The official trend theme of the September 2008 edition of Maison&Objet was “Simple”. The
goal, according to a press conference held with members of the Maison&Objet Observatoire,
was to showcase “living with humble elegance.” While each trend stand showcased plenty of
product, each of the three presentations also raised questions about the complex issues
of access, sustainability and other not-so-simple contemporary dilemmas.
First stop was Elizabeth Leriche’s FarmLife installation, where the smells of hay, soil
and growing plants made for a distinctly earthy experience. The sounds of clucking and
pecking chickens added to the transporting effect.
According to Leriche, “The Simple theme was chosen because we [the Obsevatoire members]
believe that after several seasons of very decorative, very detailed designs, we are all
ready to return to simpler things.”
History shows that there is nothing “simple” about that lifestyle and Leriche
acknowledges that it is, in some sense, a “Utopian dream of city dwellers”, which
explains the display featuring the urban chicken coop. But she insists it is important to
“build a relationship again between design and function, not just design as decoration.”
Throughout her presentation Leriche touches on some of highly-charged issues at the core
of this trend, contrasting the 1970’s back-to-nature movement, which was about
contesting technical progress, with today’s approach, which uses technology to save and
rehabilitate nature. She also questions whether it’s better for land to be more
profitable economically, given that we’re facing a global food crisis; or ecologically,
given that we’re facing a global water and pollution crisis.
Next up was Slow Tech, François Bernard’s installation that emphasized “soft, fluid
technologies” and “heavy, peaceful forms.” For many of the items he chose to showcase,
the focus was on those displayed the manufacturing process complete with welding marks,
molding seams and connecting elements. In terms of the overall look, his presentation was
radically different than the all-white vision he presented in January, however, it was
evident that he was thinking about many of the same issues, the inability to hide behind
pattern or color and the concept of “purity of design.”
Indeed, reading his rather lengthy introduction at the entrance, it seemed as if Bernard
was genuinely upset with much of the design and production innovation of the past 5-7
years. He railed against “the vulgar aesthetic of contemporary baroque” and the
inability of the contemporary home to truly provide a haven for rest, relaxation and
contemplation. In his view, the restlessness of many products now available-those that
morph and change depending on personal whims-discourages the ability to develop individual
taste. Bernard raised many interesting points, but unlike the pastoral hopefulness of
Leriche’s installation, the mood in Bernard’s was anxious and uncertain.
The most confusing presentation was Metropuritans, developed by the Nelly Rodi agency.
The language and positioning of the trend seemed clear. There is a late 20s to early 40s
urban consumer, who strives toward an eco-lifestyle as a moral imperative; and that this
group is often evangelical in their calling to convert others to the salvation offered by
organic, ethical consumption. The visual aspect of the presentation came across as
muddled. While some of the products clearly fit the strict standards of elegant
minimalism required by Metropuritians, other products seemed to confuse the message and
overall the feeling in the stand felt dark, cramped and claustrophobic, which
contradicted the purity of the message.
So, while at first glance, the concept of “Simple” with its underlying themes of living
lightly, ethical and moral costs of consumption and eco-conscienceness are neither all
that new or that radical, it does clearly indicate the pendulum swing away from the
ornate embellishments and decorative flourishes that have been at the forefront of design
for the past five years or so. What is more significant than any stylistic changes will be
the long-term impact of the issues behind “Simple”, and how well and how quickly the
design industry responds.
Contributed by Susan Schultz.
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