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Design Shanghai 2016: The Good, The Bad, And The Tacky

Highs and lows from "Asia's Biggest Design Showcase."
By Mar 9, 2016 Arts & Stage
Design Shanghai, now on year three, is this huge interior design showcase / trade show over at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, that colossal piece of Russian design just off Yan'an Lu. For the next four days, that palace is filled with folks browsing booths by about 300 brands, from Swarovski and HAY to Bang & Olufsen and some of China's own, mostly pushing luxury home furnishings for one-percenters -- crystal peacocks, crystal ping pong tables, massive carpets, chandeliers, air purifiers, Dorian Grey beds, pictures of Dorian Grey -- to the newly-minted China market. There's a lot of that, but like digging through bad records in some weird garage, there are some gems too.

Overall, the event is neither a buffet of cutting-edge design nor a loud, tuhao horrorshow (plenty of gaudiness though). Organization seems lackluster, and many of the best objects are hidden downstairs or in other low traffic areas. Maybe Design Shanghai gets better with the free Martell, or the pastries from the Land Rover / Jaguar patisserie. The tea is good. Ticket is 200rmb, which is steep considering booths cost at least 4000-80000rmb. Scalpers were out in force, some pushing VIP passes. For those who work in design, it's a good event for networking. Some famous designers were just chilling there today, looking exhausted but approachable. Lots of talks and lectures too -- here's the full schedule. And it's great place to score some furniture for your short-lived concept restaurant, KTV, or exclusive bathhouse.

It was not a wasted morning. Here's some highlights from our journey through Design Shanghai 2016.

This one picture pretty much encapsulates the experience: lots of baffling things going on and it's really difficult to figure out how to feel about it. This is like The Predator's ski lodge in 1987 or something. And that's... kinda great?

Just imagining how this board meeting went...

Jenkins: "We NEED something to sell to all these new money Chinese people."

Thompson: "...I've got it! LUXURY ping-pong tables! They'll eat it up! Get Tony on the phone and order five NOW, god dammit."

So you're thinking of opening a single-malt whisky bar called... ANACHRONISMS AND BAD BUSINESS IDEAS.

So much better than that "Wolves" song on Kanye's last album...

This bed is 80,000 Euros. [That's the joke].

Can't have a trade fair in China without a token foreign bro. Here he is in his natural habitat, looking pensive, making some mini-croissant sandwiches.

Just 300,000rmb can buy you a rare Swarovski peacock, which is like the Mario invincibility-star of feng shui.

If you finished partying at The Mansion at 10am then wandered into IKEA, it might look like...

Too many carpets and rugs...

There were some gems at Design Shanghai, especially in the contemporary section downstairs. This bench, for instance. Playful and elegant.

"Follow your nose! It always knows!"

A preview of the killer bee apocalypse, now available for your home. These huge insects are also downstairs.

The rare linograph technique, which looks like screen-printing but it's actually linoleum engraving with blocks. Very cool. They've got several pieces by the Danish artist Esben Rimfaxe for sale.

Crucial gummi worm lamp. Cost? Priceless. (Seriously. Tried to buy it. Not for sale.) Many of the better works, like this one, came from Chinese and China-based designers. As one attendee put it, "So many Chinese people love that European style -- the big Greek statues in apartment compounds -- so it's nice to just see, you know, a teacup someone spent years making."

You may have seen works by Jonas Merian at markets around town. He's been around for years and used to have a workshop up in Yangpu by the wedding photography ghetto. Lately the ex-prosthetics maker is making pieces out of wood collected from Kangding Lu.

One more good one, before we dive...

...right back into the bullshit.


"But wait, does Design Shanghai have any secret levels?" Why yes. On the way out, there's this very KTV looking hall in one of the Martell rooms. Nice! Someone put a sketchy KTV in Design Shanghai. That's where a lot of this furniture is going to end up anyway. Tough bouncers manning this thing, but Tony cracked one of them in the head with a fire extinguisher and ran inside.

LAME. Turns out it's just "La French Martell", a light show that flashs and pulses to the sounds of Justice's first album. Phhhhhh! This is like an S.T.D. DJ set from 2008. If you're doing a club lights show in 2016, there better be some god damn holograms.

There you have it folks. Design Shanghai 2016, signing off. Catch you next year. The event runs from 10am-6pm, March 9-12 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. More info in our event listing.



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  • smoteshanghai

    "a rare Swarovski peacock, which is like the Mario invincibility-star of feng shui" Ha! I'm gonna get me one of those, feed it Super Mushrooms till it sextuples in size, and then sell it to Budi Tek for a profit

  • jonasdesign

    Thanks Ian to mention my new works that I'm doing together with the designer Moritz Spielberg under the new brand "JoMo Design". More info under
    By the way, my studio is still in the same place in Yangpu district.... I'm just not living there any more....

  • 5 years ago Logibear

    Ha! great review and summed up my thoughts. That stuff by Jonas Merian was actually reallllly cool. I love the idea of taking these pieces of history and making something so new and polished. There were also some really cool angular chairs that reminded me of something from a video game.

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