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WWD Paris Preview issue 07/26/2011

The cradle of high fashion is branching out. The city will host its first design week in September, with more than 80 events across the capital showcasing a wide range of the latest creations from France and around the world.

This story first appeared in the July 26, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

SAFI, the group that organizes Maison & Objet, the Paris home fashion and design trade show for professionals, also initiated Paris Design Week to reach a broader audience, much like design weeks held in London, Tokyo and Milan. The new event is scheduled for Sept. 12 to 18, to coincide with the final days of the Maison & Objet show, branching off the professional salon’s 85,000 attendees with a citywide happening open to the public.

It will take place in an eclectic array of venues, inviting visitors to purchase creations hot off international trade show floors, view works in progress, attend conferences and meet players in the industry amid a festival atmosphere.

With the help of a guide, the public will be able to wander through the city, attend exhibits held in temporary and permanent showrooms, galleries, ateliers and even hotels, restaurants and apartments, where new designs in the largest sense of the word will be on display.

From dessert concoctions or an inflatable surfboard to home and kitchen fashion, any form of “art de vivre” is encouraged in the festival, said Philippe Chomat, the director of communications for Paris Design Week. Helping prolong the Maison & Objet show, objects that were previewed there will be exhibited and for sale at the Galeries Lafayette Maison store.

“I saw that it was a beautiful opportunity to wake Paris up,” said Odile Fillion, director of Jean Nouvel Design, which is transforming the French architect and designer’s headquarters into a temporary showroom for Paris Design Week. She also said the sector could use a “positive project,” after losses from the economic crisis. “If we can make Paris lively and a place of discovery for the greater public and professionals, then we should do it.”

Signs the French market was increasingly interested “in the contemporary” suggested it was time to launch a design week, said Chomat. What’s more, design weeks “are increasingly being created in big cities, to give more visibility to showrooms.”

But organizers also hope Paris Design Week will have a voice of its own, bringing attention to the more than 8,000 designers living in the capital region, as well as stimulating business following the economic crisis.

“Our desire is to be much more diverse than what happens elsewhere,” said Chomat.

Besides new creations from big brands such as Cappellini, Cassina, Poltrona Frau and Modenature, roughly 60 lesser-known designers, young collectives and students at the start of their careers will show original and experimental work at the Docks en Seine.

“We don’t speak up strongly enough on design. We had a kind of complex,” said Jean-Luc Colonna d’Istria, director of general marketing at Paris concept store Merci. For Paris Design Week, Merci will exhibit more than 150 pieces by the next generation of Japanese designers, discovered over a year-and-a-half of research throughout that country, in a show titled “Sugao.”

Colonna d’Istria echoed the shared view that although there is no shortage of design creativity, “there is not enough distribution for young creators in France,” due to relatively “conservative” investment in design distribution compared to other European countries. The Merci show will introduce works that evoke “the Japan that isn’t seen.”

“These are artists who don’t go after the big lights, but are interested in how an object can be used,” said Colonna d’Istria. “We have to get out of this very closed clan of people in design, and get out on the street.”


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