FORMEX 08-17 report from a pattern design perspective - part 1

The twice annual exhibition within interior design - Formex at Älvsjömässan south of Stockholm - is today going on it’s fourth and last day. I visited the fair on Thursday and Friday - my fifth visit over the past three years. Formex is mainly for retailers to visit their current suppliers and their new product line-ups for the coming season, check out new ones and perhaps even make orders or at least bring home ideas and suggestion for purchase planning. 

So what could the benefits for a pattern designer visiting the fair be, and is it at all a good idea to exhibit yourself? I will try to answer this in two blog posts - here’s the first one, with a report of what you could see and do at Formex this time - from a pattern design point of view.

FORMEX resides at the large exhibition hall Stockholmsmässan in Älvsjö south of Stockholm. 

FORMEX resides at the large exhibition hall Stockholmsmässan in Älvsjö south of Stockholm. 

Every exhibition has a theme, this time it was called Nordic Space and for some reason this was the installation at the main entrance... Like my friend Marie said "Looks like giant testicles, you kind of want to squeeze them a bit"...

Every exhibition has a theme, this time it was called Nordic Space and for some reason this was the installation at the main entrance... Like my friend Marie said "Looks like giant testicles, you kind of want to squeeze them a bit"...

The first day of visiting was mostly about meeting and networking. I had so much fun talking to so many wonderful, inspiring designers so willing to share their stories. And this is actually the main reason why I go to visit Formex, to take the opportunity to get to know my ”colleagues” - no matter if they are huge and famous or in an establishing phase (like me).

My first stop was at ColArt - a booth exhibiting art supplies. They had teamed up in a collaboration with one of Swedens most famous pattern designers - Hanna Wendelbo - to promote their specific brand for art supplies. I was invited to participate in a workshop, which more or less was a demonstration of their products, but we got to try them out - which of course led to some new ideas and inspiration - and we also had the chance to talk to Hanna - who is such a lovely and inspiring person. She was kind enough to show us more about using masking liquid in combination with water color and ink - something I’ve been curious about for a while.

Hanna Wendelbo is a Swedish pattern designer, blogger, lecturer and influencer, who recently went freelance after working as a creative director at Sandberg Wallpaper and before that at Borås Wallpaper.
Trying out accrylic paint.

Trying out accrylic paint.

Hanna held a mini lecture about DIY.

Hanna held a mini lecture about DIY.

I look kinda starstruck, don't I... ha ha.

I look kinda starstruck, don't I... ha ha.

And as it happens, one of my favorite pattern designers and artists was also participating in the same group as me - Nadja Wedin. I’ve met her a few times before when visiting Formex. She is exhibiting every year with the most welcoming and inspiring booth displaying her designs and product line-up. Every time I talk to her I walk away being so pepped and encouraged and I’m really happy for these talks and exchanges of tips, tricks and advices we share (As you can tell, I’m such a big Nadja fan).

I never got around to taking an image of Nadjas exhibition booth, guess I was just so caught up in our conversation. But do check out her website and her beautiful patterns and products.

I never got around to taking an image of Nadjas exhibition booth, guess I was just so caught up in our conversation. But do check out her website and her beautiful patterns and products.

After that almost all day had gone by so now it was high time to check out some of the other exhibitiors. I started in the B-hall. Formex is divided into three big exhibition halls where the exhibitors are categorized into different businesses:
Hall A - displays the latest trends within interior home decoration: Living interior & textiles, Body & bath and Fashion & Accessories
Hall B - is called Nordic Area and gathers nordic designs and crafts; Design, Kitchen & Table, Craft, Young Designers and Next Step (I’ll be explaining the last tow a bit more below)
Hall C - shows a mix of other areas connected to retail: Taste, Mixed interior & gifts, Floral & Garden, Paper & packaging, Kids &Toys

One display that I’ve been really curious about is the newly launched Bliss Collection - a collaboration between artist and designer Emma von Brömssen and ceramic artist Kajsa Cramer. The products in the collection focused on ceramic cups and plates, with Emmas beautifully painted motifs in an oceanic theme that I really associate with the west coast of Sweden, with fish and sea weed (Emma von Brömssen is from Gothenburg). It all breathes an air of calmness and Japanese art and the description of this brand and products is reflection and inner peace. The ceramic products are accompanied with textiles like pillow covers and napkins/kitchen towels.

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The pattern design and choice of products of the Bliss Collection is a great example and guide line for what works - I think - when it comes to sell your own patterned products. The concept foundation is really thought through, defined and consistent. The ceramic material, surface and look & feel to the cups and plates are perfectly combined with the motifs of carp and mackerel fish, seaweed and wrack. And the execution of the motif is really inspiring - simple yet very sophisticated. The product line-up could also be an indication of what works - for the main part focused on kitchen & table. It’s going to be interesting to see how this collection is received both by the press and retail.

The Bliss booth was in the so called Design area, in which the bigger and established brands reside, like Eva Solo and all the other big kitchen ware brands. It can be fun to check out but I usually just rush past it, on my way to the smaller design businesses on the right hand side and further down the hall. It’s much more interesting and inspiring - simply because they can show you the possibilities that lay ahead. This could be you a few steps down the road.

Next stop was Studio Lisa Bengtsson - a pattern designer representing an interesting style with lots of contrasts, black and strong accent colors in a modern bohemic mix, with influences of Andy Warhol. It stands out among the washed, organic and powdery color palettes you see all over the fair. Her latest collection and mainly exhibited this year is focusing on swans and she has gained a bit of attention in the press, which is so great. She displayed an array of products, pillows, large canvas, fabric rolls, lamp shades, kitchen ware, table settings and a lot of other things. Everything arranged in a dark burgundy, pink and black, sort of messy setting. The impression is in a way gothic and alternative.

