17 March 2020
Buoyant Ambiente Event Enjoys the Calm Before the Coronavirus Storm
Arguably one of the last of this year's major international trade shows to take place before the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak became apparent, the 2020 Ambiente expo showcased the consumer-goods industry in seemingly fine fettle.
"2020 Looks Good" was the slogan of this year's Ambiente, the Frankfurt-held event that bills itself as "the world's leading trade fair for consumer goods". While subsequent events may have made its slogan look, at best, ironic, back in early February few would have faulted its upbeat sentiment.
Prior to the official opening, a spokesperson for event organiser Messe Frankfurt said: "Private consumption, in Germany at least, is both robust and at a high level. Overall, we remain confident that retail sales will continue on their upward trend."
This confidence was also clearly shared by many of the German wholesalers and larger retailers that dominated the event's front halls. Further back in the show, within the subsidiary halls, though, it was fair to say that many of the smaller retailers and suppliers were a little more subdued.
With, apparently, almost half the visitors to the event attending to get an insight into coming industry trends, it was no surprise that the Ambiente Trends presentation by Studio Stilburo bora.herke.palmisano – a Frankfurt-based design studio and industry trends analyst – was, once again, packed.
The Studio, Ambiente's forecaster of choice for many years now, identified three key trends – Shaped+Softened, Precise+Architectural and Artistical+Diverse – that it saw as likely to have a considerable influence over the coming months. It was also at pains to illustrate each of the key trends with reference to particular products available at the 2020 event.
In essence, the Studio maintained Shaped+Softened represented a tendency towards soft shapes and emphatic contours in furniture and tableware. Introducing the look, Designer and Studio Founder Anneta Palmisano said: "These sculptural contours first emerged in fashion, courtesy of such designers as Usha Doshi and the Cos brand, before they then went mainstream in the consumer sector.
"Overall, the look is characterised by voluminous cups, bowls and jugs, all of which rest on tables with organic tactile surfaces. The materials of choice here are linen, felt, light woods and satin glass, typically in combination with translucent fibres and diaphanous pleats and folds, while the colours tend to be neutral shades of grey and white, sometimes warm and sometimes cool."
By contrast, Precise+Architectural was seen as having more of an industrial feel. This is highlighted by dark and muted colours – brick red, blackened wood, rusty and leathery brown tones – all used in combination with stark, essential geometric forms.
Focusing on this look, Claudia Herke, another of the Studio's Founding Partners, said: "Here, the muted colours create an atmosphere of classic style and intrinsic value, with its focus on the architectural and the constructed coupled with a certain understatement.
"Typical materials here are glass, steel, bronze and terrazzo, while textiles favour such traditional redoubts as corduroy and tweed, leather and velour. The results are cool, elegant and often slightly Techno."
The third trend, Artistical+Diverse, meanwhile, was seen as offering vitality and diversity, with bright orange and raspberry reds combined with fresh blue and honey tones. Overall, the style was described as "creative and experimental", with the capacity to "turn a living space into a personal collage".
Trend-spotting, though, is clearly an art rather than an exact science, with other design teams clearly free to offer their own interpretation as to where various consumer sectors are heading. Among the many offering their own individual take this year was the Future Thinkers, a loose association of staff and students from the southern Netherlands' Fontys University of Applied Sciences.
Outlining the group's approach, Project Co-ordinator Sanne Aalbers said: "With the world changing at an ever-more rapid pace, we've set out to see where it's heading." In order to deliver on this, she and her four associates sift through the design world to identify developments likely to prove to be the most influential of the next five-10 years. After analysing the content of the Interior Design section of this year's show, the team singled out three particular trends – Interwoven, Radical Escape and Unchain the Rebel.
Interwoven revolves around the concept of humans as part of a balanced ecosystem. A typical product here would be the MiMi Pod – a papier-mâché container for the ashes of pets, which, once buried, will not only rapidly degrade, but will also bloom into new life courtesy of a number of embedded products. The pod is part of range of similar items available from Japan's Ichino.
A second example of this particular trend came courtesy of Formgatan, a Stockholm-based design studio, specialising in the creation of ocean-inspired ornamentation fashioned from recycled glass. The company also produces cork coasters and handmade recycled polyester rugs.
Taking a similar approach – and providing a third example – the group cited Vicara, a Portuguese designer of glassware moulded from the hollow core of the carob tree. Outlining its particular appeal, Ilsea Karssenberg, a member of the collective, said: "Combining the natural shape of a growing tree with something truly useful, it perfectly embodies the Interwoven concept."
The second highlighted trend was Radical Escape, a style that represents a departure, if only fleetingly, from social media and the general information overload that characterises 21st-century life. This was, apparently, embodied in Versatile Vagabonds, a modular bag and storage system that doubles as a stylish coat. This was a new work by designer Shaumei Yao and is available from Frankfurt-based Airbag Craftworks.
Eulogising its appeal, Research Partner Ilsea Karssenberg said: "Everything is in one place, so it fits the nomad lifestyle – going anywhere and being at home there. This is very much a tool to help you escape."
The Fontys' Futurists third trend was Unchain the Rebel, a phenomenon that sees adults released from the trap of their expectations, freeing them to have fun again. The prime examples of this, according to researcher Anna Gehlen, was Mayamot, a range of lamps dreamt up by Nikolas Miranda, a Munster-based designer. Taking its cue from stackable building blocks, buyers can create their own unique lights depending on their choice of the dozen re-arrangeable blocks on offer.
Summing up the appeal, Gehlen said: "Not only can you create desk or bedside lamps, the is also hugely playful and can help bring out your inner child."
While many big design houses had a powerful presence at the forefront of the event, the upper halls were largely reserved for the global suppliers such businesses relied on. These included stands offering rattan and bamboo from Myanmar, wooden stools and tables from Indonesia and Vietnam-sourced vases and baskets. There were also Philippines-based exhibitors offering wood and ceramic production, cane work and fabrics of Taiwan origin and a selection of distinctly Korean kitsch – notably plastic flowers and flowerpots.
On show from the sizable delegation from India, meanwhile, was a wide selection of ceramics, fabrics, fibres, glass and silverware. The mood among many of these exhibitors, though, was notably sombre. Explaining the downbeat sentiment that prevailed, one exhibitor – Pulkit Agarwal, Managing Director of Uttar Pradesh-based Trade Link Exports – said: "With the coronavirus making people afraid to buy and ship from China, this has inevitably had a knock-on effect to us.
"As India doesn't have a correspondingly vast volume of exports, many of our goods are loaded into containers in order to be shipped alongside items produced on the mainland. Now, though, many of these ships are not sailing as they are far from fully loaded. This, then, is going to cause many problems for us."
The 2020 edition of Ambiente took place from 7-11 February at the Messe Frankfurt.
John Haigh, Special Correspondent, Frankfurt