Every year we wait excitedly for the tile show in Bologna, Italy (Cersaie) and the stone show (Marmomacc) in Verona Italy. It is not only a chance for us to search for new products, but also to meet with vendors, longtime industry friends, and enjoy the outstanding Italian food and hospitality.
The friends, food and hospitality were, as always, incredible. We found a new favorite Amarone wine, and had a great visit to the vineyard when the shows were over. However, Cersaie was a major disappointment to me this year.
As always, I started the show, by going first to see current vendors to view their new offerings. Luckily for me, three of my favorites were in the same building. I was pleased (not thrilled, but pleased) with the products they were showing, and put together orders at all three. There has always been an issue at Cersaie, that as soon as one factory makes an interesting product, the other manufacturers copy it. But this year it was a joke. The entire show was about 4 styles in porcelain:
-And fake combinations of the above combined into one mixed product.
I use the word fake intentionally. Italy has a long history of design innovation. They pride themselves on the “made in Italy” label. The new technology that the Italian porcelain factories have is incredible. Why not combine the Italian love of design, with their leading technologies? It baffles me that all they want to do is copy. I want innovation – not copies. I even saw porcelain manufacturers at the stone show, searching to see what stones were selling well so they could copy them.
So after walking the whole show, and seeing more and more and more and more of the same, I went back to the first three suppliers to review what I had selected. I cancelled two of the orders, because the product was just not distinctive enough, and then went back to different manufacturers and selected what I felt was the very best of what was the very worst selection in years.
Most of Artistic Tile’s products are designed in house, and we seek vendors to manufacture for us. In porcelain technology, however, we cannot buy the enormous minimum quantities that are required for proprietary products, so we must purchase what we feel is the best of what is out there. I eagerly await the day when Italy gets back on target and again leads the world in ceramic design. Until then, I would suggest looking at stone, glass and handmade ceramic, unless you are working on a commodity project!
Marmomacc, the stone show, was better than Cersaie but again I saw no new technologies or developments. It is hard when you are always ten steps ahead.
After the show we spent days looking at slabs and blocks in the Carrara region. It seems that most of the Calacatta Gold that we will be receiving in the next year will have a rust (orange) stripe going through it. Of course some pieces will have the orange stripe and others will not. It is a fact of life. It is where the quarries are right now. We can not change what nature has made. To keep the record straight – what we in the USA call Calacatta Gold, is actually from the Statuary quarries. It is Statuary with a gold vein in it. The real Calacatta is from two other quarries and is more brecciated and colorful. The stone does not come out of the ground with labels on it, and there is a lot of “misnaming” of products. The rule is – if you love it, who cares what the name is. “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just be careful when comparison shopping that you are comparing apples to apples. I saw at least 30 variations of “Calacatta Gold” in three days. At Artistic Tile, we get a photograph of every lot of stone before we release it for shipping. Upon arrival, an executive in our company rechecks all crates before we will receive material into inventory.
We were home for ten days and then off to China and Vietnam.
Our first stop in Asia was Shanghai. The fantastic skyline was starting to light up as we flew on elevated roadways to our hotel in Xian Tian Di. What a nice surprise to find a warm welcome and interesting design details at The Langham, although I am fairly sure the Barovier and Toso chandeliers were not original. We met up with friends and enjoyed a jet lagged dinner in one of the many restaurants just across the street from our hotel. None of us had trouble falling asleep that night. We spent our first day in China checking out the tile showrooms of Shanghai, led by Henry Fan, my son Zachary’s closest friend who relocated to Shanghai several years ago. We saw a few friendly faces but not much of great interest design wise, although the local market seems to be booming.
We did manage to explore the Bund and the newly renovated Peace hotel. The original art deco style looks as glamorous today as it must have done in its heyday. New to me was the proliferation of “luxury” brand stores, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, etc. There seemed to me to be multiples of each in every neighborhood. I think have may have more “luxury” stores than they have Starbucks! And each one of them is huge in size. Little did we know that was to be the theme during the entire Asia experience. We were introduced (once again) to the wonderful world of Shao Long Bao, the local favorite soup dumplings. The chefs were behind glass and had a glorious assembly line of dough makers, dumpling fillers and “molding of the dumpling” finishers. I do not know that much about the various Chinese cuisines but I can say these dumplings are my new favorite. Someone should open a branch of this Taiwanese chain in New York.
