Trend trek

Messe Frankfurt is playing host to Heimtextil, billed as the world’s biggest trade fair for home and contract textiles, from Jan. 10 to 13. I’m rushing among monumental showcase pavilions by “name” architects like Helmut Jahn, Nicholas Grimshaw and Oswald Ungers that are so vast, and sprawl on a campus so big, that one gets around via moving sidewalks and shuttle busses. This year’s show attracted approximately 89,000 visitors from 122 countries, about the same as last January. There were 2,907 exhibitors, up 100 from 2006, from 68 nations on five continents.

The millions of square feet of exhibition space showcased everything from architectural moldings and ceramic tiles, to wallpaper, wall stickers, bed linens, towels and bathrobes, curtains and carpets, upholstery leather, paper-cutout room screens, sun-protection systems and even films and foils. There was no way to see everything, but some trends clearly emerged:

_Black, white and brown palettes

_Brighter, more saturated colours then we’re used to seeing in North America

_Mark-making or drawing rather than graphic design

_Floral themes were the most popular pictorial motifs, followed by:


_Geometrics, often evoking Sixties Op Art

_Sparkly, as in gold, silver and bronze, and crystals, as in Swarovski

_Big, removable mix-and-match wall stickers

_Old-fashioned Victorian and lacey

Walking briskly along Pavilion 9, I knew that we weren’t in Kansas – or indeed anywhere in North America – anymore, when a display of Day-Glo luminescent towels hanging off the booth of Belgium’s Santens stopped me in my tracks. They evoked the optic nerve-jangling effects of the superimposed, complementary colours in the Homage to the Square paintings series by Josef Albers, the Bauhaus refugee who taught at Yale.

The cotton towels featured a contrasting stripe in a cotton chenille yarn with a softer hand. “A lot of this business is driven by colour and by texture: We design for both,” explained Tom Barringer, senior VP, sales and marketing at Santens of America in Anderson, S.C. “European colour directions are quite different than those in North America. There, we have more subtle, softer, more casual colours. In Europe we’re seeing bolder – our European team calls it – Latin colours, with hotter oranges, reds and golds, especially, now, in Germany and Austria.” Barringer commented on other style trends looming (ha ha) large in towels. “This year we are seeing greys and blacks and browns. Brown is the new black for us. Much of what we do has to co-ordinate with how the bathroom is decorated, which usually means white or ivory-coloured floors. Bathrooms don’t change that much, but the towel accents do.”

Christy of Hyde, England, dating back 157 years, invented the terry towel as we know it. Christy’s Embrace with Silk range, says Christy retail designer Lucy Ackroyd, “is the Rolls Royce of the towel world, the most luxurious towel you can buy.” Available at prestige outlets such as Selfridges in London (the bath towel sells for 32) and Bloomingdale’s in New York, the towel boasts 22 percent silk, and Fair Trade-certified cotton. Yet, the heavier Urbis collection is less pricey (20), and therein lies a cultural lesson. Urbis grew out of Christy’s doing business in the States. “They are very obsessed with weight in America; the bigger and fatter the better,” Ackroyd says. “The way they sell towels in North America is all about weight rather than construction.”

Musing on trends, she said, “In the U.K., we have a neutral home palette, and cushions and vases and throws are the colours. Highly decorative wallpapers are coming back into fashion. North America hasn’t really caught on to these bright colours.”

At Esprit, they were serving sensational hotdogs with crunchy toasted almonds (how could I resist?). The Dsseldorf-based home and fashion house had contracted A.S. Creation, Germany’s largest wallpaper manufacturer, to create its new wallcoverings. Jens Dieber, a designer at A.S. Creation, ruminated about wallpaper colour and style trends.

“Yellow is a best-seller. Green is for younger people, it’s more modern. Pink, Nike’s colour, is for kids. Russia, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and England are big markets for us. But not Italy. They don’t have drywall there, so wallpaper isn’t big.

“North Americans don’t want texture or raised designs. They want it flat, with many small flowers. Russians like traditional, almost Victorian- or Baroque-looking raised patterns with gold or bronze. The French like sweet colours like rose, pink and mauve. Germans like white, yellow and warm peach.”

Commenting on Asia, Nick Minhall of British wallcoverings maker Fidelity (Europe) Ltd., said, “the Far East likes raised patterns because there’s more to the eye. The Far East is a little bit behind the times in taste.”

Ulrich Roesner, a buyer at Germany’s P+S, noted “in Germany we’re not raising our raised wallpaper as high.” He articulated a new move to earthy tones such as “coffee and mustard colours, away from last year’s stronger colours, such as red and yellow. And black-and-white is a trend, with silver sparkle. In Russia, they like metallic sparkle the old-fashioned way, with gold.

