Shock over design fair's hiatus

Some in the industry are disappointed as they have already poured in resources for the March show of Maison&Objet Asia

A bathtub painted by muralist James Reka on display at the Maison&Objet Asia show at Marina Bay Sands in 2014, the first show in Singapore.
A bathtub painted by muralist James Reka on display at the Maison&Objet Asia show at Marina Bay Sands in 2014, the first show in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

Shock prevails among designers, retailers and industry players following Thursday's announcement that the annual design fair Maison& Objet Asia in Singapore will go on a two- year hiatus.

Mr Philippe Brocart, managing director of the show's organiser, Salons Francais Et Internationaux, told The Straits Times that the show was stymied by the dearth of European brands willing to exhibit here as they want to "concentrate on the European market", amid a sluggish global economy.

Noting that the Singapore show appeals with its balance of European and Asian brands, he says: "Visitors will expect to see European brands, especially those who cannot travel to Paris for the shows. This year's show was already too small, so if next year's one is smaller, that isn't all right."

Maison&Objet Asia is the regional offshoot of the design trade show that began 21 years ago in Paris. Thousands flock to the French capital in January and September every year to see the best and newest interior design products and trends. Its first show in Singapore was in 2014.

About two weeks ago, the organiser decided to can the March edition in Singapore and the following year's.

A casualty of the pullout is home- grown architecture firm Woha, co-founded by architects Wong Mun Summ, 54, and Richard Hassell, 49.

The firm was named the Asian fair's Designer of the Year just a month ago. It was to put on installations, exhibitions and launch Wohabeing, a furniture and accessories line, at the event venue at Marina Bay Sands in March.

But the two architects took the announcement in their stride. Mr Hassell says: "We understand this change in plans is less about Singapore's excellent reputation as an event destination, and more about the unpredictable conditions everyone is experiencing this year.

"Worldwide, people are in a mood for consolidation and are being cautious. Europe has had a very difficult year and Paris, in particular, has had a terrible time."

Many who were preparing for the upcoming four-day show were caught off-guard when they were notified in the last few days.

Mr Colin Seah, 44, architect and founding director of Ministry of Design (MOD), planned to use the show as a platform to launch Future Craft, a series of high-tech lighting installations made in collaboration with a local robotics firm.

Research and development cost MOD and its partners about $150,000. Mr Seah says he will find other avenues to showcase the work.

"If it was all quiet leading up to this announcement, I don't think anyone would be shocked. But (the organiser) already whipped up interest and excitement for next year's show.

"People were gearing up to be part of the show and put in lots of effort and resources. I don't know what went on behind the scenes, but it must have a 'In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass' situation."

In the three years that Maison& Objet Asia was held here, visitors were introduced to a good mix of European and Asian luxury brands.

Singapore brands were also well represented. Lifestyle label Supermama took part in the show twice, while design production company Industry+ showed a 25-piece furniture collection designed with Japanese studio nendo at last year's fair.

The show also put Singapore designers in the spotlight. Mr Melvin Ong, design collective Outofstock and multi-disciplinary practice Lekker Architects were among Maison&Objet Rising Asian Talents over the three years.

Supermama's founder Edwin Low, 37, says he made good contacts and struck deals with Asian buyers and companies. He spent about $40,000 each time putting up his booth and making product prototypes.

If Maison&Objet Asia were to carry on with more Asian brands on show, Mr Low feels it would do well. But Mr Brocart says the show has to be a good balance of both Eastern and Western brands.

Mr Low, who is working on a series of fairs, the first of which will be launched at Gillman Barracks in January, says: "I don't see a difference in the skills of Asian, American or European designers these days. I would say the Asian designer is leading the way. We're going through an economic downturn, but the potential is still in Asia."

Without Maison&Objet Asia, there is a hole in the Singapore Design Week's March calendar.

The event was highlighted as one of the must- see events.

On behalf of the DesignSingapore Council, which organises the design week, and Singapore Tourism Board, which gives funding support to Maison&Objet Asia, Ms Agnes Kwek, executive director of the council, says: "We will continue to build on our good relationship with Maison&Objet and are in the midst of exploring other exchanges and collaboration. While we will miss Maison& Objet Asia's presence, the nature of Singapore Design Week is that it evolves every year to remain vibrant and fresh."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Shock over design fair's hiatus'. Subscribe