You have to hand it to the organisers of 100% Design. In only five years, they have put London on the international design map through this annual showcase of 3D talent. People don’t just flock now to the main event at Earl’s Court Two. Like the bigger Milan fair – and, indeed, London Fashion Week – it has spawned a healthy array of “alternative” sideshows at venues across the capital.
The big design-led multinational furniture firms are increasingly attracted to the event, if only though UK suppliers such as Viaduct and Robert Webster. But their wares have, for the main part, already been seen at the Milan or Cologne fairs, and it is the younger designer/ makers who tend to give 100% Design its particular flavour.
The steady growth of 100% Design coincides with London’s rise to favour as a talent pool for global manufacturers. Rare talents such as Jasper Morrison, Matthew Hilton and Ron Arad caught the attention of mainstream Continental furniture and accessories firms some years ago and are now established international stars. But interest in London designers hasn’t stopped there and the likes of Platt & Young, Michael Sodeau and Iceland-based Michael Young are now making their mark. We can expect a few overseas trade visitors to 100% Design looking to buy not furniture, but to sign up new design “names” for their own furniture and accessories collections.
It won’t only be overseas manufacturers that are seeking out talent though. Some UK firms are making a great effort to put contemporary design at the heart of their culture. One of the most significant recent moves has been the appearance of Keen, headed by one-time head of Vitra’s London business Charles Keen, with support from the likes of John Sorrell and Frances Newell to build the business through young talent.
Retailers too are making an effort. Though Aero, set up by designer Paul Newman, failed earlier this year, it is now in the hands of fashion entrepreneur Gavin Aldred with high hopes pinned on it. Habitat is revisiting its design culture in a big way, under the guidance of Tom Dixon, who has added Hilton and other “greats” to his team, and Vittorio Radice is going great guns at Selfridges with his efforts to promote contemporary furniture.
With opportunities like this in the offing, young UK-based designers can no longer believe that their only chance of realising their designs is mass manufacture in continental Europe. We’d like to see them doing their bit now and pushing themselves forward, not just through 100% Design, but through award schemes and other initiatives of their own making.