Sunday, 10 September 2017

MoOD Indigo at Tour et Taxis, Brussels - aka the 'No Toiletries Tour' (though not by design!)

I have just come back from a whirlwind week in Brussels, helping a local designer friend (whom I shall call 'M' for now) to man - or 'wo-man', should that be? - her stand at the well-known trade fair for surface pattern designs called Indigo. It is held in a magnificent former warehouse by the canal in the heart of Brussels, sharing the space with another (strangely semi-capitalised) exhibition called MoOD, which showcases suppliers of upholstery fabrics, window textiles and wall coverings. It was nothing like my normal work (more on that anon), and as with the band tours could best be summed up as 'gruelling fun', as well as being a fascinating insight into an industry of which I was only dimly aware. For designers are the silent, largely unacknowledged creatives behind the patterns on our wallpapers, bedding and cushion covers, shower curtains and tableware, and much more besides. In the UK, my friend's designs have ended up on products sold by Harrods, IKEA, and numerous other household names. She has customers in every continent though, so there is just an outside chance that wherever you are reading this, you may have one of her patterns on an item in your home without knowing... ;)

Tour et Taxis, Brussels

Oh, and I haven't forgotten Part 3 of my Civette & Unicorn post(!), but I wanted to write about the Belgian trip while it is fresh in my mind, plus I haven't had a chance to properly reacquaint myself with the perfumes from their range. It will be up soon though.

The venue gave good girder!

The No Toiletries shocker

So back to the trip. My first role was as driver - of my friend's car - which I had given a little test spin a few days earlier, so it wouldn't be too alien at 5.45am last Monday morning. Though the time certainly was. I am not a morning person at the best of times, and stupid o'clock starts agree with me even less. Not least because they bring out the stupid in me. Sure enough, fifteen minutes into the journey I realised I had forgotten - not just a single item like some hair product or other (see this example of one of my regular dishevelling putty crises), but ALL my toiletries. As in ALL. A whole bulging bag full. This is an omission that reaches new heights of egregiousness, and is all the more surprising considering that I call myself a seasoned traveller. I immediately knew how the mistake had come about: I had put everything to be packed on the bed...except the sponge bag, which I set down on the chest of drawers, such that it totally escaped the insufficiently broad scope of my 'idiot check' on leaving the house. Luckily I had remembered to pack my medication and some make up, but the wash bag also included my foundation, which is, after all, 'fundamental'.

I'd specially bought more travel pots!

And there's me thinking I was so prepared. I had packed a fire extinguisher and Hi-Viz jacket, mustered the Werthers Originals and not one but two Thermos flasks, as well as paying the Dart Charge online in advance, following a lucky tip off that they had removed the toll booths since I was last down that way.

There was no time to go back, so I had the four and a half hour journey to Dover to come to terms psychologically with my loss, and to plan out a capsule set of toiletries to be purchased in Brussels whenever I got the chance. My friend kindly offered to share whatever she could, so I was able to cadge 'all hair types' shampoo off her, say, but her CC cream was sadly too dark. Ironically, M had forgotten her own toothbrush, and I had looked out a new spare one for her from my stocks before we set off. Well, it would have been most churlish of me to have taken it back again(!), even unused, so on the list it went.

The robdog phone charge that wasn't

The next incident on the journey out was a text from Vodafone, warning me that I had already incurred an £18 charge while on the ferry to Dunkirk. I assumed it was for ringing my elderly friend for all of one minute, but the charge turned out to be not so much for the call as my 'passive' / background usage of data (3MB @ £6 per 1MB!) just by having my phone on in the first place. For I was in the 'Maritime Zone', with its eye-watering associated costs - and not, as I naively assumed, in either England or France, where roaming charges have been abolished.

