Rachel Robin and Ian Rudge have watched the show they co-founded evolve from humble beginnings to a key date in the design community's calendar. With 100% Design celebrating its 10th birthday, and still going strong, the secret to its success seems rooted in a combination of fresh talent, established biggies and an irreverent mish-mash of sleek and funky products for contemporary interiors.
When 100% Design launched in 1995, it was into a market ripe for a sparkling new interior-design-based exhibition. Both Rudge and Robin had been working as exhibition organisers on a series of much smaller ventures, including Top Drawer, a gift show devoted to small specialist items. With the recession over, their consultations with designer-makers hinted heavily that exhibitors wanted something bigger, better and with a bit more pizzazz. Armed with a hefty investment from the Euromoney Exhibition Partnership - the exhibition arm of former publisher Euromoney, which was simultaneously trying to break into the interior design market - the duo began a gruelling research programme over several months. What the show required to succeed, apart from top-end desirable products, were clearly defined parameters: audience, ethos and identity. There were, of course, other shows, such as ICFF in New York and the Milan furniture fair, but the duo deemed these 'too heavy'. So with no comparable benchmarks in the UK, it was difficult to know where to start.
'The problem was that things had been too pigeonholed, ' Robin recalls.
'We were proposing a show set on blurring the boundaries of modern design - not purely contract, nor specialist bespoke, not trade and not consumer.' The other difficulty was that to ensure a show of the magnitude desired, the previously untapped big names would have to be approached.
'It was the architects that [exhibitors] wanted, ' Rudge explains. 'But we had to give them a choice. The architects we spoke to said they envisioned somewhere they could buy very special bespoke one-offs as well as batch orders under the same roof. We thought independent designer-makers interspersed with established manufacturers would provide the ideal balance.' The first show, designed by Tim Pyne and held at London's Duke of York's Headquarters, mingled exhibition space, good food and wine, and entertainment to provide a vibrant social arena in which visitors could meet new designers and old contacts, and indulge in some serious shopping. Despite the bigger manufacturers' scepticism (and consequent absence), Robin says the venture was 'actually very successful, considering'. It attracted some 120 small stands, peppered with a delectable mix of home accessories, and pulled in around 7,000 visitors thanks to a generous marketing campaign.
More than anything else, Rudge recalls how he detected 'a genuine sense of relief to finally have a decent show that understood the needs of the market'. Word spread quickly and by the third show the interest and numbers were such that 100% Design had to relocate.
Current visitor numbers stand at around 36,000 and the show now has 450 stands and includes complementary break-away exhibitions such as 100% Detail, 100% Guaranteed and even, across the globe, 100% Moscow.
Both Rudge and Robin admit that when 100% Design sold to Reed in 1998 it was a challenge to adjust to the new set-up. 'It's quite different running it for other people as opposed to owning it, ' Rudge explains. 'You end up spending a lot of the time explaining what, to you, are obvious things because you've been there before.
The details need to be that much more concise.' Robin comments on similar issues, citing a frustrating chain of communication as part of her decision to move on. She now runs an interior design consultancy, Design Unlimited, but speaks fondly of her time at 100% Design, which she describes as 'still the most unmissable event in the calendar'.
Rudge remains heavily involved in the show as event and brand director, and is keen to continue pursuing new developments and evolving the exhibition. 'We have to go forward; we can't afford to stand still and become complacent, ' he says. 'But we set the tone years ago and that's what's made it the success it's been ever since.' Next week's AJ Focus will contain a preview of all the most exciting new projects that will be launched at 100% Design. For registration and all other details, go to www.100percentdesign. co. uk