It was hard to envisage ten years ago that the embryonic 100% Design – staged in a tent beside London’s Chelsea Barracks – would grow into the international attraction it has become. Who’d have guessed the event, rooted at the outset firmly in craft, would become a premier showcase for contemporary design, spawn an architectural add-on in 100% Detail and develop its own fringe activities via the 100% Guaranteed sideshows? It may not yet have the cachet of the Milan furniture fair, but it is getting there. It is flattering to the organisers that John Sorrell timed last year’s inaugural London Design Festival to encompass 100% Design under its umbrella, but, in the event, many saw it as the centrepiece of the wider initiative and a ‘festival’ in its own right.
As with many successful ventures, 100% Design was born out of the passion and vision of two people. Ian Rudge and Rachel Robin had been involved in giftware exhibition Top Drawer and saw a gap in the market for a show aimed largely at the design and architecture community, focusing on high-end furniture and accessories. Their timing was perfect, for as the show has grown, so too has public interest in contemporary design. Witness the Sunday supplements and TV makeover shows that have proliferated during the life of the show. So where once visitors to 100% Design may have come mainly from the creative community, now it is guaranteed public interest and a degree of celebrity status, with the likes of athlete Linford Christie and artist Dougie Field seen checking out exhibits over the years.
Meanwhile, in the late 1990s London was building a reputation for outstanding design talent, partly through the creativity emanating from the Royal College of Art and partly through the Government promoting Cool Britannia. Though talents such as Gitta Gschwendtner and Simon Pengelly would have surfaced anyway, exposing their products at 100% Design surely helped their cause.
The show’s strict selection criteria has also enabled design patrons such as SCP, Mathmos and The Conran Shop to gain greater public recognition for work by, say, Tom Dixon and Robin Levien, as well as younger designers. It was the launch pad for Keen in happier days and gave the chance to compare first hand the output of these British manufacturers with that of international greats such as Driade and Cassina. But above all, the strength of 100% Design for the design community is the buzz it creates and the meeting point it provides for design and commerce. The highest accolade came in 2001, when the world was reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. An overseas journalist said the energy of 100% Design showed London wasn’t giving in to fear and doom-mongering. That’s not a bad testimony to what is essentially a trade show.
Design Week editor