As well as creating a hub for the industry, Downtown Design in Dubai is also a rare chance for the general public to take a glimpse at how some of the world’s top names work, writes Selina Denman.
A design for life
Even if you only have a passing interest in design, if you find yourself at a loose end today, make a point of visiting Downtown Design, a four-day exhibition brought to you by the organisers of Design Days. You’ll be exposed to the work of iconic Italian brands such as Poltrona Frau and Cappellini, Scandinavian stalwarts such as Muuto, relative newcomers such as Discipline and niche brands such as Cykno, whose high-design electric bicycles, or PUVS (personal utility vehicles), are stealing the show.
The first edition of the show has gathered 40 leading design brands within a custom-built exhibition space at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. The show has both a trade and consumer focus but today, the final day, is dedicated to the general public.
It’s a broad but intimate affair. From high-end Persian carpets to vamped-up shisha sets, there’s a whole gamut of design represented here, but unlike many similar shows, it’s small enough not to be overwhelming.
“This is a small fair, but the objective is really to position Dubai as a catalyst for design, as a global hub for design in the region and, especially, a meeting point for the design industry all over the world,” says Cristina Romelli Gervasoni, the fair director.
“Our selection was driven by quality. All the brands here have a common ground: they are all driven by quality. We have selected renowned companies from all around the world and we have so many firsts. We have Vitra exhibiting for the first time in the region; we have the whole Poltrona Frau Group, with Cassina, Capellini and Poltrona Frau, exhibiting all their brands at the same time; we have other major brands like Emeco, and brands selected from around the world that are making their debuts in Dubai, like the Chinese-Italian brand, Chi Wing Lo.”
Another first is the presence of the Temporary Museum for New Design. Established in 2001 by the Superstudio Group, the temporary museum is a highlight of the Milan Furniture Fair and was launched to showcase “new brands, new designers, new ideas [and] new tendencies”, explains Gisella Borioli, the CEO of the Superstudio Group and artistic director of the Temporary Museum. This is the first time that the “museum” is making an appearance outside of Italy, and its exhibits include the sinuous Ink chair by Rita Rijillo and mammoth monochrome sculptures by Slide Art.
“I love Dubai,” says the effusive Borioli. “I came here eight years ago and I fell in love immediately. I find Dubai exciting; I see the future, I see the beauty, I like the mix of races and nationalities; I like it very much. Dubai is now ready for these kinds of products. Not 10 years ago; but now, yes.”
The calibre of Downtown Design can perhaps best be judged by the number of high-profile visitors in attendance. International designers and architects such as Ora Ito, Pauline Deltour and Roberto Palomba have all been sharing their wisdom as part of the event’s packed speaker programme. Giulio Cappellini, the art director of Cappellini, and the man credited with discovering some of the best-known designers of our time, is also to be found in attendance, and has emerged as one of the event’s staunchest supporters.
“Coming from depressed Italy, we see that here in Dubai there is a lot of energy,” he says. ”I think it is the right moment here in Dubai to promote international design, to show local designers but also to the end consumer, what, really, is design. Sometimes, people buy copies or bad design products because they don’t know the originals. This is a really very interesting possibility on one side to show products and on the other side, with all the lectures and talks, to explain to people what’s behind these products.”
It might seem like an unlikely mix – techno music and Persian carpets – but Hossein Rezvani has never been one to stand on ceremony. So when he came across a poster for a techno event in Berlin, he was struck by its abstract, psychedelic patterning and used it as the inspiration for one of his latest carpet designs, Electric, which is currently on show at Downtown Design. He scaled back the pattern and hemmed it in with an intricate border, creating a striking design that perfectly represents the brand’s mission to create high-quality Persian carpets with a contemporary twist. There’s no compromise on quality, though – Hossein Rezvani carpets are made using the highest-quality Persian wool, and his latest pieces have a silk content of up to 40 per cent.
Gaia & Gino
We love how Gaia & Gino products redefine contemporary Turkish design. Whether it’s hookah pipes designed by the likes of Karim Rashid and Jaime Hayon, or oversized vases sporting the evil eye and emblazoned with Swarovski crystals, the brand’s designs are eye-catching but also whimsical and fun. Gaia & Gino has (deservedly, we may add) garnered prestigious awards around the world, from IDEA, Red Dot Design, Design Plus, Good Design, the BOY Award and Design Management Europe, and is presenting a selection of its most popular pieces at Downtown Design.
The three high-backed armchairs that greet you at the Atelier AK stand are all crafted from camel leather; as are the shoes, bags and wall panels adorning the stand. The marketing division of Abu Dhabi’s Al Khaznah tannery, one of the world’s most sophisticated and state-of-the-art leather-producing facilities, is trying to educate visitors on the myriad possibilities presented by this relatively underappreciated material. “We are showcasing all the potential applications of our camel leather,” explains Jean Marie Gigante, general manager of Atelier AK. Check it out – you might be surprised.
Craftsmanship at The Workshop
The show is worth visiting for this installation alone. Two Danish master craftsmen have been flown in to demonstrate exactly what kind of skill and hard work goes into creating those iconic chairs that we all love so much. They have been busy creating masterpieces like Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair and Hans Wegner’s Wishbone, by brands such as Carl Hansen & Son, Republic of Fritz Hansen and Louis Poulsen, on the show floor, in a workshop-type environment scattered with material samples and tools. It’s a fascinating insight into the design process.
A relatively young brand, Discipline is already available in 27 countries around the world. Combining timeless Scandinavian design with a touch of Italian flair, the brand aims to create “beautifully designed, consciously made furniture”. Pieces, which range from tables and stools to desk organisers and trays, are made out of natural materials such as wood, cork, copper and glass. On show are the delightfully simple Cup Table, which was designed by Ichiro Iwasaki and crafted out of blown glass, the unimaginably comfortable Pocket Chair, and the brand new D Bag, which was designed by emerging French designer Pauline Deltour, one of the hot new talents being showcased in the Nouvelle Vague exhibition.
• Downtown Design is open from 12 noon until 6pm. Tickets can be bought at the door. For more information, visit www.downtowndesign.com
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