Trade fair report: Top Drawer

Who stole the show and what are next season’s predicted trends for the home? Asks Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

If we knew which designers were the Dixons of the future, trend predicting would be easy as pie. Earlier this week, design industry buyers flocked to Earl’s Court for Top Drawer, the first retail trade show of the New Year. All had the same mission – to discover the must-have design products for the spring season. ‘There are more design-led, unique products compared to other trade shows and, more importantly, new to market products that you don’t see elsewhere, says Rebecca Fletcher, Assistant Buyer for John Lewis Cook Shop.

Stealing the limelight at the show was newcomer Sarah Cole of Cole of London who won Best New Gift for her monarch mugs with a difference. Instead of the usual chintz, Cole’s historical mugs depicting the Tudors and William the Conqueror are bright colours and lean on the funky side. Top Drawer was make or break for Cole; it was the first time she had shown her bone china mugs to trade. ‘I've worked in television documentaries for years so I'm used to deadlines and a certain amount of pressure, but this experience was something utterly new. Walking into the vast cavern of Earl's Court clutching my shoe boxes of mugs and seeing the enormous, rock solid stalls of other wholesalers, their goods beautifully arranged, all so tempting and so desirable, I felt fear in my heart in a way that not even the most scathing of commissioning editors have managed to induce. Was I being ridiculously foolish?’ As it turned out, the answer is, no, she wasn't being foolish. By winning Best New Gift, Cole’s mugs have been given a much covetable seal of approval that – all going to plan - should help sales. The judge Sue Tahran, Director of famous independent boutique American Retro praised the mugs as ‘a new take on a classic’ and that it was ‘a mug to keep.’

Fast work for a fledgling artist. It has been less than a year since Cole thought up the idea for her commemorative mugs. She was appalled by how little the teenage children of her friends – and herself on second thought – knew about British history. ‘There was a distinct haziness about Elizabeth I - 'What, was she a Tudor? I thought she was an Elizabethan.' There was a befuddlement over Charles I - 'Why did they kill him?,' she recounts. Cole wanted to take action and rectify learning gaps such as the names of Henry VIII's wives. Six months later, she had drawn faces, chosen funny facts for each monarch and had the mugs made in Stoke-in-Trench. Each are decorated by hand. She said, ‘I wanted them to be fun and stylish and a different universe from the kind of royal or commemorative mugs that you see around with their hazy pictures and lack of information.

Also celebrating at Top Drawer was Madeleine Rogers, founder of Mibo. She won Best New Home award for her orange 100% organic cotton tea towels that double up as sewing projects. Printed onto the tea towel are instructions showing how to turn it into a lion-shaped cushion. ‘Winning the prize was a big surprise; it’s very exciting to have such an accolade on a new product,' says the Hove-based designer who runs the one-man band. 'It shows that my product has been approved by a discerning judge and has a very positive effect on sales.’ While Rogers is pleased that many independent shops ordered the tea towel, she is really holding out for the bigger names; The V&A and the Tate have shown interest but nothing is in writing yet. ‘My aim is to sell to museum gift shops which have lovely design-led craft products.’ She says, adding, ‘They would sit really nicely at The Conran Shop, Heal’s or even John Lewis.’

While Cole and Rogers celebrate their accolades, other designers were hoping their products might fit the official trend predictions which dominated the entrance hall. Leading trend forecaster Trend Bible research, monitor and critically analyse social, cultural, and consumer information in order to make informed decisions. The results are four key home interior and lifestyle 'trends that count now'. The first, ‘Vintage Vacation’ focuses on knitting, embroidery and nostalgia; expect a rise in cake stands and tea party kit. The second trend ‘Spectacle’ is ‘a desire for the unusual and the theatrical’; time for taxidermy, bell jars, magpie motifs and curiosity shops. The third ‘Winter White’ sees milky whites, powdery greys, tactile finishes return to the fore. The fourth is ‘Shelter’ inspired by mountain ski lodges, all pared-down oak, Welsh blankets, vintage ski paraphernalia and stag heads. ‘The products are quirkier as the exhibitors tend to be smaller companies if not individuals, giving you exclusive products in a pleasant and compact environment,’ says Frances Burkle, Chief Buyer for Paperchase. ‘The atmosphere at Top Drawer is nice and a key draw is how you can clearly see new trends coming through.’

Whether Cole or Rogers will be the Dixons of the future is anybody’s gamble. Both British designers have huge passion and might just be on the cusp of making it big. Cole says, ‘I love my mugs, obsess about them, and feel in a rather embarrassing way that this is my calling but the reality that other people really do like them is thrilling beyond anything else.’ Future Dixon or not, I wish Cole and Rogers well.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.

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