Meet Claire German: MD of Europe’s largest Design Centre in Chelsea Harbour

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If, like me, you consider London to be the leading light for design excellence and innovation, then Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour must be its most prized possession. Whether you are an established name in search of a design solution for a project, or simply an aspiring designer seeking inspiration, you will be privy to an array of choice all under one domed roof. From classic to cutting-edge contemporary, there are endless avenues showcasing the most fashionable fabrics alongside a host of furniture, lighting and other accessories

This September, there is one design event that will be talk of the town, certain to dominate the scenes at the Design Centre – Focus/14. In light of this, it felt wholly appropriate to catch up with Managing Director Claire German, to preview what she has install for us this month and beyond.

How do you think the Design Centre has evolved and grown under your leadership?

When I joined four years ago what I wanted to do was make sure that the Design Centre was seen as a design destination for all kinds of sectors of interior design; residential, superyachts, architects and the contract side. My ongoing mantra was to attract new tribes. An effective way of doing that was to increase the programme of events and drivehome the fact that we’ve got an authoritative platform. There also had to be a big emphasis on the new collections launched at Focus and London Design Week. It has all helped to create the feeling that what you see in the magazines has stemmed from design directions here.

Would you go as far as suggesting the Design Centre has the ability to dictate emerging trends?

I think we’re the ones creating an authoritative voice that journalists and the industry recognise and react to. When visiting the Design Centre, they start to notice certain trends emerging, whether metallic or geometric, for instance. The nature of their work means they can help create a buzz, drawing these design directions to the attention of the end consumer.

I notice when you have an event you try and coincide it with the release of new collections. Presumably this is a key focus for you and your team?

We do a press preview in May for the September show (Focus), and November for London Design Week in the spring. They are an essential tool for editors to get a feel for the coming season in terms of colours, textures and shapes. They start to see what’s in the design ether, and most of the time it’s also reflected on the catwalks.

I have to ask, does this feel slightly like a secret source of knowledge?

I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it does continue to fascinate me how these two worlds are so closely connected and seem to almost sync naturally.

What do you think has worked particularly well during Focus in recent years?

We normally concentrate on two particular areas – interesting installation ideas and lining-up fantastic speakers. The Conversations in Design programme will continue. Visitors feel these sessions are informal but still informative, which is fantastic, as they are thirsty for knowledge.  They are probably talked about the most, and you wouldn’t get the same opportunity anywhere else. The format gives Focus a bit more of a personal feel, and separates it from other design shows.

Any hint of what is install for this years Focus? How will it be different?

For any event we do, every one has a different feel to it. My team is always eager to make a special effort to innovate. This year we have organised for famous floral artist Rebecca Louise Law to do a fabulous installation. We’re very excited about her creating something completely different and visually beautiful that will complement the architecture of the Design Centre. I’ve been trying to keep this a bit quiet. Plans are also going ahead for a pop-up Tatler Restaurant designed by Wendy Harrop. Of course we’ll also continue our Access All Areas programme in the showrooms.  With over 80 events including workshops and meet the designer sessions, I’m sure it will be a great success.

I don’t suppose you could give me the names of some headline speakers we can look forward to?

Well one person I can tell you whose confirmed is Sir Terence Conran, which I’m sure will be a huge hit. We’ve also got Allegra Hicks coming in to do a talk about her life in fashion and interiors, it’s part of a new initiative called ‘Talking Design’.

Can we expect to see more retail people coming through the hallowed doors of the Design Centre in the future?

Retail customers are always welcome. Trade and retail can co-exist happily. There are parameters in which everyone operates in, and I haven’t had any problems with that being abused. Plus, we’ve got the Personal Shopping Service in place, meaning we can help navigate retail visitors around 100 showrooms, which otherwise can be quite daunting.

Any plans for expansion?

There’s some plans being talked about at the moment, to allow for more events and more growth of the showrooms. That will be happening in the next 18 months. Watch this space!

Finally, and most importantly what about the fundraiser for Battersea Cats & Dog Home?

The beauty of Dog Day is there were lots of prizes including a fantastic hamper from Harrods Estates and Trevor Picketts’ enthusiastic support. It’s mad, but fun. Interior designers always support with prizes and over 50 dogs entered this year including Daisy from the Rubelli/Donghia showroom and, of course Mr T.  He’s quite famous here.  The Chelsea dog owners just love the event and so far over £10, 000 has been raised.

Focus/14 runs from Sunday 21 to Wednesday 24 September 2014.

Interview by Alex Griffin