MANILA, March 16, 2004 (STAR) By Ricky Toledo And Chito Vijandre - To buy or not to buy? That is the question a consumer asks during an encounter with a coveted object of desire. But how does one keep these objects desirable for the savvy shopper? That is the question which the world’s designers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers ponder each season, particularly at this time of year when the major trade fairs for the consumer goods industry are held all over the world – from the early European and American shows in January and February to the Asian shows in April (our own FAME show will be held on April 19 to 22). The first-quarter shows are particularly crucial as they dictate the trends for the year.

So what are the trends for 2004? Many of them were already brewing by yearend of 2003 as we saw in the fairs in Milan, Paris and Florence. But there’s nothing like the excitement of the beginning of the year, so we decided to find out at Ambiente, the mother of all fairs, held in February at the Messe in Frankfurt.

The exhibition space alone was staggering: 322,000 square meters or equivalent to 45 football pitches! There are 10 buildings connected by covered walkways and bridges, some having up to five floors, grouped into major clusters: World of Interiors, World of Gifts Unlimited, and World of Table, Kitchen and Houseware. There were 4,723 companies from 87 countries peddling to 124,000 buyers. How to navigate this concrete and glass souk? Visit our friends and kababayans first, we thought.

Green, Nature And Outdoor Living

So we headed to Hall 1 where the Philippine pavilion, organized by the European Chamber of Com-merce of the Philippines (ECCP), greeted us with a fresh spring look of mint green which designer Tony Gonzales chose. Green, as you know, is one of the key colors for the year even in fashion but it has even more significance, as we later found out, with the theme of nature, wellness and the great outdoors dominating in the showings. Blue, the color of the sky, and semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli and turquoise, was also strong, with a fantastic multimedia exhibit devoted to this popular color from nature. Even the futuristic looks of yore in cold, space-age styling had morphed into more organic shapes. The right silhouettes, looks and colors were in the Philippine exhibitions, which means we are on the ball and can play in the global market place when it comes to design.

Shelmed Cottage Treasures had right-on-the-dot biomorphic dish trays and other table accessories in – you guessed it – green and other natural shades. Nature’s Legacy didn’t just have the organic shapes in their modern vases and wall installations designed by acclaimed Cebu designer Kenneth Cobonpue, they also used eco-friendly recycled grain compacted into a sturdy, versatile material. Kenneth’s vases were even featured in one of the trend-setting exhibits of the fair called "Outdoor Visions."

Tony Gonzales’ tear-drop shaped Genie Lounge chair was also in that major exhibit, another proof of the Pinoy’s being up-to-the-minute when it comes to trends. Ann Pamintuan of Gilded Expressions had new incarnations of her wrought iron furniture and accessories in nature forms, one of which, the Cocoon Chair, was an award-winning piece featured in a German design book being sold at the fair’s book shop. Of course, with our year-round tropical climate, the major trend of outdoor living comes naturally to us so we should capitalize on our advantage in this "market of the future." People are spending more time in their gardens, verandas and patios to commune with nature and even apartment dwellers extend their living spaces to their balconies as the new area where they can relax and reminisce about country holidays and island getaways. Furniture and accessories have become more versatile for both indoor and outdoor.

Focus On The Individual And Wellness

This outdoor trend is all in keeping with the natural, wellness theme and the focus on the individual in contrast to seasons past when focus was on the object. Before, it was "I am because I’m worth it." Now it’s "I am, because I enjoy." So all the exhibitionist, flashy styles of yesterday are gone, as people shift to a more intimate, discrete stance of knowing what really matters and finding the time for oneself to be happy and at peace.

This shift is apparent in purist, unadulterated forms of Orientalia, which used to be more elaborate. At Ambiente were the ascetic, Japanese style of decoration, severe black and white patterns and classic Zen aiming to illuminate the deeper meaning of things with moods and meditative settings.

Swinging Africa & Arabia

On the other end of the spectrum were the cheerful colors of Africa: Bright shades of red, yellow, orange, blue and green set clear accents and were rounded off by corresponding pastel shades from pink to mint. The Café Dakar at the fair was a popular converging place and a showcase of hip, African influences in a 1950s French slant by designer Dominique Pétot. Reena Peña of Silay Export in Negros Occidental got the colors and look right with her Africanesque ‘60s vases and placemats of orange and yellow dots.

Another side of the feel-good theme was an escape to a setting of mystery and wild abandon that recalled a thousand and one nights.

Glowing shades of orange, red and gold reached feverish proportions with heavy fabrics and elaborately decorated furnishings as exemplified by the Café Marrakesch, an oasis and escape from the hustle and bustle at the fair. There were also more disciplined versions from Nik Duysens who distilled Arabic influences to choice pieces and detailing.

Modern Country

Country style living remains highly topical with warm and leaf shades as well as a host of accessories made of solid wood and handmade wrought-iron articles. Detlef Klatt, a CITEM consultant a few years back, has put up a new company called "O" Living, which was a hit at the fair with its modern version of country living featuring predominantly Philippine-made items.

Rene Alcala of Peter and Paul Philippines did not disappoint his European buyers with his oh-so-elegant and of-the-moment candlelabras of wrought iron with mother of pearl leaves. He was the one disappointed, though – or actually, aghast – when an Indian exhibitor from a neighboring booth surreptitiously snapped a photo of his creations with a cell phone camera and fled.

Plagiarists Beware

This is a major concern of participants and the design world in general: copycats selling knockoffs churned out by factories in China and elsewhere at dirt-cheap prices. A special awarding and exhibit was held at the fair, in fact, called "Plagiarius" where plagiarists were exposed for their crimes. Some big names have been given the infamous distinction like Calvin Klein who plagiarized a design for sunglasses last year.

Free for all to copy were the classics, which would always be there, but this time it’s more relaxed and laid-back. The era of stiff Baroque interiors is replaced by a more modern European notion of cocooning. Classic furniture shapes were recognizable but overscaled and more sumptuous for lounging. Florid details have been pared down if not obliterated. Accessories were choice, quality pieces that echo antique originals and enhance the look. Robles Heritage had a Florentine-inspired lamp in metal and capiz which looked so right in both classic and modern interiors.

The Future Is Organic

The futuristic designs took influences from nature with lounge chairs and divans going closer to the ground almost as if encouraging us to lounge in the grass au naturel. A sensational bed resembling a sea creature called "Textile Dicatorship" from Danish designer Pernelle Fagerlund was in fact on the ground, sans legs. The designer describes it as "ideal for home or office, enabling you to take power naps or to relax and dream about another world."

If this is the future of design and retailing, it does look good. The Philippine exporters feel renewed with fresh ideas and are gearing up for their new collections at the Manila FAME show in April. The question is will they set new trends? And will we buy?

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The authors, Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, are proprietors of Firma, the home, fashion and gift store at Greenbelt 3 and are consultants for CITEM’s Manila FAME show on April 19 to 22 at the World Trade Center.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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