It’s not easy pinning Ito Kish down when he is in Manila, so imagine setting up a last-minute catch-up with him in Paris. “Where are you staying? Let’s get a meal!” he messaged. “I am staying near Gare de l’Est.”
I have no idea where that is, and there is no time to find out. The designer is in the City of Lights for a mere three days, two of which are dedicated to exploring the offerings at Maison & Objet Paris, one of the biggest design fairs in the world, if not the most respected. Kish and I keep making plans to meet, but alas, our schedules wouldn’t allow it. It would’ve been great to explore the exhibition halls with him, I thought, but I was busy with interviews and he was busy with buying.
It’s not easy making last-minute plans during M&O season. The twice-yearly fair is such a huge event that one can be in the exhibition area in its entire six-day run and not see everything. If you’ve been going to our own Manila FAME, multiply the size of that by eight and you have an idea of the amount of furniture, home décor, lighting fixtures, even fashion accessories, that awaits. With 3,000 brands on show, and 2,000 exhibitors divided into eight gigantic halls, it can be a lot, with each exhibitor trying to take your eye away from the next booth. There’s the Ritz mimicking its own hotel lobby and façade. There’s a multi-label company that set up an entire barn-like atmosphere complete with an acoustic performer crooning something out of Joni Mitchell. There are walls of Slim Aarons’ luscious photographs of poolside holidays, courtesy of the Getty Images booth. There are the fantastically furnished showrooms of luxury houses like Ungaro, Missoni and Cavalli. An assault to the senses, if you don’t come prepared, or if you’re unsure of what you’re after.
“Follow the red carpet,” Regina Chan, director of Maison & Objet Asia Pacific, tells me as we stride inward to Hall 7 under whose roof is a mix of established upscale brands—situated on the right—and innovative design labels—which are on the left. “But more interesting is going into the small lanes in the middle,” Chan continues. “All those small companies in the middle, they are really exclusive ateliers, like maybe a marble sculptor from France or Geneva.”
The booths are thoughtfully zoned, so that one isn’t looking at, say, upholstery and carpets for the length of an aisle. Everything is carefully mixed. “And there’s no one like the French to mix things together,” says Chan. “They just know how to mix and match, how to pick, it’s in their DNA.”
To be in Paris for the sole reason of attending a design show in the vastness that is the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Center, a 45-minute drive away from the city proper, posts a dilemma whether you’re a reporter like me or a buyer like Kish. How do you dedicate one or two days to looking at chairs and lamps, without feeling like you’re missing some of the action in the central (late January is also Fashion Week!), or the opportunity of seeing the Versailles? We are in the most beautiful city in the world, for heaven’s sake.
But the 20-year-old event didn’t land its present stature as one of the most important design destinations if it didn’t have the goods to offer. Many of the biggest entities in interiors and architecture make it a point to be part of the biannual show. Names like Frank Gehry (did you know he’s put his name on tufted rugs?), Lladro, Lalique, and Alessi grace the occasion, and so do up-and-coming brands that are increasingly being talked about in the design universe.
Some of Manila’s tastemakers make it a part of their yearly itinerary, finding in the fair an incredible source of home accoutrements that would suit their abodes, their hotel projects, their stores. My host Chiqui Veneracion tells me Ben Chan was there last January, as well as buyers from Rustan’s. Bianca Zobel, who I met at the fair’s VIP lounge Le Club, unmade up and with her luggage still in tow, was looking for tableware to add to her merchandise in Lanai, her store in Pasong Tamo Extension’s Karrivin Alley. “I always look forward to seeing the new styles,” she tells me in Manila. “Although I didn’t see that many new things in this last M&O. Maybe I’ll check out the September one and see if there’s a difference.”
Being at M&O affords a greater chance of bringing home objects that are less likely to show up in other residential projects or competing establishments. And I imagine it should be worth the trip even if one’s only desire is to find inspiration. With its lineup of discussions, Maison & Objet is also where one keeps abreast of what’s happening in the world of industrial design.
Eric Paras makes it a point to visit every so often. “Maison & Objet has more flair, and is a good source for inspiration and trend-spotting,” says the designer. “It is the great influencer in global trends in design and lifestyle.”
Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre of the stores Firma and ac+632 have been going once or twice a year for the past 15 years. “We like this show more than others because the exhibitors are carefully chosen and they make an effort to have special exhibits of upcoming talents from around the world as well as from established design icons,” Toledo says. He makes special mention of the M&O trend observatory, which this year heralds the concept of silence as a major influencer in design in the months and years to come, a reaction to a continuously noisy global atmosphere. “It’s always spot on in capturing the zeitgeist, providing trend inspirations without being too literal or dictatorial in its approach. Instead of just prescribing colors or shapes for the season, it fires the imagination so as to open up a world of infinite possibilities.”
To someone like me who doesn’t exactly have a house to build or a store to replenish, M&O is a great learning experience. And being able to still see the Louvre even briefly at the end of the day isn’t such a bad deal. In previous years, there have been satellite shows in Miami and Singapore but the organizers decided to pull all of its efforts into just this one event late last year. Which for many makes the most sense. “Paris, of course, where the art and joy of living thrive, is the perfect host for this show,” says Toledo.
“M&O is a good source of creativity, ideas, and the fact that it’s in Paris is a bonus,” Kish tells me when I ask him in Manila why he comes to the fair.
On the afternoon of his last day in Paris, he and I continued to exchange messages. Maybe a late-night drink? Maybe very early breakfast before his flight to Copenhagen? None of these materialized. I was just glad he was able to squeeze in a visit to the Eiffel Tower, which, despite his many trips to the city, he says he has not really seen at night. He sends me a picture of it from his hotel, the structure’s lighted silhouette burning magnificently against the evening sky. I make a mental note to, like Zobel, make sure I make it to the M&O in September.