Yes, and Russia, land of newly minted oligarchs, loves ostentatious luxury. Igor Tscherkowski, export manager at Dusseldorf-based KT Exclusive, explained that his firm’s wondrously intricate, ostrich feather-embellished, polyester curtains are “intended for the Russian market. Russians like to show that they are rich.”

Glittery, too, though with an utterly different connotation, were the silver Marilyn pillows at Contrast. The Arhus, Denmark-based company’s booth was a sight for nostalgic North American eyes thanks to its exclusively licensed Andy Warhol collection – and what could be more timely, with the recent release of yet another Warhol-related flick, Factory Girl. “He loved anything shiny and silver and it’s strong in our collection,” said Contrast’s sales and marketing manager Marianne Neilsen, conjuring up memories of Warhol’s white hair and his silvery Castelli Gallery installation of floating neon clouds.

I ran into Tracey Reinberg, the Los Angeles-based textile designer for the likes of HBF Textiles, Unika Vaev, Knoll Textiles, Maharam, DesignTex and Rodolph. She had her own take on Heimtextil: “Drawing is reappearing in surface design. Not academic drawing, but immediate mark making. It’s drawing as opposed to a graphic. It has a drawing rather than a design quality to it.

“There’s a cartoon quality to some patterns that trickles down from graphic design. Much of the product here is for the youth market, which gives the show a young feel. I’m seeing designers taking old engravings and enlarging them until the image reduces to pixels [the dots on a computer screen]. It reminds me of those young-looking, funky fonts from migr that defy readability and become illustrations in themselves.”

Reinforcing Reinberg’s observation about a young feel, the big, removable wall stickers took the prize for Most Fun. Belgium’s Home Interiors hired Martyn Vroilik, a Dutch kid’s-book illustrator, to create their new Raffi line of stickers. “What’s new is that our stickers are easily removable,” said Home Interiors’s Wim Dejonghe. The customer doesn’t want to have the same design for 10 years. He can easily apply a new interior after a year or two, conveniently and affordably.”

Big playful wall stickers in bright pink, turquoise, green and cherry dominated the Plage booth. The French firm hired French artist Robert le Heros to create a collection expressing the tagline “Oh what beautiful hours I have spent in this garden.” Le Heros conveys a child’s nave, innocent delight at nature with cutouts of birds, cats, rabbits, palm and plum trees and other nature-inspired silhouettes.

“We decided to make big stickers when we noticed that the wallpaper market was going down slowly in France, and people were starting to prefer hanging paintings to wallpaper. So we ask
ed ourselves, how can we personalize the wall?” explained Virginie Lasne, Plage sales manager

The foot-weary found respite at the trend lectures in the Forum theatre adjacent to the historic, Beaux Arts-style Festhalle, the oldest component of the fairgrounds. During her presentation, London-based design writer Jo-an Jenkins opined that “birds are the interior accent item du jour, all over. Birds first showed up last spring and the trend hasn’t peaked yet.” She also showed two Toronto-related images that impressed her international audience: a recycled rubber handbag by fashion designer Katya Revenko of Desperately Different (“recycled” is trendy) and the Bahai Temple for Santiago, Chile, by Harari Pontarini (so is “talisman”).

During a late-afternoon happy hour in the pressroom, Genty Marshall, an interior designer and journalist based in Victoria, Australia, who specializes in colour and trend directions, graciously let me pick her brain about what she saw on the tradeshow floors.

“Patterns are primarily geometric,” she said. “Spots and dots are important. There’s a revival of Deco patterns and 1920s design.

“Animal motifs are big. For the past two years, deer and birds were strong. Now it’s moving on to horses and insects. Owls are especially big in the U.K.

“Colours and palette are all quite intense; neutrals have quite a strong tint. All fashion has a shelf life. Green had a good run, but it’s phasing out. What’s left of the greens has turned to acid yellows. Silver is fundamental to the palette, as is the emergence of electric blues and turquoise. White is very important for context: the colours need to be seen in the context of white and silver.

“These are general statements for the whole kit and caboodle. Specifically in the contract market, silver will carry, as will high-gloss white, which is a shame because it’s so impractical. But that’s the idea of luxury, that it gets ruined quickly.”

Speaking of luxury, Marshall enthused about ATT Wallpapers, a Taipei company making handmade natural wallcoverings that combine bamboo veneer, grasscloth and other environmentally friendly materials with exotica like gold and silver leaf. “There were amazing, mindboggling, stunning samples with intricate feather, shell, metallics and leather. I wouldn’t even want to guess how much they cost.”