One upon a time ...crunch, crunch who is nibbling my gingerbread house? Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all? The good ones in the pot the bad ones in the crop. At the Interlübke stand, designed by Peter Kräling, Maria Lübke and Irina Graewe as a white wonderland complete with hare and hedgehog, fawn and wolf, they are telling fairy tales. But though that might be wonderful, against a backdrop of Peter Kräling and Rolf Heide's customary functional, elegant wall unit 40S and Peter Maly's classic light-hearted advancement of the container concept duo plus, fairy-tales also have a frightening aspect. And so the stand remained a lonely island, original and light-hearted. But the question inevitably arises in the vast expanses of the fair: Was that it?
In one of those halls at the imm cologne, thronging with the manufacturers that rely less on innovative ideas and more on practical, decorative things you make a strike, and what a strike. Admittedly, you might make some good deals, but there is nothing fantastic here. Instead you encounter stands filled with those elegant flames for the living-room, which removed from open fireplaces and not exuding heat can meanwhile be seen flickering everywhere in rooms or as a small ellipsoid on the wall. Or you can take pleasure in a coarsely hewn mirror frame, colored office saddle seats for a healthy back or hi-fi furniture of wood, chrome and smoked glass, as long as you do not need to take time out under the motto "time to relax" or "experience active sitting comfort" on an old comfortable armchair. All these wonderfully pretty things have always been at the imm cologne in one or other guise, and they would not give you pause for thought if you did not get the impression while strolling through the exhibition halls that this year these things dominated: the decorative cozy, the accessory of somewhat dubious taste.
The selection ranges from the Barbie girl's room all in pink and a plush three-piece suite. On the other hand new, well designed products are rare. Though many manufacturers make an effort, most of what they display is nothing new, not only Ben van Berkel's "MYchair" at Walter Knoll, Franco Albini's new edition of the "Infinito" bookshelf at Cassina, Hans J. Wegner's 1984 rocking chair at PP MØbler or the cantilever chair "Myto" by Konstantin Grcic at Plank, which was presented last year in Milan. Then it really strikes you when e15 presents a really new, slim and elegant shelf by Arik Levy.
Trends rather than innovations
There can be some doubt whether it was a good idea to locate all the novelties of the trade fair - that are not necessary that new - in an "Innovation Forum". Here you see at a glance how little Cologne has to offer in this respect. It can hardly be expected that the mushroom-shaped stools named "Optimist" can make up for this omission. Or that in a so-called "Trendbook" published in advance four trends are proclaimed, as is always the case in such marketing campaigns, something profoundly arbitrary, especially since none of them were in evidence at the fair. Whether for alleged trends such as "Extra Much" the end of restraint and the abandonment of minimalism is proclaimed, in "Near and Far" the combination of things that do not really belong together is experimented with, whether under the catchword "Tepee Culture", the joie de vivre of an optimistic generation is evoked or in the trend "Re-Run Time" the truth in forms is sought - all of this only comes across as labored and bypasses the actual developments in design. But perhaps we will soon find out more about them in Milan.
Courage to leave open spaces As such, the clandestine winner is Joep van Lieshout, who with his "Atelier van Lieshout" can provide a veritable show for half a dozen stands. With his installations and furniture fluctuating between art and design he holds up a distorting mirror to the industry with relish and in the manner of Till Eulenspiegel, in which his "SlaveCity" appears like an arrangement of claustrophobic rabbit hutches and a flesh-colored "BarRectum" a cavernous opening into which you can creep, as into an orifice.
Not only this turn towards art prompts the serious question of how things can continue in Cologne. In recent years the imm Cologne has already lost considerable appeal as one of the calling cards for the Kölner Messegesellschaft. While many manufacturers focus on the "Salone Internazionale del Mobile" in Milan and parade their novelties with great fuss, the imm Cologne is increasingly shrinking to a fair of national significance, which hardly presents new design trends and innovative solutions and instead offers a broad segment of average furniture, in other words, all the trends and fashions that have gradually seeped through into the more inexpensive mass market. It is alarming that important manufacturers such as Vitra, Moroso and Thonet no longer attend the fair. The fact that - precisely the design-oriented Hall 11 - meanwhile has a lot of unoccupied space, too.
Concentration and regionalization
As such, it is high time to recognize the signs of the time. After all, it is evident not only in Cologne that the "consumer goods fair" is becoming a less attractive prospect. What applies for art fairs has now caught up with furniture and design fairs: concentration on a large, international fair and the regionalization of the remaining ones. Mobile events like the Interior Biennial in Kortrijk, Belgium and Designers' Saturday in Langenthal, Switzerland show how you should deal with and present high-end design in an exciting, entertaining manner.
In the last ten years, for example, the number of visitors to the imm Cologne has fallen by around a quarter, and the number of exhibitors is also down. Moreover, the Passagen event, which is distributed over the entire city has neither the potential nor the force to counter this trend, especially as some things such as the presentation of contemporary Dutch design and the product show of "A&W Designer of the Year" Alfredo Häberli in the premises of the Kunstverein, comes over as unimaginative and lacking in surprises.
The fact that despite the financial crisis and its impact on the economy the German furniture industry sees an opportunity for enhancing the standing of home and furnishings in these troubled times is not a contradiction. Even the much-cited sentence that was formulated as early as last December by Dirk-Uwe Klaas, the main managing director of the Association of the German Furniture Industry - "When the auto industry is doing badly traditionally the furniture industry fares well" - will not be able to dispel the doubt about the charisma of a furnishing fair like imm Cologne. It may be that as Klaas says in times of crises people tend to stay at home, focus "on the coziness in their own four walls" and re-furnish their homes. Manufacturers and furniture firms may benefit from this but this does not apply longer term to a fair that only delivers average products and falls short on the extraordinary.
As such, it could become reality what we suggested might be option three for the imm Cologne but was deferred. January no longer exists because the imm cologne no longer exists. At least not one that is worthwhile visiting for design aficionados. In other words, it does not end because it cannot end, and play the same game over and over. What is clear: Design is not undergoing a crisis. On the contrary. But the fairs where it is presented are. It is not a given that the retreat into home life will end in the furniture house. And the times when fairy-tales did not help out might soon be over. Oh, how good that nobody knows...