Simon Jones: Trading places
Author: Simon Jones
Having just returned from Paris and the first Silmo trade fair in more than two years, I’d like to be able to bring some clarity on what delegate and exhibitors thought about the return of live events, but I came away from the show with more questions than answers.
Silmo itself was notably smaller in terms of how much space had been utilised. Vast black floor to ceiling drapes annexed off huge parts of halls five and six. Visitor numbers seemed markedly lower, although there were times when the event had a real hustle and bustle feel. For the organisers, that would have been a heartening sign.
What wouldn’t have been so encouraging was the number of brands that chose not to attend. Until now, Silmo and Mido had been immune from the phenomenon of spin off pop-events that took place at the same time. This year, however, many eyewear brands opted to exhibit in the centre of Paris in trendy loft spaces or hotels – some as groups and others individually. I didn’t go to any of these venues, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would have meant using the RER B train, which was a health hazard even before the pandemic. Secondly, I felt that it was important to support the show and the exhibitors that had committed to being there. Whether Silmo organisers can convince the breakaway group to return next year remains to be seen, but it’s a gradual erosion that will be of significant concern.
What would have been of greater concern was the exhibitors that questioned whether exhibitions were worthwhile. Some bemoaned the expense of space, staff and logistics, while others indulged some blue sky thinking – pondering whether they even needed staff and frames on show at all. So that’s where we find ourselves at the moment – designers thinking whether to use exhibition space as an outlet for art and branding installations. Everything is up for debate at the moment and it’s a conversation that won’t be settled for a long time.