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Connecting people by design

Maison & Objet Asia believes that the Philippines may soon be the leader in bespoke design in Asia Pacific

New money is everywhere in Asia. The middle class to upper middle class in this part of the world has been spending a lot in travel and properties, happily gobbling up what signature brands have to offer every season. Where else in the world can you see long queues outside Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores like people are waiting for tables at a popular restaurant. Even mid-tier labels are embracing the culture of brand-conscious Asians because consumer spending is at an all-time high.

To some degree, high-end brands have become ordinary because more people own and can afford their products. The exclusivity somewhat diminishes and these labels are slowly losing their appeal, especially to those who have been there, bought that. There’s a new kind of brand these people are looking for, however. In the design world, bespoke is where the old money’s at.

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Maison & Objet Asia 2016 gathers the best designers and manufacturers from across Asia and the world.  (Photos from

“If you talk about the consumption, people are really changing their taste, looking for more bespoke products. This has a lot to do with the new money in a lot of countries,” explains Maison & Objet (M&O) Asia Pacific director Regina Chan. “Because if you have new money, the first thing you go after are labels. So, when everyone has the Chanel handbag, if you are the old money and more sophisticated, would you like to go for the brands? You don’t. You look for more personalized, exclusive, and customized products.”

Maison & Objet is a highly curated exhibition on all disciplines of design. It gathers high-end brands and bespoke-oriented companies in one exclusive event. It started 20 years ago in Paris and has since branched out to Singapore for Asia, and Miami for the Americas.

Regina, however, clarifies that this is no ordinary fair or trade show. It’s more of a networking event. Aside from the exhibition, the M&O Asia is a combination of design and business insight summit on industry trends and an award showcase on Asian design talents.

“When we talk about M&O Asia, it’s a very specific platform we want to do. We are not asking Filipino companies to exhibit and then we’re going to bring them to European buyers. No, it’s not like that. We want them to see Asia in a serious way,” Regina says. “A lot of Asian brands, they still don’t know the potential of Asia Pacific, they don’t understand that it’s really easier for you to do business with Indonesians, with Hong Kong businesses, with the Chinese, rather than going straight to Italy, Paris, or Miami. So we are growing their confidence and really (trying) to change their perception of the whole Asia Pacific.”

The group also recently visited several manufacturing companies in Cebu, one of the Philippines’ major furniture manufacturing hubs, to see if the companies had what it took to join the event. Every year, M&O Asia limits its exhibitors to only 180, an exclusive group that could showcase its products and services to a very exclusive audience. The organizer employs a strict qualification criteria—exquisite products, display and storytelling concept, and capability to answer its audience’s needs. Every year, the event also invites a Designer of the Year who will provide direct interaction with young designers through the summit. Annually, it features new companies and concepts, alongside established brands.

In the first year it featured Filipino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue and on its fourth year in 2017, it invited Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, founders of Singapore-based WOHA, an internationally recognized architecture firm. The four-day event will be held from March 7 to 10, 2017 at Marina Bay Sands Singapore.

According to M&O Commercial and Business Development director Frédéric Bougeard, the Philippines has the potential of becoming a leader in bespoke design. While M&O Paris has always been focused on retail and M&O Miami on retail and projects, M&O Asia is the only event that focuses solely on projects. Bespoke design has been in trend in Asia and Asian manufacturers are among the best in the world, from houseware to furniture to giftware.

“We just came back from Cebu,” says Frédéric. The last time I was there was seven years ago and I couldn’t recognize the city anymore. It has changed. What happened in Cebu, Manila, and all over the Philippines perfectly illustrates what Regina is talking about. We are speaking of high-end projects like high-end residential projects, new hotels, new restaurants. And the Philippines right now is the perfect illustration of this situation—the booming market in Asia regarding the high-end projects.”

What makes the Philippines even more of a big prospect in the bespoke design industry are its many talented designers and craftsmen. “When I was discussing with manufacturers, they all admitted that their business model has changed. For years, those companies they were supplying to are contractors for European and American companies. But now it’s the time for them to be proud of their creativity because we are speaking of a product that is not only manufactured in the Philippines but also designed by Filipinos. Here, you are one of the countries that have the three elements—you have incredible designers, you have top manufacturers and craftsmen, and now you have the most dynamic market in the high-end decoration projects,” adds Frédéric.

M&O serves as the bridge to the gap, introducing these companies to potential clients, especially Asian clients. It also provides immediate consultancy services to companies with experts in high-end design like Frédéric. The group has a digital platform for designers and clients. This platform provides a glimpse of different companies and their products, pre-selected by M&O, again a highly curated experience but in the virtual world.

“At the end of the day, we are paid to connect the people,” says Frédéric. “We are paid to connect the manufacturer to relevant buyers. The show can be a way and for 20 years it’s still a very good way to connect the people. But now digital is another way, so Maison has to have a presence in this medium to assure that the connection will be made. The magic of digital is available 24 hours, seven days a week, while the physical show is held four days in a year but after that what happens? Does it mean we don’t want to continue this mission and job to connect people? The digital platform is an answer to the challenge.”