If we needed proof that the Italian economy was going through a blip, the evidence was there in force at last month’s Cologne Furniture Fair. While top Italian manufacturers have always made a showing in the contemporary furniture halls of the German fair, rarely have they used it as a launchpad for new lines, preferring to hold back for the Milan Fair in April.
But this year was different. There were a number of new launches, not least in Cologne’s new lighting hall, which attracted the likes of Flos and Fontana Arte which showed in Milan’s biennial Euroluce light fair last April.
In the furniture halls even the mighty Cassina showed an entire new collection at Cologne. Designed by Piero Lissoni, it comprises the Nest sofa series, Zap side tables and Flat storage units, beautifully crafted along elegant Modernist lines, with tops in glass or Carrara marble. Soft wool bouclÃ© was the fabric story for Lissoni, picking up the theme London manufacturer SCP has been working on with Bute Fabrics for its upholstered lines, including the Terence Woodgate-designed Joe public seating range launched last year.
Moroso also cashed in on Cologne this year, making fabrics the main thrust of its story. The soft seating giant had little that was new in design, still focusing on its long-term collaboration with Italian designer Massimo Iosa Ghini on the Hi-Pop range and Hyde Park seating by Enrico Franzolini. But it did preview a new US plastic “wonder” fabric, Xorel, for which it claims to be the only European source. Applied in Cologne to a range of simple chairs for home, restaurant or meeting room, the plastic fabric deters spills and can be wiped clean.
Xorel’s metallic finish echoes fabrics from the fashion world. The Italian approach is integrated, elegant, and about a lifestyle that moves easily between home and workplace. But why are the Italians making such a big stand in Cologne? The reason has to be the export potential for contemporary furniture. While other Continental markets dipped last year, the Germans spent DM45bn (16bn) on furniture and kitchens in 1998.
Cologne has also become an international marketplace, with buyers from across the world flooding into an environment that is smaller, but calmer (and cooler) than Milan.
Tristram Mylius of UK company Hitch Mylius registered interest from Germany, France and The Netherlands in the Oxo modular seating system. Designed by Nigel Coates, originally for Branson Coates’ Concept House competition winner – the Oyster House, Oxo again features Bute’s wool bouclÃ© fabric.
“We’re very pleased with the quality of contacts across Europe – both designers and retailers,” says Mylius, who was showing in Cologne for the second year and is keen to court European agents for Hitch Mylius products.
Hitch Mylius will be back in Cologne next year, hoping for the same success as seasoned exhibitor Aero. The London manufacturer and retailer has developed German links and a local following over many years of showing.
As for the products at Cologne, materials were a major selling point, with plastics featuring on many stands in “affordable” chairs, largely for the domestic or restaurant market. © It’s about function and colour at this highly competitive end of the market.
Spanish company Amat, for example, featured two colourful, stackable models first seen in Valencia last autumn. These are the aluminium and polypropylene Splash chairs by Jorge Pensi, and the IMAX chair – designed by its in-house team Amat-3 – in steel and polyurethane. Italian manufacturer Segis showed the less pleasing Please aluminium and polypropylene stacker, designed by Isao Hosoe and Etien Veeman, its translucent “wing” arms making it one of the least elegant chairs in the contemporary showcase.
Then there were the “collections”. Apart from Lissoni’s classic series for Cassina and Iosa Ghini’s growing soft-seat range for Moroso, Danish giant Fritz Hansen owned up to building a collection by Italian master Vico Magistretti. New in Cologne was multipurpose stackable chair VicoSolo, with accessories such as linking devices, writing tables and a transport “dolly”. VicoSolo is Magistretti’s third for the Danish company, following Vico and VicoDuo. According to a Fritz Hansen spokesman, the collection aims to bring together the best of Italian and Danish design.
And the Brits? Lancashire manufacturer Allermuir is continuing to build its “collection” of largely British designs from the likes of Peter Christian and Neil Poulter, though its big news in Cologne was the Scala chair by Danish architect Pernille Svane Hansen. And while SCP has shunned Cologne’s main halls and Alan Zoeftig has transferred his airport and bar seating to the German city’s biennial Orgatec office fair, Hitch Mylius soldiers on.
British or British-trained designers, however, continue to be popular with European manufacturers. One of the greatest displays of confidence in British design this year came from Italian accessories company Authentics, which devoted its small stand to a chair by Matthew Hilton and a trolley by Konstantin Grcic. We can reasonably expect to see more of these, along with Jasper Morrison, Sebastian Bergne and Ross Lovegrove, in Milan.