Small but solid

Visitors at the Maison&Objet Asia exhibition at Marina Bay Sands. The Asian show, which ran from March 10 to 13, had some 272 exhibitors spread over three halls or 6,000 sq m of space.

It was smaller in size, and with a much fewer number of exhibitors, but the first Maison&Objet Asia sure packed a punch.

The Asian show, which ran from March 10 to 13 at Marina Bay Sands, had some 272 exhibitors spread over three halls or 6,000 sq m of space. It is modelled after the highly successful Masion&Objet Paris, which takes place every January and September.

In comparison, the Parisian show drew more than 6,000 exhibitors spread over nine massive halls or 250,000 sq m space at Parc des Expositions de Paris Nord Villepinte, which is much like our Singapore Expo. Its sheer size makes Maison&Objet Paris the leading design and decor event worldwide. The Parisian show will mark its 20th anniversary next year.

To make it easy for the 160,000 trade visitors that come annually, each hall has a theme. For example, hall 2 is dedicated to home textiles, hall 5 to interior decorations, and hall 3 is entirely for kitchen products.

Hall 8, however, is where all the more exciting stuff are. The theme here is "now! design a vivre", and this is the place for emerging talents, and where new collections and products are launched. On our visit in January, we spotted a hand-held beer frothier, which works like a milk frothier, but helps create more foam for beer.

Another gem we spotted was British designer Richard Brendon's collection of tea cups. But these are no ordinary ones. While browsing through vintage markets, Mr Brendon came across vintage saucers and began collecting them. "Unlike saucers, tea cups are more easily damaged, so often they are thrown away, but the saucers are left behind," he said. To make the tea set complete, his tea cups come with a mirrored finish, so the same patterns on the saucers are now reflected on the tea cups. His booth drew many curious visitors, but unfortunately he was not at the Asian show.

One brand which was at both the Parisian and Asian show is Delightfull. Its lamps, one of which resembles a bunch of trumpets joined together, are currently distributed in Singapore through W Atelier. We met design and brand manager Diogo Carvalho earlier in Paris; he was at the Asian show "because the rhythm of work in Europe is slow, and Singapore is so fast paced. I'm curious about the Asian market". His goal is to meet Asian architects and interior designers to create bespoke pieces for their clients.

In contrast, the Asian show does not have themed halls, but exhibitors are split into three large categories: luxury furnishings, contemporary furnishings and retail accessories.

Nearly 30 per cent of the exhibitors at the Asian show are regional, and half of them have never exhibited in Paris.

Philippe Brocart, managing director of Maison&Objet, said Singapore was picked among other Asian cities because "design is welcomed here. We wanted to pick a place where there was a strong focus on arts, design, architecture and culture."

Unlike the Parisian show which is held twice a year, the Asian show will be held only once annually. Mr Brocat hopes to grow the number of Asian exhibitors to 50 per cent in three to five years' time.

When asked what makes Maison&Objet so successful, Mr Broact says it is because "of our creative exhibitors". He wants his exhibitors to do well, and his team will even give recommendations on how exhibitors should display their products, their branding, and even the layout of the booths.

"But more importantly, the show is where you can have everything you need in a home all under one roof, and these are all brands with well-known profiles," said Mr Brocat. "So instead of visiting five or six specialised shows, Maison&Objet becomes a one-stop place."

Case in point: Japanese manufacturer Citizen Watch introduced its new watch Q&Q SmileSolar Series, which runs on solar power. It was the only watch booth at the Asian show. It was also at the Parisian show in January, alongside other brands in a hall which catered more to gift items. Katsunobu Shimizu, who heads Citizen Watch's global marketing division, said he hopes to find other distributors apart from those who are already with the company. "Maybe a bookstore, museum or a gift shop," he said. Interest in the watches has been "good". While declining to give too many details, he added that he is in negotiations with a local retailer to "create a series of personalised watches".

Nicolas Bigot, director of commercial export for La Rochere glassware, was kept on his toes since day one. La Rochere, which was founded in 1475, is the oldest glassware manufacturer in Europe. Buyers had constantly dropped in on his booth. "A lot of contact has been made," said Mr Bigot, including one with a major retailer in Singapore. "In Paris, there are lots of Japanese buyers, but here, I get to meet more people from South-east Asia."

Just like the Parisian show, the Asian show had a Designer of the Year award given to a deserving individual. British designer Tom Dixon is Maison&Objet Paris' Designer of the Year, while Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue picked up the Asian award. Mr Cobonpue is best known for his collection of outdoor furniture that still uses traditional weaving methods. "The award gives recognition to Asian designers rather than just recognising Asia as a region for manufacturing," he said.

About 14,000 visitors pre-registered for the fair, and there certainly will be more next year: organiser Salons Francais Et Internationaux announced that it will take up more halls for the show next year.

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