Swans everywhere at 

Swans everywhere at 

Another favorite that I have revisited a couple of times over the year is Deco Home. Their concept is so simple and brilliant. They focus on table and dining - solely - all within the Art Deco style. So they have a boiled down and very defined concept and style, which to me is inspiring as I tend to spread to different styles and consider all kinds of products if I should start my own line-up. Maybe there is something to learn from Deco Home (and Bliss). Of course they are not unique with their patterns, you see a lot of other brands displaying products with that typical fan-shaped pattern, but Deco Home presents it beautifully. Their story is also an interesting one.

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A fun surprise and new at Formex this year is Skansen. Skansen is an outdoor museum and also recreation area in the middle of Stockholm where you can see animals, arts, craft and other culture objects and buildings from all over Sweden and Swedish history. Skansen holds an important part of the Swedish culture and landscape heritage, where design and craft is a large part. In the Skansen booth you could view products with old motifs and patterns from the Swedish heritage. Such a treat for a historic nerd like me.

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Traditional and folklore at the Skansen booth.

Traditional and folklore at the Skansen booth.

After this I took a glance at the Young Designer area, but I hate to say that there wasn't much that stuck out, at least not from a pattern perspective. So the only display worth mentioning is ”imiform” - which is designer and illustrator Emelie Gårdeler who works with acrylic paint to create her organic etherial designs. Apart from the traditional pillows, cards, notebooks and trays she also marketed illustrated fake tattoos. That’s a great product to consider, low in cost (I figure) and fun as a gift or way to showcase your work.

imiform booth

imiform booth

Designer Lisa Gårdeler uses acrylic paint for her patterns.

Designer Lisa Gårdeler uses acrylic paint for her patterns.

Before I went home I also had the pleasure of meeting a fellow designer and illustrator that I’ve gotten to know over Instagram. Maria from @dotoditty and I sat down over a coffee and sharing stories and experiences, which is so valuable. This is one of the best things about both Instagram - the wonderful people you get to connect with - the same trade - your tribe.

Last thing on the first day was to quickly pass by the booth of Joy Zandén. Joy was a designer who got recognized at the age of 94 years. Her treasure of patterns stashed away in the basement was discovered by her daughter who showed them to Hanna Wendelbo (see above) who was working at Sandberg Wallpaper at the time, and the rest is history. Joy passed away this spring and now her daughter Jessica Zandén is bravely taking on the honorable task to develop this heritage into a successful brand of products.

Jessica Zandén is a woman of action. It'a amazing how fast she has created the product line-up.

Jessica Zandén is a woman of action. It'a amazing how fast she has created the product line-up.

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Joy Zandéns story and design style is truly inspiring.

Joy Zandéns story and design style is truly inspiring.

Next day I was an early bird, one of the first there. Since the first day was marked by chatting with all kinds of interesting people I hadn’t had the chance to visit most part of the fair, so this day was to be dedicated to covering a lot of booths that I wanted to visit.

One of them was Annette Jakobsson in the Next Step area. Her minimalistic, mostly black and white designs are super interesting. Among things she has a background as teaching textile craft and at the age of 40 wanted to do something new, be her own and started her design business (heard the story somewhere else?). Yes, it was great to chat with her, sharing our very similar stories and she was so kind to give me a lot of advice and encouragement to exhibit myself and take the leap to start producing more of my own products. Her signature style and design is definitely going to be appealing to the nordic audience and that will be easy to mix and match with a lot of other styles. A smart move.

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After this I was sort of done with the B-hall and went back to the A-hall where the major players are. Some fun booths to visit from a pattern perspective was Afro Art, Ceannis, Svanefors and my new favorite Danish Bungalow who had their booth filled with wonderful Indian block printed fabrics, textile and paper products. Yes it was like entering heaven. 

Exhibition area at the trend restaurant.

Exhibition area at the trend restaurant.

Christmas is a part of the August fair.

Christmas is a part of the August fair.

Afro Art

Afro Art

Afro Art

Afro Art

Ceannis displayed a great example of how to renew a product line-up and keep up with the trends. But their signature pattern style is always my favorite.

Ceannis displayed a great example of how to renew a product line-up and keep up with the trends. But their signature pattern style is always my favorite.

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Svanefors - the big Formex dragon. You can get lost in their booth. And very inspired.

Block printing heaven at Bungalow

Block printing heaven at Bungalow

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Cute bags at Littlephant

Cute bags at Littlephant

I roamed the complete A-hall, isle up and down, checking out all kinds of wholesale businesses small, medium, big and huge, but apart from the mentions above and a couple of more (see images below) nothing really stuck out and wasn’t that interesting from a pattern perspective. A lot is the same from previous fairs - graphic-, ikat-, lots of ferns and botanical motifs like palm leaves, pineapples and large flowers.

I didn’t do the whole C-hall, only the booths for art supplies, paper and packaging, but that presented nothing new, except for the booth (I can’t for the love of art supplies remember the name of the exhibitor or find the booth in the exhibition map, sorry) where I got to try some new pens from Uni - a white ball point pen that was just perfect for creating completely white highlights and would not let a black background shine through. They must have seen my bliss when trying it at gave one as a gift *oh happy day chiming in my head*.

The rest of the C-hall is just Gardenstuff and Kids & Toys and I actually didn’t bother to visit those exhibitions (information overload) and went home. Quite content and satisfied.

So the out take of these to days was to meet and connect with fellow designers (I hope we’ll stay in touch) and to learn more about exhibiting and how to go about it to becoming an established designer. The learnings from this I will gather in the next post. 

Now, I think I’ll just put my legs up for a couple of days and process it all.

Thanks for reading!

Lots of love / Bärbel