This is the eighth post in our interview series with ten influential I.D. curators, retailers and creative directors. Yesterday, we talked to Herman Miller's Gary Smith.
David Alhadeff opened The Future Perfect ten years ago on a quiet corner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with the intention of providing a platform for local designers to show and sell their work. Channeling his love of architecture, interiors, art history, industrial design and graphic design, Alhadeff's storefront and his tightly edited selection of furniture and housewares put Brooklyn design on the map. The Future Perfect has since expanded beyond its modest roots, with locations in Manhattan and San Francisco and designs from all parts of the world, yet Alhadeff continues to champion emerging designers and maintain TFP's integral sense of community.
How do you find about new designers?
I travel and visit trade fairs, and I do some amount of scouring in magazines and on the Internet. I sometimes find that to be a little disheartening. In terms of editing and curating a retail environment, I have to think about stuff being in the store for a very long time. With a magazine or Internet article, I can get swept up in the story, and sometimes I'm getting swept up for the wrong reasons. So it can be the wrong place for me to learn about something new. But I like The World of Interiors and Elle Decoration UK, and I've started looking at Elle Decor US as well. Online, I look at Dwell, Core77, Designboom, Highsnobiety, NOTCOT.
I also find out about a lot of designers through referrals. Friends, clients that we work with, interior designers, and photographers—they come into contact with the product in a very different way than we do, and oftentimes have an opportunity to see things that just aren't going to be in stores. The photographers and the stylists are an interesting group of people that I listen to very closely. They're curating in their own way, so they get it.
I always go to Milan to the Salone, and I started visiting the London Design Festival on a yearly basis as well. I make trips to international and domestic partners that we work with, and I try to do a trip every year someplace I haven't visited to get into a local community and do studio visits. This year I'm going to Tokyo.
The last way would be through people who submit their work. We don't have time to respond to every submission, but we look at every one. We do find diamonds in the rough.
Inside The Future Perfect's Manhattan store
What kinds of design are you looking for at the moment?
I'm looking more at designer talent. It isn't necessarily collections to purchase; it's people to collaborate with. We launched our in-house collection last May and we're continuing to expand that. So for me it's more about looking at broader talent bases. I've always considered The Future Perfect to be about the relationships I have with the people, and the makers I work with. That defines what we do here.
I will say, there's a certain type of design that's happening now. There's a return to craft along with the accessibility of new types of machinery and technology. It's pushing design in two different directions, but they are merging and converging. For example, people are having parts machine-made but then using them in forms that are super organic and beautiful. This is something that's new and fresh. What I'm seeing in our community—or with the designers we work with, at least—is a use of the two in combination. A lot of it is just about accessibility. These machines have been around for a while but young, emerging designers just starting out haven't had access to them. On the flip side, there are things that are just entirely crafted. Piet Hein Eek's work, for example.
The Future Perfect will begin carrying Justine Ashbee's Native Line weavings this fall.
What's the best way for a designer to approach you? And what should he or she not do?
I definitely prefer it electronically. In person you're hitting me blind and if I'm standing right there flipping through your portfolio, I can't tell you what I think of it right then. I'm just going to say, "This looks amazing, thanks for coming by." Frankly speaking, I can give you a more honest and thoughtful communication in an electronic way. I want to keep you at arm's length, and a little anonymity helps. Let's figure out what our web is. What's our six degrees? Let's take it more from there. A little bit slower, a bit more organic. From that point I think it's much more successful.
I'm trying to think about the people I work with now, and the people I'm starting to work with. It's about the community, and at this point it's a totally global community. For example, I'm looking for California design and someone in California leads me to a woman who's from Los Angeles but lives in London. Turns out I'm going to the London Design Festival. So I get to meet a woman who's American, her work is totally Californian, and she's actually producing in London. Justine Ashbee, she does a collection called Native Line that we'll be bringing in this fall. This is the way I think things are changing, and why I think it's challenging to discuss geography as it relates to design. Is she British design or is she American design? I don't even think it makes a difference anymore.
The Ovis Hanging Chair, by Seattle's Ladies & Gentlemen Studio
Can you tell us about a recent successful collaboration with a young or emerging designer?
I'm a real fan of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio. I've been editing their collection for some time now, and selling it in the store successfully. Recently we've taken a greater interest in their work, and we're having some things custom-made. We're doing a version of their Ovis chair, getting in some of their bigger works and carrying more of them. That's a good example of someone who goes from having a tray in the store to us selling a broader selection of their products. Working first with a single product and seeing it sell well focused my attention on them, and I've become increasingly fascinated with their talent.
You see a lot of work at the college shows that are amazing, and then the practical business application has to set in. People need to figure out whether they actually want to produce the stuff in an ongoing way. Sometimes they don't. It's an idea. They had it, they did it, they executed it—done and done. Even if it's amazing, sometimes they're ready to move on, or it's just not practical from a business standpoint. It takes too long to make, for instance, a cup. It may be the most amazing cup in the world, but it just doesn't make sense.