LONG GONE ARE the days of pretty for pretty's sake, say leading designers of event products. Today's designers are looking to contemporary culture — in the form of film, fashion and even business trends and world affairs — and the natural environment for their design cues.
With the excesses of the tech-boom '90s gone bust and public sentiment taking a more serious turn, manufacturers are reporting demand for simpler styles in event product design.
“I think that people are wanting to get back to basics and family values due to the economy and war,” says Robin Blackerby of Spartanburg, N.C.-based linen producer Milliken & Co. For her company, the trend has translated into a spike in orders for “earthy tones, such as beige, rust, sandalwood and green.”
The same pattern is prominent at Peekskill, N.Y.-based White Plains Linen where, notes marketing manager Ruth Schlosberg, “Nature is the biggest inspiration” for today's event linen hues. “Table linens are strongly influenced by what's blooming in the garden — hot pinks and bright yellows set against a brilliant sky, which [are] a big part of our color palette this spring.”
Meanwhile, in the area of event furnishings, Owen Powell, creative director of Garden Grove, Calif.-based event furniture company Freddie Georges Production Group, notes that natural-texture furniture coverings are gaining popularity. He counts “nubby wools and shaggy furs” as hot products among the company's trade show clientele.
Another furniture supplier, Debra Shipper of Hodgkins, Ill.-based Event Equipment Sales, cites the upswing in demand for wood furniture, as well as chiavaris in nature-based shades including sea foam or sage green. Such items “provide the event space with warmth,” she says.
As international developments dominate the news and globalization remains a key business trend, it's no surprise that manufacturers find a decidedly international influence emerging in the design market.
Shipper sees the influence evidenced in the continuing dominance of the chiavari chair, which, she says, “has a very international, grand feeling, often identified with the timelessness of Europe.”
Wanda Montalbano of Las Vegas-based Cort Trade Show Furnishings also notes a strong European influence in her market. In particular, “the colors of Tuscany are beginning to grow in popularity,” she says. As for the shape of things to come, she cites “increased demand for pieces such as cubes [and] ottomans,” as well as “furniture styles that do not conflict with the beauty and detail of the [venue] architecture.”
Sujata Mody Kamdar of Anaheim, Calif.-based GBS Linens cites the impact of international business on her product range. “As an increasing number of Asian countries have begun exporting textiles to the U.S., you can see the influence in fabrics,” she says. “You see a lot of beautiful embroidery [and] vivid colors.”
Blake Wiederstein of Atlanta-based linen supplier Tabletoppers predicts that “South American and Asian influences will continue to have strong presence” in the coming year. The company will meet demand with “bright, fun colors,” including its already popular “citron” and “orange spice” lines.
Lake Bluff, Ill.-based tabletop supplier Wittur & Co. also is looking East for inspiration. National sales manager Donna Specht notes that the company recently “has added patterns like Facets — a white, contemporary style with [an] Asian influence.”
WATCH AND WEAR
Many manufacturers cite the highly visual arenas of film and fashion as two of the top factors shaping event design trends.
Fritz Williams of Garden Grove, Calif.-based FormDecor, part of Freddie Georges Production Group, says the company's internally lit steel bars, originally built for hit television show “Nip/Tuck,” “have been a frequent request of the best casinos and new product launch parties.”
Films and television shows set in the '60s and '70s also are having an effect on client choices, he adds. Such productions have increased public familiarity with “classic styles such as Charles Eames' ‘La Chaise,’ Mies van der Rohe's ‘Barcelona Chair’ [and] Le Corbusier's ‘Confort Sofa,’” he explains. In addition to these pieces, all of which FormDecor supplies to events, Williams says shag carpets, backlit bars and “sunken living room” furnishings will continue to see high demand.
Meanwhile, linen makers such as Wiederstein see heightened interest in what clients see on the runway, on clothing store racks and in the home-decor market. Brocades, such as the company's new line in metallic blue and black, “are the same material that people use to cover the couches of their homes.”
According to Mary Kerr of Paterson, N.J.-based Tablecloth Co., “the resurgence of lace fabrics in the fashion industry seems to be filtering down to the linen trade.” Her company is meeting the rise in demand for the delicate material with a whole line of laces, including Garden Lace, Swirl Lace and Vienna Lace.
For Kamdar, the new focus on fashion is particularly exciting: “Being a first-generation Indian raised in America, it's pretty fun to see the Indian clothes that I have grown up wearing now becoming fashionable in the U.S. not just for clothing, but for table linens as well.”
Today's event product manufacturers are taking a cue from yet another area of contemporary culture: the technology industry. Both know that no matter how good a product looks, if it lacks usability, clients won't buy.
Kerr says the trend toward user-friendly products will continue, as will Tablecloth Co.'s development of items such as its machine-washable and -dryable Leather-eze, a line of “incredibly realistic looking” synthetic leather overlays, chair covers and tray-stand covers.
At Wittur & Co., Specht says, the growing demand for better function along with fine form has led to the creation of the brand new Caterplate — a porcelain plate with a built-in stemware holder, introduced earlier this year.
For Powell, today's form is realized in Freddie Georges Production Group's “custom-made pieces that accommodate more and more people — long benches and enormous, low daybeds seating a dozen or more, stacked with a variety of pillows, bolsters and pads.” The function? “These invite the intimate interaction missing in the gatherings of the past decade.”
Cort Trade Show Furnishings, 888/CORTYES; Event Equipment Sales, 800/EES-0093; FormDecor, 714/934-8662; Freddie Georges Production Group, 714/799-7817; GBS Linens, 714/778-6448; Milliken & Co., 864/503-6453; Tablecloth Co., 800/227-5251; Tabletoppers, 404/355-5593; White Plains Linen, 800/825-4646; Wittur & Co., 800/622-6235