Big on fabric, but short on information: The concept underlying the “Theme Park” is a little confusing. 

In a labyrinth of fabrics

by Anna Moldenhauer | 1/17/2017

It’s fabrics all around at the beginning of the new year: The International Trade Fair for Home and Contract Textiles in Frankfurt/Main has set the exhibition carousel for 2017 in motion, and according to Detlef Braun, Managing Director of Messe Frankfurt, is “once again on a growth course.” Fine, then off we go to the calling card of this year’s edition, the “Theme Park.” Taking “Explorations” as their motto, French design office Carlin International and international figures from the creative scene have forged a vision of the coming interior trends for the 2017/2018 season, which visitors can explore in the Park. Unfortunately, the concept is not easy for visitors to follow. For rather than being centrally positioned the information stand is hidden away at one end. If you do not happen to come across the entrance to the area when crossing Hall 6.0 on the basement level, but make for the Theme Park from the ground floor, you enter the open space from the wrong side and only find the orientation aids towards the end of the tour.

A bit like a rummage table: The presentation of the fabrics in the theme areas of “Explorations” was unfortunately not particularly appealing.

The fabrics for the so-called Explorations “Virtual", “Cultural,” “Planetary” and “Natural” are draped over square blocks and metal stands, and visitors are told only where they can find the respective manufacturer at the trade fair – with no further information on the material or design. An atmospheric presentation, QR codes and clearly distinct topics would have been desirable. Moreover, the interactive aspect is not paid sufficient attention. Visitors could have been given the opportunity to combine fabrics themselves and actively research new ideas as they can in the workshops offered at the DecoTeam stand. Thus the "Theme Park" tends to come across as a meticulously designed playground that has somehow lost track of the visitor. The participatory aspect is neglected. As for interactive experience and research, it is largely restricted to the feel of the fabrics. Yet the textile installation “Tactile Refuge” by Malin Bobeck does provide some excitement for visitors: When you touch the central, tear-shaped elements in the room the optical fibers respond and change color, meaning guests can create their own individual light and color version of the installation.

Analog interactivity: Visitors were able to touch the fabrics in the so-called “Theme Park,” but that was about it.

Things get more concrete in the adjoining Digital Textile Micro Factory. Here a production line has been set up in partnership with the German Institutes of Textile and Fiber Research. Visitors can follow all the steps of a digital, time-saving production chain from the development of the design on a computer, via textile printing through to machine cutting and production.

Visitors can get a good idea of digital textile production in the Digital Textile Micro Factory. 

Familiar names and up-and-coming talent

While strolling through the halls much of what you see is very familiar: soft nude shades from light pink to fresh mint, classic gray, floral prints, geometric patterns, velvet, jungle motifs. Also greatly in evidence are Bohemian chic, modern ethno, and deep blue combined with metallic shades. You have to search a little for the fresh ideas: In Hall 4.2 Heimtextil is showing the world’s largest international platform for textile design with the “Design live” area. Around 230 exhibitors from 26 countries present their creative designs for home and contract textiles. In addition, under the title “Campus,” graduates’ final BA projects can be inspected, such as that by design students Bára Finnsdottir and Dominyka Sidabraite from Weißensee Academy of Art in Berlin. In “Merging Loops” Finnsdottir has designed a sound-absorbing partition comprising interlocking textile loops that can be expanded as desired. Felt combined with laminated veneer allows delicate structures to be formed that can also be hung up. Moreover, the partition is sustainable to make, with recycled polyester and polypropylene fibers used for the freestanding version made of 10-mm industrial felt mats. In addition, the individual modules can be cut without material wastage.

“The lion sleeps tonight”? Hardly: Textiles with jungle motifs are still a hot topic in 2017 – for example from Apelt.

By contrast, in her “Flora Skin” collection Dominyka Sidabraite took inspiration from nature as a bionic model for textiles and combines natural materials with artificial fibers such as Pemotex and Recytex yarns. The result: breathable knits that are water and dirt repellent, lint-free, and flame-retardant. Thanks to their functional properties such knits could be used both in interiors and in fashion. Others experiment with new technologies. In her project Plastic Textiles/Textile Plastics, for instance, Anna Hoffmann from Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle explores generative manufacturing processes. Using 3D-printing techniques she produces structures from degradable plastics that have the properties of textiles, but can also be employed in other functional contexts – for example as flexible connecting elements for components, or as water-resistant upholstery for outdoor furniture.

These presentations are rounded out by the projects of 30 young designers showing their work as part of the “New & Next” start-up program. They include Studio RIIS (Denmark), Lösbrock Design (Germany), Naghsh Negaran Pendar (Iran), Shinrindo LLC (Japan), NuPrimary LLC (United States) and Connie Luisa’s Home (Taiwan).

The projects by start-ups and design students provide a refreshing change, like those by Bára Finnsdottir (left) and Dominyka Sidabraite (right) from Weißensee Academy of Art in Berlin.
Flexible loops: Bára Finnsdottir created the sound-absorbing partition “Merging Loops” using felt and veneer.

Veiled green consciousness

Sustainability is a key topic for the design students and start-ups – but not for Heimtextil itself? At least that is the impression of a journalist from Scandinavia, who expressed her amazement at this apparent omission during a press conference. And indeed you might quickly get this impression, as the large offering of sustainable textiles at Heimtextil is only apparent on closer inspection. In the “Green Village” in Hall 8, the competence center for sustainability which is kept surprisingly small, visitors can consult the informative Green Directory 2017, which lists all the suppliers of sustainable home and contract textiles at Heimtextil 2017. The comprehensive directory documents the remarkable efforts manufacturers make to protect the environment, but as the topic was not specifically highlighted at the exhibition it tends to get a little lost. When it comes to finding your way around the trade fair, the “Heimtextil Navigator” app does prove quite useful. Even though it only gives you a rough indication of your own position in the hall, it does save time when you are looking for specific products or exhibitors and offers an overview of daily events at the trade fair. But when it comes to presenting trend topics and visitor orientation there is definitely much room for improvement.