Good news for the blues: Tokyo Designers Week

by Danielle Demetriou

Forget green. Once the only color on the creative minds of the world — from fashion and product design to architecture and packaging — its dominance may soon be usurped.

Today, Tokyo Designers Week, one of the biggest events in the capital’s creative calendar, kicks off with promises of not only a bigger, better fair but also a focus on an altogether different part of the spectrum: blue.

“Most people automatically use green as a theme,” says Gwenael Nicolas, the show designer behind the creation of this year’s theme, “Love Blue.” “But blue is the color of the sky and the sea as well as the technology of the future. That’s why we chose it as this year’s theme.”

But the color blue is not the only surprise in store: Tokyo Designers Week (TDW) organizers are in the process of a major revamp of the event, following the appointment of Nicolas as the first “show designer” in its 25-year history.

The French designer, who moved to Tokyo from his native Brittany 20 years ago and runs the design studio Curiosity, has promised an “entirely new experience” in terms of both the overall design of the space and its contents.

While high-profile international designers such as Michael Young have been involved in the creative direction of TDW in the past, it is the first time that its Design Association organizers have enlisted an official “show designer” to mastermind a complete design overhaul.

And some would say it is not a moment too soon. With exhibitors traditionally presenting their work in conventional cubed spaces, critics have argued that in recent years TDW has become increasingly commercialized and perhaps overshadowed by more futuristic and conceptual satellite events such as Design Tide.

This is something Nicolas is determined to remedy. Upon arrival at the main TWD site in Jingu Gaien, near the Omotesando area of Tokyo, the focal point will no longer be a brightly lit rectangular tent with rows of exhibitors, as in previous years.

Instead, 150 blue flags fluttering 6 meters high will line a blue pathway leading to a futuristic semi-transparent dome stretching 27 meters into the sky — home to the “Environmental Design Exhibition Love Blue.” The heart of the new structure will be a hub of parties, talks, events and concerts, with layers of exhibitors fanning out from it.

“It’s going to be a completely different experience from the past,” enthuses Nicolas, dressed in the international designer’s uniform of all black and sitting in his minimalist white Yoyogi office. “Before, there was no core to the event and we decided to change this. I wanted to make it much bigger and I wanted to create a city inside of a city. So there is a different focal point now. People entering the new dome will feel like they are arriving in a futuristic, abstract city.”

It’s not just the setting that’s been given a face-lift. Exhibitors were also screened more rigorously this year, in order to showcase the most adventurous and conceptual “experiences,” according to Nicolas.

“Until now, exhibitors have simply rented their 100-meter-square space and done their own thing,” says Nicolas, whose 12-staff design studio Curiosity has been behind high-profile projects ranging from Shinjuku’s Uniqlo Megastore and the Longchamp flagship in Omotesando to Issey Miyake perfume packaging. “But we are trying to change that. We have been very involved in pushing creators to creating an “experience” and will tighten criteria further each year in the future.

“We also want to shift the emphasis further on things that are not yet in production. It is important not to show what exists now. The point of the event for me is to show what we should do in the future, which is a totally different thing.”

He adds: “The event should be all about the experience. Today, you can see so many products online that some people may feel there’s no need to travel to Tokyo from their homes in London or Paris (to see them).

“But we have aimed to create an event that you have to come and see in person — it is essential to experience it, which means you can’t stay at home.”

The event — which celebrates its 25th birthday this year — has never been bigger. Among a total of 353 exhibitors, the main event has been divided into 18 categories relating to the environment, from water and air to eating and sleeping.

Art is also being invited to play a bigger role, with the introduction of Tokyo galleries — including Mizuma Art Gallery, Scai The Bathhouse and Nanzuka Underground — showcasing the work of Japanese artists, in a bid to break down the city’s creative boundaries between disciplines.

With exhaustion often being a design-overload side effect of such events, Nicolas has also designed a bar at the heart of the dome, complete with black cubed seating and 3,000 slender newly designed LED fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

Furthermore, new annual awards — one prize for design and one for art — are also being launched this year. Selected by an awards committee of 300 designers and creatives from around the world, the aim is to highlight the best environmental projects of the past year.

Holding up to the light a clear spherical award (which will accompany ¥3 million prize money), Nicolas says, “This award, which I’ve designed, is like the Earth. It’s an image of what I want the TDW show to be from now on. It is balanced, pure and simple. It is what design should be about. We need to remove everything unnecessary while maintaining a sense of balance.”

He adds: “When I came to Tokyo 20 years ago, I didn’t come to see the temples: I came to see the future. Tokyo is more a concept than a city. Tokyo has the potential to be a prototype city of your imagination. And hopefully, people who come to the TDW event will feel the same way.”

Tokyo Designers Week “Environmental Design Exhibition Love Blue” opens today in Jingu Gaien, near Gaienmae Station, till Nov. 3; admission ¥2,000; open 11a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.tdwa.com/english.

Gwenael Nicolas’ top TDW site recommendations

Nakadai Project: Industrial waste recycled by young designers in a Material Library project. Jalapagos: A project involving an array of Tokyo galleries, including Scai the Bathouse, Nanzuka Underground and Gallery Koyanagi. Curated by Mizuma Art Gallery’s director, with several dozen artworks by artists ranging from Nawa Kohei to Keiichi Tanaami.

Lixil Forest: An installation featuring a white tunnel of wind and light, designed by Nicolas and showcasing products by Lixil.