Houseware to make a better dude
ON Monday afternoon, in a small room hidden amid the swirling insanity that is the International Home and Housewares Show, Tom Mirabile showed off a sleek, stylish spoon with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s just love, you know,” said Mirabile, who served as the show’s lifestyle trend forecaster .
The steamy utensil was part of the Savora line, due on shelves later this year from Lifetime Brands, the giant housewares and kitchenwares company where Mirabile works as senior vice-president for global trends and design. One of the target groups for such an implement, he said, are men, who have increasingly become active in house-outfitting decisions.
Indeed, it wasn’t just the spoons that were dripping with testosterone at this year’s show, which ended a four-day run recently at McCormick Place, the city’s lakeside convention centre. Signs of manliness were evident throughout the sprawling halls, and while many of the man-items were conventionally stereotypical, others seemed aimed at building the better dude.
Man-proofing could be seen at the display for the Qooq, a French gadget that combines a tablet computer loaded with step-by-step video instructions for more than 1,000 recipes with a splash-resistant plastic hull. “It is resistant to solids, to liquids,” said Jean-Yves Hepp, the company’s president.
Of course, after all that cooking, a person might need a strong cup of coffee.
And behold: The Jura company’s Giga 5 machine, a computerised, automated coffee machine that will retail here for $5,500 and includes a dual grinder and powerful “thermal blocks” to create the perfect cappuccino.
At that price, acknowledged Saundra Rich, the national sales training and event coordinator for Jura, the machine is “obviously going to be for a very special kind of customer.” But it is well worth it, she added.
With a motto that sounded as if it were borrowed from a Jimi Hendrix conference – “Welcome to the Experience” – the 2012 trade show was, as usual, a display of both the power of innovation and the endless optimism of salesmen, with rollouts of brand-name housewares and more wingand- a-prayer endeavours (high-end toilet plungers, edible soap).
Three of those dreamers – Stephen Bruner, Eric Miller and Ben Hewitt – gave up stable careers in marketing and human resources for a life in small business. Their invention might have won the show’s prize for strangest name, if there were one: the Corkicle, a gel-filled wand you freeze and then put in an open bottle to keep it cool.
“It came to me out of the clear blue sky,” said Hewitt.
Then there was David Long’s line which is an oddball collection that includes antique looking flashlights ($35), a pocket- size toolbox ($30) and a set of coasters ($20) made from old LPs. There’s no doubt whom his products are meant for: “These are gifts that women buy for men, that men would likely not buy for themselves,” he said.
Trend-spotting, of course, is an inexact science, and for every collection geared to male tastes, there was another with feminine charm, like the elegant brooms from Iris Hantverk, a company owned by a Swedish organisation for the blind, whose sightless members weave the hairs into the brooms’ wooden heads. “They can follow the rows,” said Friedrike Roedenbeck, the company’s managing director. “They can feel it.” Serene House, a company based in Taiwan, went a step further, with a “scentiliser,” which combined a remote-controlled humidifier with a speaker-and-fragrance misting system that played mellow music while a perfumed cloud enveloped the listener.
One guest at the show was the celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who unveiled a line of dude-friendly cookware and kitchen tools, including frying pans with tattoo-inspired designs, that promised to turn users into “restaurant rock stars.” The ultimate in macho kitchenware may have come from Kikuichi Cutlery, whose company dates to the 14th century, when it was making swords for a little group called the samurai. It was a good steady business model but once the swordplay dried up, so did the company’s bottom line.
“We no longer had our customers,” said Ikuyo Yanagisawa, the company’s president. But people still need to eat. And so it was that Kikuichi started making chefs’ knives, in the same ornate style with delicate waves along layers of steel, emblazoned with the same logo from centuries ago: a chrysanthemum. The newest models come with exotic names like the Nickel Sweden Warikomi Damascus. “It’s no fun just to say layered steel,” Yanagisawa said.
Such sleek design was also in evidence at the booth of Eva Solo, a Danish company showcasing a $1,495 gas grill, a shiny, barrel-shaped barbecue bearing little resemblance to your average grimy, grease-stained setup.
Are the Danish big grillers? Oh yeah, said Lars Heede, an export manager with the company. “We even grill soup.” And the flat top of the grill allowed it to serve as a table when the men weren’t manning it in the backyard, said Jan Engelbrecht, the company’s chief executive. “This should be a kind of furniture,” he said. “And it should be nice enough that your wife would want it there.” More American-style man-gear was proffered by Mr Bar-B-Q, a New York company specialising in grill products (everything but the actual grill). The deluxe spatulas had tenderisers on the side and a bottle opener on the handle and could be outfitted with a small magnetic light that could be adjusted to check on the meat. “Our stuff usually ends up in a man’s hands,” said Drew Sfugaras, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing.