8 / 8
Five years ago, a rumor spread through the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Javits Center in Manhattan that there was “another design fair,” a smaller one (some said “cooler”), just down the street in the Chelsea Terminal Stores. Many made it, many did not. But what all attendees of the first WantedDesign fair in Manhattan found was a refreshingly different kind of design event. With just thirty exhibitors, WantedDesign exuded a handpicked, emerging-designer vibe that was nowhere to be found in the city at the time, except at select galleries or shops. This was an entirely new form of tradeshow.
“The concept of WantedDesign was to create a platform that was a combination of commercial and cultural,” explains co-founder Odile Hainaut, who came to New York from Paris sixteen years ago. “The idea was to have established brands and up-and-coming designers and studios, to have not just product showcase but also programming. More like a design forum, a place for conversation. A nice environment, and a place where people could really talk and meet.”
Hainaut came to New York with her husband’s branding company, for which she spearheaded communications and special events, and cofounded Gallery R’Pure in 1997. She had a number of design connections in New York and many more in Europe, and in 2010 she was introduced through a friend to Claire Pijoulat, also a “French New Yorker” originally from Annecy. Pijoulat’s parents had owned a design store in France when she was growing up. When Hainaut and Pijoulat met, they quickly realized that they had the same vision for the future of design in the city.
As Hainaut remembers, “We spent an afternoon in conversation talking about the design scene in New York, what we felt was missing at that time, which was a real design week with a larger proposition in terms of events and satellite events. We both had started to think about creating a new platform.” They had complementary backgrounds in the design field, Odile in communications and curatorial and Claire in business and marketing. They decided to combine forces.
After coming to New York with experience of design fairs in Europe, Hainaut and Pijoulat found their new home to be lacking. They are perpetual enthusiasts for the vibrant, international culture the city projects more than any other place in the world, and both admitted that the design scene did not embody this. The more they spoke to designers and others the more they were convinced the city wanted, and really needed, a true design week, where local and international designers, design schools and museums, residents and tourists could come together to tell their stories.
“People were expecting something to happen, they were waiting for it,” recalls Pijoulat. “And they really wanted this new thing. A lot of designers told us, ‘We’ve been waiting for that for years now. Nothing ever happens.’”
Pijoulat had a connection at the Chelsea Terminal Stores and in May 2011, only a year after the two met, the first WantedDesign fair opened, with more than 800 people attending opening night.
“You can imagine that we had no idea, nothing,” laughs Hainaut. Somehow, word of the fair had caught on like wildfire. Cooper-Hewitt was an early champion and helped spread the word. Antoine Roset, Giulio Capellini, as well as Allan Chochinov of SVA were also among the first supporters. All of these people Hainaut and Pijoulat approached to see if they would take part and all of them said yes. “Our idea was to be really honest in what we do, not pretending,” she says. “We really were very humble, and I think year after year we have been able to add on a year because it was the right foundation.”
From the beginning, the concept was to warm up the design space and make it more interactive.
“It would be a tradeshow—since companies come to tradeshows to do business—but in a nice way,” explains Pijoulat. “We wanted a welcoming, human environment. When we started, this was super important to us. It’s like welcoming people into your home. You want them to feel comfortable. And it’s still true to this day.”
The effect has been mind-blowing. With 120 exhibitors in its Manhattan fair today and an exciting second location in Brooklyn’s Industry City, WantedDesign is a mainstay of NYCxDESIGN, the design week that has finally come to fruition each May and which Hainaut and Pijoulat helped to establish.
With their offices now in Industry City (formerly Bush Terminal, New York’s largest warehousing complex in the early twentieth century), in Sunset Park, WantedDesign has played a key role in the revitalization of the area as a place for local manufacturing and business development. In October, Hainaut and Pijoulat opened IC Store by WantedDesign, a design store on the ground floor of Industry City’s Building 2, to provide a permanent place where local and international designers can show their work, and where visitors and tenants can shop.
Read the full article on Design Brooklyn.