On my return to the UK I complained to Vodafone, and got talking to a nice man in Egypt, who agreed that the charge was disproportionate. The call handler offered to knock off £15 as a gesture of goodwill, before adding that the refund hadn't in fact been sanctioned by the so-called 'Leakage Team', who oversee the amount and frequency of waived charges to customers. If he can't persuade them otherwise, he could get the sack. 'I don't care if they fire me over this', he said, 'as it is a matter of principle'. And on that note, he wished me a nice evening and ended his shift.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Raimond Spekking)

My staple gun initiation

We arrived in Brussels at about 5pm, and immediately set about unloading all the big design folders (industrial-style trolleys were involved!), and customising the stand. The basic frame was in place, but it was up to us to decorate the walls and organise the tables and chairs, lay out table cloths etc, which had the dual function of making the stand look more homely, while providing a large cubbyhole underneath for stashing stationery, coats and other belongings. My friend had created some trompe l'oeil wall paper hangings featuring a selection of her designs from different collections, and in no time I was standing on the tables being shown how to use a staple gun. (At the end of the show, there was a similar induction into removing staples using any sturdy yet pointy object that comes to hand - in the event, my penknife.) I can't speak for myself, but between the staple removal and all manner of impromptu food-related usages, my penknife definitely earnt its keep over the course of the week.

'If it's Monday - or any day this week - it must be Belgium.'

Our rum Airbnb

The next task was to find and check into our Airbnb, which I had picked out and recommended to M, and for which I take full responsibility... For starters, I wasn't unduly put off by the strict house rules - PLEASE THREAT EVERYTHING WITH RESPECT' - or the fact that it looked a tad blokey (lots of black faux leather and bedding). And in its favour the flat claimed to sleep five people, so I figured that the two of us would be rattling around the place like peas in a tin. Well, what can I say? The five people would have to know one another very, very well, and be most economical with their personal space. There was a double bed and a sofa bed, which might just about have slept two in supremely confined discomfort. Then M suddenly spied the camp bed for Person 5, whose sizeable footprint made it a non-starter for deployment on the floor, but whose separate camping mattress - when used as a 'topper' - instantly transformed the brutal and unyielding squares that passed for sofa cushions, and I was perfectly comfy all week on that cunning combination.

What else? There was no bathroom door. Or rather there was, but it was not attached to anything, such that when my friend went to slide it across, it promptly fell on top of her. Then the toilet cistern took about 20 minutes to fill up - it was off the living room, just beyond my feet when I was lying on the sofa, while the kitchenette was just beyond my head. Both in their different ways were jolly handy for what I could perhaps loosely term 'water in the night'.

Every evening we heard loud music emanating from another flat - or probably several, unless the occupants in question had very catholic taste. And the communal hall smelt of drains. Then there was no bath mat or tea towels (the bloke thing again), BUT the water was nice and hot, the price was right, there was complimentary frozen milk in the somewhat temperamental fridge - and the welcome and most unexpected touch of an iron - and ironing board! How many times have I been abroad and attempted to iron on the floor, on a towel - or even on my own knee. (Please don't try this, though it did at least greatly expand my German vocabulary for burn creams.) Moreover, M and I have both travelled enough to take the vicissitudes of accommodation completely in our stride, and were able to appreciate the funny side. And in my own case, the bonus blog fodder side...;)

The slow, cumulative toiletry hunt

After settling in, M and I sallied forth in search of food and late night toiletry vendors, but everywhere was already closed in our part of town. So that night I pinched some floss from my friend, smeared my teeth with a bit of her toothpaste to give myself the illusion of that freshly brushed feeling(!), splashed my face with water, and borrowed a blob of her day moisturiser to use as night cream (it was sufficiently rich to have crossover potential). But as you can imagine, I was still hankering after some products of my own, so the next morning on the way to the show we kept our eyes peeled for a drugstore, or a supermarket with a 'personal care' section. Thus it was that by the end of the day I had managed to score a pack of three toothbrushes (safety in numbers!), some more toothpaste for us both, and antiperspirant. By Day 3 I had added a Nivea day cream that seemed fairly close to my own, and by Day 4 I had gone back and swapped it for the actual one I use that I know doesn't provoke my eczema. (I carried on using M's meanwhile.) This was also the day that I finally tracked down something benign and tried and tested to remove makeup, namely sweet almond oil. While on Day 5 I finally identified a budget dupe of my Clarins Skin Illusion foundation, but as this was the end of the week it hardly seemed worth buying a bottle at 15 euros. Instead I pinched a bit from the tester in the shop and whacked it on my chin, the zone of most concern. (It was quite a week for pinching things, as you can see!)

