trade shows | May 22, 2024 |
What did we learn from New York’s design week?

The mushroom-leather lamps are being packed up at the Javits Center; showrooms are stashing away their plastic cups and white wine; and design editors are frantically racing against their deadlines. There’s still technically one more day to go, but it’s safe to call it a wrap on New York’s design week.

New York is undeniably a power center in the international design scene, but its annual celebration has a somewhat up-and-down history. The official festival, NYCxDesign, has gone through several changes in recent years, including a conversion to 501(c)(3) status in 2023. Meanwhile its central show, ICFF, has been fighting its way back from the ravages of Covid and morphing—through its merger with the edgier Wanted fair—into something new.

Add to all that the tough sledding for the home industry, and the eternal refrain (“How can it compare to Salone?”) and you have the ingredients for a muted celebration. But this year’s festivities felt anything but. While business still may be well off from the peak of the pandemic boom, the vibes were good: Debuts were intriguing, attendees were buzzing, and parties spilled out onto the streets.

The joke this year was that “design week” didn’t feel right for a series of events that stretched on almost a month. The festival was technically centered around ICFF this past weekend, but some brands were hosting events as early as the first week in May (Backdrop’s dinner to celebrate a collab with Xavier Donnelly made a splash with a limoncello-spouting ice sculpture a full 11 days before ICFF opened its doors). More time for more events is hardly a bad thing. But the festivities coming at the end of an already busy season that, for some, included trips to Milan, North Carolina and Los Angeles, meant that for a few attendees, fatigue hit harder than FOMO.

What did we learn from New York’s design week?
A booth at the 2024 edition of ICFFJenna Bascom Photography

This will be remembered as the year that directors Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat made ICFF fully their own. The fair boasted a new visual identity, including a blocky brutalist logo that felt of a piece with the decision to do away with carpeting in the aisles, laying bare the Javits Center’s concrete floors. The decision was motivated by sustainability concerns, but it also gave the show a more raw, edgy feel that matched the mix of vendors. Makers and independent brands seemed to dominate the floor—several told Business of Home that it was their favorite ICFF yet. Meanwhile, students from design schools presented their work, and industrial designers were on hand to chitchat about material innovation to passersby. Though ICFF’s owner, Emerald Expositions, would surely welcome a few more tentpole brands to anchor the show, it was the most cohesive and energized fair since the Covid shutdown. Emerald reported a slight uptick in attendance (13,000, up 8 percent from 2023), but more importantly it seemed to be the right people: Several brand owners told BOH they were connecting with real customers—not always a given at a show that attracts design-hungry consumers as well as the trade.

Lots of product popped at ICFF (BOH editors loved Heller’s new Fortune chair, rugs by Jensin Okunishi Studio and wallpaper by Minna), but one of the show’s intriguing themes was design-savvy acoustical treatments. Liora Manné’s “Superbloom” exhibition—which won an award from the Female Design Council—featured sound-absorbing upcycled textiles that shimmered like an impressionist watercolor. Canadian studio Molo made a statement near the show’s entrance with several soaring room sets in its signature sound-absorbing accordion-folded paper walls—this time in pink and gold. Meanwhile New Zealand designer Emma Hayes’s collaboration with Autex Acoustics brought high design to acoustic panels, a product category typically known more for function than form.

What did we learn from New York’s design week?
The Molo booth at the 2024 ICFFJenna Bascom Photography

This year, the can’t-miss industry events had big downtown energy. Though ICFF is the attendance magnet, off-site exhibitions, activations and high-production-value parties dominated the Instagram Story–scape. Collective Jonalddudd held its annual independent exhibition at a former SoHo sex shop, and Athena Calderone hosted cocktails to celebrate a Beni Rugs collab in her soon-to-be-redecorated-and-then-obsessed-over Tribeca apartment, while lighting magicians Apparatus hosted a party where guests would be turned away if they were wearing a color other than red, white or black. At the new showroom Quarters—one of the breakout stars of the week—a party got loud enough that neighbors called the police.

BOH has covered the slow-motion invasion of Italian brands in the U.S. market over the past five years. This season’s festivities felt like a fast-forward moment. Brands from Natuzzi to Salvatori to Artemest hosted events, while Poltrona Frau unveiled a new flagship with a Cappellini location built in, hot on the heels of the Flos B&B Italia Group opening doors at its big Madison Avenue location.

Notable for their absence: Big Tech. Not too long ago, it seemed that brands felt obligated to nod to crypto when releasing a rug; more recently, a vague allusion to AI is the move. To be sure, there were a few panels on artificial intelligence, but attendees were not greeted at every showroom with AI-designed sofas or fabrics, and NFTs were scarce. Trame, a Paris-based company that uses generative algorithms to formulate designs that are then executed by traditional artisans, showed at ICFF; still, the focus was as much on the end result as the process.

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