growing interest in personalization and based on the premise that a more cultivated and design savvy public is demanding higher design standards, the show has built this season’s development around high quality offerings by exceptional talent and innovation. The selections which are both forward-looking and sometimes avant garde, do not, however, neglect connections to the past and a rich heritage – but rather use them as a foundation for fresh interpretation.

By giving expression to all of the voices of creativity represented here by professionals of all sectors of interior design and the home spirit, M&O is emphasizing the role and importance of the designer. The celebration of 10 years of M&O is an opportunity for the trade to honor its own and to pay special tribute to an iconic figure: Philippe Starck, Maison & Objet’s Designer of the Year.

Philippe Starck was one of the first designers to open his doors to a large number of young and new artists. By sponsoring 10 young designers under the umbrella exhibit "now! a vivre", he shows off the richness of a succession of talents to face the challenges of the young century: ecology, paperless society resource and energy crises and new social trends and developments – only some of the issues influencing their work.

Designers who often combine the jobs of architect, interior designer product designer, researcher, analyst, craftsman, sociologist and even social agent are at the heart of Maison & Objet’s January theme of Habitation highlighted in the design a vivre exhibit with ramifications well beyond.

Another designer, Jamie Haydon, was chosen as 2010 Designer of the Year for another segment, the "scenes d’interieur." A free spirit, Jamie illustrates a designer’s potential to pull himself free of industrial production and to give body to pure intuition and emotion, an integral part of his mission.

What seems to be missing is a lighter touch in approaching our well known design challenges. Let’s hope Philippe Starck, who always delivered on fun as well s common sense, can have a positive influence on relieving too much gravitas among the young. Philippe Starck has always believed in the democratization of design, as in prefabricated housing, utilitarian objects and functional furniture. But who could forget his penchant for hotel and restaurant bathrooms, where finding access to water is always a challenge? And part of his desire to keep us amused.

Too much earnestness and too little substance often mar Maison & Objet’s own concept presentations it sponsors every year. I have often had trouble with those as they seem long on the right ideas and rhetoric but short on delivering the message in execution. This time is no exception.

La Cooperative by Vincent Gregoire and Nelly Rodi proposes a change from "every man for himself" to a "one for all and all for one" concept of living. The verbiage outlines that micro communities are being activated in Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, the U.S. and France in which knowledge and skills are shared as needed. He also talks about shared gardens and shared public spaces in such eco villages. Even if  you ignored the fact that we have been living in this way, especially in urban areas, for as long back as I can remember, where this exhibit really fails is in the use of objects meant to prove the designer’s point.

To me, it does no such thing. Perhaps, the lag between idea and realization is still such that not enough or any convincing examples can be found. It might be wise for designers who burrow into an idea to examine if this is really a new idea or merely a brand new discovery on the part of the designer.

I have similar problems with Hybrid by Francis Bernard, which seems to focus on bringing plants indoors. Again, I think people have done so for a very long time, and the examples on view looked very sad indeed –  nothing I would want in my house. The only thing I found intriguing was a vertical wall planted in kitchen herbs. The idea seems compelling that you can pluck as you cook until you ask yourself about maintenance and what the plantings might do to your walls. How do you clean and water the plants, and will you grow mold along with the herbs? Call me stickler without imagination but without answers to such questions, I am not convinced.

However, the one concept that does work is Transculture by Elisabeth Leriche, who proves conclusively that "imaginary geographies are erasing borders between near and far. One culture enriches many others and gives rise to a transcultural aesthetic in words and objects that tell a unique story. Sharing differences enriches creation, a journey that defines otherness and the identity of elsewhere".

More on concepts and concept stores which have mushroomed in Paris over the last few years later on in the week. Tomorrow, I want to take you back to the show and exhibitors presentations that are in the here, now and near future.