Interior design is big business, and no one knows this better than SAFI, the organizers of Maison & Objet—a preeminent interior décor fair that has been a highlight on international art and design events calendars since it was first held in 1995. Taking place in January and September every year, the Paris event draws more than 3,000 furniture design leaders and over 85,000 visitors. Given its international appeal, Maison & Objet is debuting an Asian edition in Singapore scheduled for March 10-13, 2014, which is bound to attract buyers from across China.
Name-brand furnishings from Europe are still prized above their international counterparts among Chinese luxury consumers, with Italy leading the pack despite a scandal in 2011 when domestically produced furnishings from DaVinci Furniture Ltd were sold with a “made in Italy” mark. Nonetheless, China’s elite is increasingly turning to Italian brands, such as B&B, Boffi, and Minotti, much to the delight of retailers.
Though many have traditionally gone through Chinese retailers and agents to showcase their brand, believing that it’s an easier way to gain knowledge of the local market, more brands are opening on their own. This year alone, over 100 Italian furniture brands have opened shop in China, and there are many more eager to come, given hot items can sell for up to 10 times more than they would in Europe.
Manufacturers from Germany, the UK, France, and Spain, as well as an onslaught of Scandinavian designers also round out the pack. European furniture brands are vying for Asian buyers to support the trade, which generates approximately €126 million, according to The European Commission. Furniture brands see Maison & Objet Asia to be the gateway to the mainland market and a chance to gain brand awareness among Chinese buyers.
With the continued economic slowdown in both European and North American markets, luxury retailers have turned their gaze toward Chinese and Asian markets. “Asia is today one the most important and dynamic areas for our business,” says Philippe Brocart, CEO of Maison & Objet. And the figures support his claim. Of the 31,000 international visitors at the January 2013 show, 15 percent were from Asia and the number remained strong in the subsequent September 2013 show at 13 percent. More Asian attendees are expected for the upcoming Paris show, scheduled for January 24-28, 2014.
The reaction to Maison & Objet Asia has been good—of the 200 brands expected, 187 have already registered. While organizers don’t allot numbers to exhibitors based on geographic regions, they’re expecting around 20 percent to be Asian companies, of which there are seven booths from China. The vast majority of exhibitors will be international companies eagerly looking to reach Asian markets, and Chinese consumers in particular.
Taking place in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, the fair will take an Asian slant. In line with the Paris show, a Designer of the Year will be honored for their contribution to Asian design. “To me, Maison & Objet Asia will be a good platform for the professionals in the Asia region to get in touch with the international design scene,” says Edith Wong of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hong Kong. The Chamber has been connecting local visitors and exhibitors from Hong Kong and China to the fair since it first started.
Though the fair is of French origin, the Chamber is clear that it’s not focused on French design alone. “I really feel that there is no geographical boundary in design,” says Edith. “For example, I see some European designers incorporating elements from the traditional Asian culture. So to me, Maison & Objet Asia will be a good platform for professionals in Asia to get in touch with the international design scene.” Considered to be a global platform where trends are made and broken, Maison & Objet has all eyes on them as they turn their gaze toward new frontiers.