Survival kit - five items by Friday!

My toiletry 'cold turkey takeaway'

Now I realise I have juxtaposed the word 'turkey' with 'takeaway' - in the sense of 'learning point' rather than anything to do with fast food, so I hope it doesn't cause confusion. Yes, I have to say that although I was appalled and dismayed to discover the absence of my toiletries - which included the following items, over and above what I was able to buy on the fly or cadge off M: eye cream, night cream, serum, an extra type of day cream and a tinted moisturiser, hydrocortisone cream for flare ups, Te-Pe floss sticks, antiperspirant, razors, contact lenses, painkillers, bandage, scissors, tweezers, 4Head headache remedy, soap and foundation - the minimalist approach I was forced to adopt in a week when I had more face-to-face contact with industry people than I do in a typical year taught me a valuable life lesson: people will accept you with a blotchy chin and slightly straggly eyebrows, that's if they even notice. For as my mother used to say, meaning it in the best possible way: 'Who's looking at you?' Wise words indeed.

My forgotten stash!

Sure, I had some makeup I could use, but in the end I applied it very sparingly, since for most of the week I did not have the wherewithal to take it off. I have now had the results of my allergy tests you see (a post on that may well follow at some point), and the vast majority of cleansing products in the stores to which I had access had this particular ingredient in them, which I now know I must avoid. So I ended up going pretty barefaced, as well as caring for my skin in the most rudimentary fashion!

And yet I had a great time, sold some designs, and nobody squealed at the sight of me or ran away in horror. In truth, over the past year, since my bad 'do' with eyelid contact dermatitis, I have been wearing a lot less makeup as a rule, but then I am at home most of the time, and work mainly on the phone when I work at all. By contrast this trip involved contact with people all day it was still an emotional challenge on top of the mental one of the new, unfamiliar work.

The design folders spend their week against a wall

The job proper: 'showing', 'pulling', and selling

So on to the job proper, in case anyone is curious. This exhibition attracts people from all walks of the industry, but principally the all-important buyers at manufacturers of wall coverings and home textiles ('converters' as they are known in the trade), who may spend several days on the trot shopping for new designs for their companies' product ranges. They could often be identified by the drawstring bags slung over one shoulder, in which they would put their pattern roll purchases. Now there were 87 other studios exhibiting(!), so the first part of the job entailed attracting would-be customers to your stand - no easy task, given the option anxiety inherent in such events. Certain buyers were very focused and business-like, and made a beeline for the studios on their hit list, which is great if you are on it, and which you can't do much about if you are not. But most people - including some of those with a hit list - were open to spontaneous cruising of stands, pausing when a design on display caught their eye, or when you got their attention some other way... M had amused me with her explanation that she doesn't do a 'hard sell', but rather a 'hard welcome', the precise execution of which is really down to your own personal MO, and will also inevitably vary by customer.

I'd say my finest example of  a 'hard - and cheeky! - welcome' was attracting a French buyer of wallpaper (who happened to look at me as he was passing the stand), with a broad smile and the opening line: 'Do you still have room in your bag?' ;) He ended up buying a leaf design, despite the fact that I wrongly - and repeatedly - referred to the motif as 'lupins'.

