Paris Déco Off Lights Up Design World
PARIS–Five days and nights. 27,000 visitors. 77 showrooms. 23 pop-up showrooms. 14,000 free catalogs of 256 pages. 700,000 bookmarks. 65,000 invitations. 1,765,000 emails sent. 140 giant street lamps made by the Masters of Linen. A transparent cube installed on the Place de Furstenberg hosting different artisans and visible to the public. A party for 700 American decorators and designers at the Paris Hotel de Ville. Need we add that over 10,000 glasses of champagne were drunk and 27,200 petits fours were consumed? And all this taking place between January 21 and January 25th, 2016.
Yet none of these phenomenal stats can begin to describe the joyous and productive energy of Paris Déco Off, which in the past seven years has transformed a closed world of textile and wallpaper producers and distributors into a friendly, interactive event in Paris that runs concurrently with Maison & Objet the suburb of Villepinte in January.
There is saying in French: “C’est un mal pour un bien” (There is good in everything bad), and that certainly applies to the reasons behind the creation of Paris Déco Off. In 2008, the textile and wallpaper manufacturers and distributors were hit with a double whammy: the terrifying global recession and unexpected wind damage during the Maison & Objet trade fair, for which they were never compensated. Not a good time to be in business.
Then a light bulb went off–at least in the mind of textile designer and manufacturer Patrick Frey. “We realized that we could do things differently and invite everyone into our showrooms in Paris,” his son Pierre Frey told me. “Not only would our clients be able to see all our references–which they could not do at our booth in Villepinte–but we and our colleagues could save a lot of time and money. I discussed this with my colleagues like Patrick Lelièvre, and all of them were thrilled to save money during the crisis.”
Thus, Paris Déco Off was born. But that was only the beginning. When Pierre Frey told Rocky LaFleur, the outside sales rep for Kneedler Fauchère (who represents Pierre Frey designs in their showrooms at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles) about this radical development in French textile marketing, Rocky understood right away the significance of this move.”One evening young Pierre Frey was in town visiting us and Gina and I were having dinner with him at BOA on Sunset Strip, he revealed that his father Patrick Frey and a select group of luxury textile firms were leaving the M&O(Maison & Objet) and doing their own show in Paris in their own showrooms on the Left and Right Banks of Paris during M&O. A radical move but so much in keeping with the nature of Patrick Frey.
“Both Gina and I at that instant said we want to attend,” he recalled. (Gina Dewitt is Rocky’s boss and the Senior VP of Showroom Sales & Marketing at Kneedler Fauchère). “And Pierre was thrilled to hear this. So it began. Gina and I knew that in the midst of a terrible recession our company could not pay our way. However we readily stepped up and bought airline tickets and rented a small apartment in the 6th. And we continue to pay our own way taking ownership in our careers and investment in our industry relationships.
“We were terribly excited about the prospect of being personally inspired by all that Paris offers and deepening our relationships with our Paris suppliers,” Rocky explained. “And having FUN in the midst daunting economic times. As we told our story, designers and industry colleagues expressed interest and wanted to join us. And with a few handfuls of friends going to Paris that year our adventure began. And our textile suppliers stepped up and welcomed us with special showings and social events.
“With every year the adventure got larger and more inclusive with other American showrooms taking part and more side events and tours. And the American Party in Paris! Unimaginable seven years ago. And now this Design Week in Paris has a life of its own for the American design community in astonishing dimensions. It’s not only inspiring but an enormous business component on so many levels. In fact, it’s the largest gathering of American Design Community ever in history. And it happens in Paris.”
Adds Gina: “Our first year, we had roughly a half-dozen designers join us. This year, KF (Kneedler Fauchère) had 12 employees make the journey from our Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver showrooms. All pay their own flight/hotel and KF picks up expenses once we are on the ground. This shows incredible commitment from those attending – and we already have more committed to attending next year!
“We had 90 designers from the West Coast join us this year. Our supplier partners provide the basis of our agenda via product showings and private events in their homes (always a trip highlight for our designers). We fill in with additional events that we feel add value for designers, i.e. last year Rocky arranged a private tour of Galerie Steinitz in Paris, which was truly extraordinary. No other event in the world brings together the US multi-line showrooms like Paris. This message of unity and collegiality is powerful!”
What’s even more extraordinary is that this kind of energy generates tremendous goodwill all around–and for relatively little expense. Whereas you have to pay to get into Maison & Objet to meet exhibitors, Paris Déco Off is free of charge. “It’s like receiving our friends in our homes,” explains Carole Locatelli, president of the Paris-based Carole.Communication, who oversees all the communication and partnership aspects of the event since its beginnings. “This event makes it possible to have an open house either in existing showrooms or in the pop-up showrooms that are Left Bank art galleries leased for the occasion. While people worked they drank champagne and listened to orchestras playing music. We welcome everyone: professionals and the general public. And everyone comes.”
While it may take a year to prepare, and a tremendous sense of detail and a good dose of imagination to make all the different partners and participants come together with such harmony and grace, one gets a sense that it’s all done in the best of spirits. Then again, that’s the magic of Paris and the French, and as one who is privileged to live and work here, I say “Chapeau!” It’s even more wonderful knowing that after the tragic events of November 13, 2015, Paris remains a beacon of style and civilization as the American design community at Paris Déco Off made abundantly clear this year.