No matter how cool and important NeoCon is to the design community, let's face it: Not everyone can make it to Chicago to see the latest new products. That's why the New York design community gathers each year for First Look, a Big Apple event to show the latest introductions to an even larger group of decision- makers.
In many ways, it is a remarkable event. Set in the showrooms at the New York Design Center, it really is a mini-NeoCon, though Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. has nothing to do with the event. It is also notable because of the number of designers who attend. New Yorkers are notorious for fleeing the city in the summer, but nearly 2,500 RSVP'd for First Look, and based on the halls and showrooms, it seemed as if all of them were present.
First Look is the brainchild of Dennis Cahill, director of the event and industry veteran. It celebrated its 12th year and continues to grow in size and importance along with the New York Design Center itself. The New York Design Center — and now the neighborhood around it — has become a hub for the trade, a place to see the latest in contract and residential furniture and fabrics.
Cahill joked that First Look always seems to be punctuated by cataclysmic events like last year's quarter-sized hail that fell or the explosion in Manhattan during a previous event. The 2016 edition of First Look went off without a hitch and opened with clear skies and comfortable weather.
First Look is more exhibition than show since it is a single evening rather than a days-long event like NeoCon or Orgatec. And since it does present products shown at NeoCon, First Look is a bit of a misnomer. Yet First Look is just that for many in the New York design community who do not make the trek to Chicago.
It is also a chance for major New York City reps to get their brands on designers' radar. Gibson Interior Products showed the latest from its lines like Spec, Enwork, Tayco, Via and others at its showroom in the New York Design Center, which is set up like a miniature version of the Merchandise Mart with permanent showrooms on each of its floors.
Companies like JSI and Groupe Lacasse also have permanent showrooms at the New York Design Center and participate in First Look. Groupe Lacasse Chief Executive Officer Sylvain Garneau said First Look is a great opportunity to bring in the New York design community to see the company's latest products. This year, he also wanted the community to help celebrate the company's 60th anniversary.
"We always repaint the showroom and add new products for First Look," he said. "I've come every year (since he became CEO), and it is a very good event."
Not everyone is there. Most of the largest office furniture makers have their own showrooms in Manhattan and do not participate in First Look, but smaller companies find there is strength in numbers, especially when it comes to attracting designers. And there is plenty to look at for those designers.
Companies like DIRTT, JSI and Groupe Lacasse have obviously invested heavily in their showrooms at the New York Design Center. DIRTT's is especially nice with good use of space in a long, narrow showroom on the 15th floor that lets its wall products shine.
Other products are more specific to the New York region, like those found in LaCour's showroom. LaCour makes heavy-duty, height-adjustable desks used in trading firms, built for serious work and a serious number of flat-screen monitors.
First Look is a reunion for many in the New York design community. It is a social event with free flowing beer and wine and a chance for colleagues to catch up on job changes and a bit of industry gossip.
First Look is just that — a first look, an entry into all the new products introduced at NeoCon. It is not a complete look, but it does provide a valuable entry point for New York's design community to get a taste of the trends and products found at the Chicago event. It is definitely an event worth a look.