Another great evening with dear friends, The Fans, at their beautiful home filled with unusual décor and fine art, and the next morning we were off on our whirlwind trip.
I am a person who travels a lot and has a pretty good grasp of the world but the array of 20 million+ cities in China still shocks me. We arrived in Wuhan (population 26 million) into a sea of mist, rain and cloud and proceeded to drive on empty super highways for over an hour. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at the factory to see a very comprehensive facility processing large volumes of material. While I still hope more vendors will put in color corrected light to QC material, I was extremely pleased with the product we are buying from them. After a full tour and a very unusual lunch, we were back in the air and onto our next destination.
Chengdu suffered terribly under the 2010 earthquake, but it was great to see the vibrancy and new development popping up all over town, including the never ending supply of all the international luxury brand shops. Our local supplier there is in the process of finalizing an enormous new and modern facility and it was a joy to see how proud his management team was in their new space. Once again, the size and scale of our suppliers, and their quest for innovation and technology is really inspiring. Perhaps the idea of “made in China” will soon become as desirable as “made in Italy” is! Another whirlwind of factory visits, both small and large, and we were on our way to Shenzhen.
I always thought this area was in the vanguard of development in China, and while that may have been true ten years ago, Shenzhen seems to have been left in the dust compared to its northern comrades. Roads and signs were only in Chinese, and buildings looked worn and dated. However, despite the confusing directions and somewhat long driving distances, we met up with several new factories and came away thrilled with our developments. Stay tuned for exciting new introductions in furniture and mosaics in 2013! After two super busy days in Dongguan we zoomed into the luxury and comfort of Hong Kong. This is a city that never sleeps and is never finished. New architecture and design are visible everywhere and the harbor was filled with boats, ferries, dredgers, cruise ships and more as we crossed yet another super bridge and tunnel. This city still seems to retain its edge and importance even as the rest of China continues to boom.
Our last stop was Vietnam, a country I have not visited in more than ten years. Ho Chi Minh City was still filled with scooter riders and you do take your life in your hands trying to cross the street. The city has changed so much, and the local authorities seem to be both knocking much of it down while building a totally new skyline all at the same time- and I don’t think urban planning is a high priority in this process. I don’t know what Ho Chi Minh will look like when it is finally finished but I would image it will look and feel nothing like what it does right now. We managed to meet a new supplier for the traditional art of cement encaustic, a technique introduced to Vietnam by the French over 100 years ago. This supplier is the largest and most well known in the country and many of their long standing employees have over 20 years experience working there. This technique is considered an art in Vietnam, and we met two different women who were awarded the Vietnamese “golden hands” category and their stories were told in the national press. It is so rewarding to meet people who love what they do and are nationally recognized for their artistry. That is the kind of experience that makes these long trips extremely satisfying.
Our final day was back in Hong Kong, where we toured the new hotels and luxury malls, to see the realization of many great interior designers and architects. We were blown away by the new Ritz Carlton on the 108th floor of International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon, Hong Kong’s tallest building. After seeing the stunning Palisandro Bluette installed in the hotel’s common areas, we could not help feeling that their interior designers had spent some time in our 21st street NYC showroom. Each and every restaurant in the hotel is spectacular, and the views of Hong Kong are not to be believed. Our hats are off to the hotel’s designer firm (Singapore’s LTW Designworks) and the firm that designed the hotel’s six dining venues (Japan’s Spin Studio) – they both did a spectacular job.
We arrived back to the realities of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it caused in the North East. Some of our employees have suffered severe losses and we are trying to help them, as well as others who have suffered losses right here in our local community. It is always inspiring to travel and find new products and opportunities around the world, but as I always say when I land back at Newark Airport, I am truly thankful for my life in the USA and appreciate everything living here offers us; hurricanes, power outages and all!.
See you next time.