july 2021

Design (and) Thinking #3 – 2020: year zero for trade events.

cover mini saga Salone del Mobile chapter 3

Our mini-series dedicated to Salone del Mobile 2021 continues. In the third chapter, we draw a comparison between different responses to the pandemic from other fields of the cultural world.

The controversy that has arisen in relation to the 2021 edition of Salone del Mobile sparked more than one question concerning the future of trade events, in Italy and around the world. Some food for thought, however, is offered from the comparison with industries related to that of design such as fashion and culture, through the analysis of their response to the pandemic and their outlook on the recovery.


A new model for fashion, between values and innovation.

It’s the case of Pitti Uomo, a renowned event for men’s fashion held in the city of Florence by Pitti Immagine, whose organizers announced the cancellation of the edition planned for January 2021 due to the government measures to limit contagion. The solution, however, had already been provided.

Imagined as a tool to amplify the experience beyond the physical event, and welcomed by critical acclaim at its debut just one year prior, the online platform Pitti Connect became the actual digital location for the event. The web portal made virtual showrooms available to the brands, leaving them free to curate their exhibition without limits of time and space; along with the possibility of simulations and real-time reports on market data and trends provided to help them boost their performance. The single digital space of Pitti Connect helped buyers and reporters to easily navigate the large number of exhibitors through assisted research and advanced features, for a more focused and dynamic networking. Pitti Connect proved capable of meeting the needs of different professional figures within the industry, by integrating and outpacing the physical event’s experience, hence highlighting its flaws.


Pitti Immagine organizes some of the main events in the fashion industry.


The relevance of trade shows in the fashion world is a hot topic that has long been debated, with many opinions lamenting the lack of impact and innovation, when these are the factors who should encourage brands to attend in their own interest. As with Salone del Mobile, attendance to this show is a big investment of time and money that, however, many are still willing to make: William Church, joint managing director of British footwear maker Joseph Cheaney & Sons, confirmed the brand’s intent to attend Pitti Uomo in the future, looking for those values of community and inspiration that can be found in live interaction between professional, while still voicing a well-spread prediction of a ‘hybrid’ future for trade shows in the industry, both digital and physical.


Festivals and streaming, the revolution of the cinema experience.

Another field deeply affected by the pandemic is that of cinema, that for some years now has been facing the great revolution represented by the rise of streaming services. While the theatres’ circuit took the hit caused by the forced closings, film festivals had opened the door to change for quite some time.


The iconic Palazzo del Cinema at Venice's Lido, where the main previews of the Festival are screened.


For its 2020 edition, the Venice International Film Festival faced the restrictions imposed by the pandemic with the aid of the Festival Scope streaming platform, through a partnership initiated eight years prior. The portal hosted a Web Theatre dedicated to the Italian kermesse, with an offer of selected titles from some of the Festival’s main sections. With single tickets and passes sold online, viewers from all around the world were able to access the event’s exclusive previews as they were taking place in the theatres of the iconic Lido. With other major names of the circuit also hosted on Festival Scope, such as the Berlinale and the Cannes Film Festival, the initiative got a widespread mediatic echo that earned it its success.


Festival Scope hosts a selection of titles from film festivals around the world.


Such positive response represents the culmination of the ongoing relationship between film festivals and streaming services, tradition and innovation, in which both benefit from the other’s status in the cinema industry, gaining an affirmation of each one’s role within it. An example of this relationship is the victory of the Golden Lion, the award bestowed by the Venice Festival to the best competing movie, by Roma”, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and distributed worldwide by Netflix.


New spaces for the arts, between experience and the market.

From abroad comes another successful example of virtually translating a trade event thanks to Artbasel, the world’s biggest art fair. When the 2020 edition got canceled due to the pandemic, the organization decided to move the event into the digital world through the use of Online Viewing Rooms.

While the ability to quickly and creatively adapt the mechanism of a big-scale event is praiseworthy, virtual exhibitions were not an innovative concept within the art world. The true impact of this move comes from the choice by such a prestigious name in the field to take the whole buying and selling sphere of the event online, despite it being traditionally based on face-to-face interactions. When key players embrace innovative formats and technologies, these are much more likely to become industry standards, going from simple alternatives to key models in both the communication and sale strategies.


Artbasel's Online Viewing Rooms showcase artworks from exhibitions held in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami.


In conclusion to this analysis, two seemingly conflicting factors emerge: on one side the sheer success of digital innovation, more and more capable of meeting the needs and desires of attendees to the extent of out-shining the physical experience; on the other, the persistence of values and feelings inherently bound to live events, from which the audience is not yet ready to part. Either’s worth is indisputable and the pandemic, with the examples emerged, can represent a new starting point for the trade events’ circuit to rethink its models and, by doing so, strengthen its role in connection to culture, work and society; proving not to just be capable to adapt to change, but to mirror it.

In the next chapter of our series dedicated to Salone del Mobile we will resume the topic of the values of live experiences in the trade shows’ circuit, how they influence the market and society and what are the efforts already being made to preserve and translate them in the new perspective of the much-talked-about “new normality”. See you soon!