For many in New York’s design world (this editor included), the mid-March postponement of the AD Design Show was a wake-up call to the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. Until then, COVID had felt like a distant problem. Then, all of a sudden, it was in New York, it was everywhere, and the cancellations came tumbling in. As it turns out, the postponement of the 2020 show also marked the last edition of the fair—kind of.
In 2021, from September 9 to 12, the organizers behind the AD Design Show will launch a similar version of the festival with a new name: the NY Luxury Design Fair (the licensing partnership with Architectural Digest is no more). The concept—bringing together high-end appliance companies with luxury brands and buzzy makers—will carry on, but there are other big changes afoot. The event will move from Pier 94 to the Javits Center, where it will collocate with The Armory Show (a blue chip art fair also thrown by the division of TheMart that puts on trade shows).
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for TheMart to present two of our real premier shows that are produced here in New York at the same time in the same place,” says Michael Rabatin, the new managing director of the NY Luxury Design Fair. “[The rebrand] will launch where this is going to go for the next 20 years.”
The move is not COVID-inspired, says Rabatin. In fact, it had been in the works for several years, as planned renovations to Pier 94 prompted the producers to consider a new location. With a change in venue came an opportunity for synergy with The Armory Show, and a chance to rebrand the fair. By severing the partnership with Architectural Digest, TheMart sheds the licensing fee it paid to Condé Nast. It also, says Rabatin, gives the show more room to maneuver when pitching media coverage for its exhibitors.
“Our most successful shows, like the Armory Show and NeoCon, always share what the show is about with all media partners, with every writer, with all magazines,” he tells Business of Home. “The model of working with one singular media partner just isn’t how we work best.”
Of course, reintroducing attendees to more or less the same show under a different name is a marketing challenge of its own—though Rabatin seemed confident it would be a fairly easy sell to exhibitors, even without AD’s imprimatur (on a Zoom conversation with BOH, Rabatin’s cell phone rang in the background—the ringtone was the theme song to HBO’s Succession). The complete desolation of 2020’s events calendar, he says, has made brands ravenous to get in front of designers and consumers in person. By September 2021—knock on wood—it should be safe enough to make that happen.
“Really fast signed contracts [is the reaction we’ve been having from exhibitors],” says Rabatin. “We’re hearing: ‘Oh, my god, we’re so thrilled that you’re going to have an in-person event!’ … Some of these makers and independent designers just aren’t finding any platforms to get exposure. Certainly they’re on Instagram, but what I've heard from makers is that people would come to the show to get discovered. That kind of profile and exposure is something they can’t find in a lot of other places.”
Which isn’t to say COVID will have no effect on the new show. Originally, the space afforded by the Javits Center would have given the NY Luxury Design Fair more or less the same room for exhibitors as it had at Pier 94. However, Rabatin says that the safety measures in place mean that aisles will have to be wider, meaning that the show will host 300 vendors this year (as opposed to the 400 planned for 2020).
Going forward, he is hopeful that the new show can expand both in size and in scope. It’s early, and many of the details for 2021’s iteration are still coming together, but he’s hopeful that in the future the fair will include a cooking pavilion, more activations and programming, and opportunities for crossover with The Armory Show.
Echoing a sentiment that will likely be familiar to any attendee who has sludged through spring snowbanks to get to Pier 94, he’s also looking forward to hosting a fair in September. “March has its weather,” he says. “I think one thing we can guarantee is no snow.”
Homepage photo: A rendering of the future fair’s presence at Javits Center | Courtesy of the NY Luxury Design Fair