Exhibition-eering (posted 8th September 2017)

Ditch the heels, get the trainers out, London exhibition season is upon us!

I always people-watch in awe at some of the shows when I see some remarkable items of footwear, knowing how many miles have to be covered to justify the visit. I will take my breaks and observe the faces of the high-heeled and try and catch the nuance of pain, the flinch of each step, the flashes of regret, but these are well seasoned exibitioneers, they display no discomfort.


Me? I dress down for the day and then wonder why people on the high brow stands barely give me the time of day. It’s like that Pretty Woman moment, I test them and see if they pay me any attention and then when they don’t I’ll flash my ‘Director’ badge in the hope that it will convey my (admittedly quite limited) buying power. They might hear me mutter “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.” Unfortunately I don’t look like Julia Roberts. Or have Richard Gere’s credit card.


A recent trip to Maison et Objet had Helen and I wandering onto a very pretentious stand where to get into the enclosed display you had to get past the bouncers, a bit ‘if you ain’t on the list, you ain’t coming in’ but said in French Cockney, of course.


Once on the stand they had hefty bruisers at the corner of each room. A little disconcerting to say the least. Especially when, at the point you get your phone out to take a snap of something beautiful that catches your eye, they swoop down on you like you are paparazzi, and give you the ‘don’t take photos, luv’ spiel. Again, in French but in my memory they now have proper east end accents. Blame my overactive, story-telling imagination. In the olden days they’d have opened the back of your 35mm camera and exposed the film, taking great joy in unravelling the whole spool in front of you. I’m exaggerating slightly, it was a bit less James Bond and a bit more up-itself night club but you get the gist.

It was a bit of a confusing PR decision to my mind, what with the power of social media and the potential loss of free publicity at the hands of Twitter-ers and Insta-ers (is that a thing or have I just made that up? Gram-ers?) by not allowing people to take shots and tag them. The most successful stands were gathering hundreds of hashtags and upping their media presence simply by allowing people to take photos. We walked off this over protective stand (voluntarily, I might add, we didn’t get forcibly removed, though it was close) with a substantially lower opinion of the brand than when we tried to get in. I’m not sure they are going to be that bothered by us veto-ing them, but maybe they should be. Big Mistake and all that.

So, back to the comfortable shoes. Approaching any interiors event or exhibition with a ‘must see it all’ attitude is destined for blisters. Twenty plus years of experience of shows has taught me several things, top of the list is the necessity of picking and choosing what you are going to look at (close second on the list is to avoid shows in the NEC that have hundreds of mattress and divan bed stands).

For the smaller shows, absolutely see it all (those halcyon days of 100% Design when it was in a marquee on the Kings Road, I’m showing my age). Smaller shows tend to have smaller brands, new start ups, one man bands doing something interesting and innovative, little gems and nuggets of product that you can fall in love with. Decorex is doable (there’s a tag line, they’ll be knocking on my door for that one), enjoyable, just the right size. But for the big shows, the Maison & Objets, the Salone del Mobile, anything at all in more than one hall at the NEC or Excel, then develop the ability to walk and scan simultaneously. Pity the poor wretches on the stands, but don’t ever show them your weakness, don’t meet their eyes, they’ll pounce and have you wasting half an hour on a green bidet or a super lux lazy boy chair that you wouldn’t specify in a million years.


Plan your route round, and maybe forward plan it better than the typical ‘shall we do left to right or up and down’ conversation as you enter the hall. My suggestion, and I’m only half joking, is to focus your attention on the VIP bar and work in figures of eight around that, passing it several times on your journey. Better still, take advantage of all the design events that centre around participating retail brands and outlets on design oriented high streets, not just trogging up and down aisles of some anonymous air-hanger sized space with no windows. Look at the seminars and events to get an insight in to what other people are doing and where they are looking forward to with regards interiors trends. Intersperse your day of clocking up your 10,000+ with a couple of bars and restaurants, the interiors of which can sometimes be as inspiring as the retailers and suppliers.

Another recommendation is don’t do the same shows each year, let them take it in turns for your attention, all the better to see some form of innovation every second or third year. Do one or two shows a year. Throw in a curve ball, visit Cersaie or IMM Cologne, or ISH Frankfurt, go off piste and look at something outside your sector, go to London Fashion Week for some runway inspiration on colours and textures, add in some visits to art, design and interior graduate degree shows in the Summer.


And if in doubt about how well received you might be in a pair of Converse, then take your heels in your bag. All the better to pull them out, put them on and mutter Big Mistake. Big. Huge. Bear in mind that you might look a little nuts doing this, and that if the recipient of your Julia Roberts impression is less than 30 years old then they won’t have the foggiest idea what you are talking about. And, of course,  if you’re of the male variety, then I would recommend steering clear of impressions of 80’s streetwalkers completely.


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