The Gift That Keeps on Gifting
I stopped by the New York International Gift Fair last week. Like most tradeshows, it offers a motley assortment of home goods (objects you might plausibly allow into your life) and, as the event's name implies, "gifts." After passing through aisle after aisle of disturbingly lifelike figurines, strongly scented candles that border on chemical warfare agents, and malformed plastic everything, I've come to better understand what it is that differentiates a "design gift" from a designed object.
A design gift has some immediate appeal—it's usually whimsical, funky, ironic, or sleek, and provides a sense of instant gratification. You want it, but you instinctively know that it would be unbearable to live with over the long term. And so, to satisfy your initial impulse to own it, you buy it (you almost can't help yourself), but you buy it with the intention of "gifting" it to someone (as opposed to simply giving it to them).
The Gift Fair is an industry event. It's where stores around the country shop for the merchandise they carry. The sheer volume of manufactured garbage (which is ultimately where most of this ends up) that is on display is unnerving.
That said, there is a small oasis at the fair where some of the finer design companies set up camp, and that alone makes the whole event worth attending. I was heartened to see a significant presence by the venerable German cutlery maker Pott, which until now has kept a low profile in this country. They produce exquisite and shockingly expensive eating utensils. One of my favorites is the Pott 86 series, designed in 1956 by Josef Hoffman, a founder of the Wiener Werkstätte.
There's nothing practical at all about this cutlery. It's made of sterling silver, its sculptural shape is impossible to mass produce (the knife alone requires over 90 steps to create), and each place setting costs over $900. But it is beautiful to behold.
Another favorite is Pott 16, designed by the company's creative visionary, Carl Pott. The trend at the time was toward ornamentation, and this 1935 design was radical in its austerity. It still looks quite modern today:
Pott is making a concerted effort to expand its US distribution (hence its presence at the fair), which means its cutlery should be easier to acquire—or, considering its price, at least admire from afar.