Why trend spaces are an important tool for trade fairs

The sheer magnitude of 400,000-sq-m venue Messe Frankfurt means that, for the trade fairs it hosts, having a clear centre to tether visitors to the core experience is crucial. Especially so today, when it’s a necessity for fairs to not only set the groundwork for commerce, but to establish themselves as players in the engagement economy. That beating heart, in the case of international home and contract textiles fair Heimtextil, is its Trend Space, designed this year by Dutch trend analysis and design agency Stijlinstituut Amsterdam.

Frankfurt – Every year, the human-powered machine behind Messe Frankfurt puts on over 150 industry trade fairs at its namesake exhibition grounds. Founded in 1907, the German event organizer is the biggest in the world, and its grounds reflect that scale. Despite wayfinding at every turn in the venue, it’s quite easy to get off path when a space is engulfing in its enormity and you’re side by side, at all times, with small armies of people.

Approaching its 50th anniversary in 2021, Heimtextil hosts 58 events in 16 global locations; for this edition of the fair in Frankfurt, the network hosted 2,952 exhibitors from 66 countries. Visitor foot traffic in 2019 broke 600,000, a sharp increase from 520,000 the previous year. The Trend Space – which Heimtextil dedicates an impressive 2,000 sq-m to – is an essential anchor point.

Conceived and implemented by the Amsterdam-based Stijlinstituut with Dutch designers Grietje Schepers and Harm Rensink, this edition’s centred on immersive microcosms showcasing five conceptual themes – Maximum Glam, Pure Spiritual, Active Urban, Heritage Lux and Multi-Local – through the work of collaborating artists and designers. Textile samples from over 1,000 exhibitors were selected to comprise the showcased material palettes of each group.

These, in addition to the overarching fair theme ‘Where I Belong’, were developed by the Heimtextil Trend Council, a group consisting of Stijlinstituut Amsterdam and fellow design agencies FranklinTill and Spott Trends and Business. The idea for ‘Where I Belong’ was born during Heimtextil Trend Council’s annual meeting, where the agencies gather to brainstorm and plan. A topic that they magnetized toward consistently was identity, referring to the wider range of societal discourse on gender, cultural diversity, tolerance and curiosity. The trend microcosms highlight auxiliary needs: that for increased spirituality and natural connection, cultural diversity, flexibility and multi-sensory experiences, for example.

‘We are very much aware of the massive political, economic and environmental challenges today – these are topics heavy on everyone’s minds – but we think it’s also important to present opportunities and positivity,’ explains Anne Marie Commandeur, owner and director of Stijlinstituut Amsterdam. ‘That’s why we made the Trend Space an experience that’s not only meaningful and informative, but has some light-heartedness and humour to it.’

Big, bold white lines imprinted on the blue flooring of Hall 8 led visitors to the area, though with a huge, inflatable figure waving to them from the corner space, most probably could have inferred where they needed to head. Once in the Trend Space’s commodious confines, visitors were exposed to a world seemingly far removed from the commercial bustle.

The most common point-of-entry exposed traversers first to the Heimtextil Future Materials Library, curated by FranklinTill. Then, moving along, one could find themselves in Heritage Lux, where artist Bart Hess’ undulating Grotto bed beckoned passersby to lay down, or in Bastiaan de Nennie’s Maximum Glam, where dancers from Project Pole performed 15-minute sets, or in Active Urban, a virtual reality world designed by Roel Deden and Envisions. Multi-Local showed photography by Jan Hoek and Stephen Tayo and The Totem of Life – a curated visual experience devised by creative video technologist Peejee Doorduin. Pure Spiritual, a refuge-like space housed Bruce Shapiro’s kinetic, meditative sculpture Sisyphus and photography of Raw Color. The vast majority of the build-out will be reused: only five per cent of the total exhibition features will go to waste and included in that tally is the carpet, which will be recycled.

‘Fairs like Heimtextil are extensive, and it can be difficult to distil the biggest “messages” from them,’ says Commandeur. ‘A lot of companies and visitors are explicitly targeted and focused on specific regions or products. But they want to be informed from a wider perspective – to know what’s going on generally, which will go on to have a direct impact on their business. The Trend Space offers a broad opinion which might not be immediately applicable for them and their target, but still gives them an idea of the selection on offer from the fair at large and an idea of the direction the industry is heading.’

heimtextil.messefrankfurt.com

stijlinstituut.nl

TAKEAWAY
Trade fairs, being spatially overwhelming, need a grounding area.  These spaces are most effective if they’re immersive, too: activating imagination with unexpected presentation formats makes for a more balanced experience. By helping to shape a new perspective and understanding of the products and brands on show, engagement-led trend spaces effectively forge a stronger connection between fair and visitor.

This piece will be featured in our forthcoming March — April 2020 issue, Frame 133.

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