Having got the buyer to approach your stand, the next task is to invite them to a presentation of whichever collections best match their brief or general interests. This is known as 'showing', for reasons you may readily infer, but there is more of a knack to it than might appear. For you have to transfer each design in a collection (which are placed upside down to facilitate the buyer's view) from right to left - not too fast, and not too slow. There should be no fat finger fails as you prise up the corners, and an elegant arm action is preferred. If the client likes a particular design, they will ask you to 'pull' it, which basically means setting it to one side for later consideration.

As a complete newbie, I was obviously not able to talk the talk in technical terms as someone with a design background could - I have yet to discover what a half drop is, for example, and am still shaky on 'repeats' and different types of digital file. But I can now tell my geo 3Ds from my trailing florals, and my novelty tropicals (with or without monkeys, though to be fair they are easy to spot) from my metal or marble effects. A good memory is essential, as much of the job rides on being able to quickly put your hand on any design that could be a match for what the buyer is looking for. Though even I failed to find 'turnable artichokes', or indeed artichokes of any description.

The stand by night!

When you have shown people as much as you think could possibly appeal, you spread the pulled designs out on the table and wait for them to hopefully pick one or more to buy! In this game it isn't a case of 'selling' in the sense of persuading someone to like something, as you might with a perfume - you know, flattering the customer and saying how much a particular scent suited them. Such glib techniques wouldn't wash at all with design professionals. For these buyers have a particular idea in mind, and are merely waiting until they see it.  As I mentioned, the trick lies in identifying - and physically finding - the very thing they are after. And that, in a nutshell, was the job. Well, there were also some clerical aspects to it, plus tea making and launching regular speculative forays on the free pastry stand. Though as with the fair as a whole - the keenest buyers came even before it was open!! - it was very much the case of the early (or adjacent) bird catching the worm.

Time to go home...

Then before I knew it, it was the end of the last day. We had to undecorate the stand, which felt as sad as taking the Christmas tree down, and load the car. On the advice of a local, we made a sharp exit to avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic, and drove straight back to Stafford that night. I kept myself awake with Werthers Originals and a fair bit of cheek pinching after Warwick (I told you there was a lot of pinching!), and - to Truffle's great surprise - we made it back to my house by 2am.

As I unpacked, I realised that I still seemed to have a number of Mary's belongings: a denim jacket, a bar of Fry's Chocolate Cream, a rubber, a Road Atlas of the UK, and - most intriguingly - a red onion.

Taking stock

In summary, the week at Indigo was an adventure and a half. I acquired new skills, made friends amongst the other exhibitors, got to know Mary better, and just as importantly, learnt that I could be endlessly people-facing without the physical and moral support of my usual armoury of skincare products.  And that it would be okay - on the stand, at the after show party, anywhere. This was a revelation to me, no question.

And since arriving home, I have already been invited to join the stand team at the much larger exhibition in Frankfurt next January, where I would be one of two, or even three helpers. I had better get googling 'half drop', then...;)

A strangely fitting display spotted at the after show party

PS In case anyone is interested to know what perfumes we wore on the stand, M was in Jo Malone Orange Blossom the whole week, while in my shocked state I forgot to put any on the first day(!), then wore Mona di Orio Tubereuse (Holland being only up the road) twice, and a scent from the Civette & Unicorn range (still to be revealed!) on another day. At least I didn't forget to bring perfume with me - that would be as sorry as it would be a worrying day.

(By the end of the week, even the Brussels metro was getting in the zone with this design from its Geo Linear collection.)


Undina said...

In the "previous life" I worked at computer and video equipment shows and loved it. Preparing to those shows was so hectic that the shows themselves were almost relaxing. So congratulations on your next gig!

Forgetting something important for my trip is my nightmare. Literally. From time to time I'm having nightmares that it's time to leave for the airport but my luggage isn't ready. I'm glad that you resolved the situation with minimal investments. I suspect, it would have been much harder to remedy the situation with forgotten perfumes.

Tara said...

You know, V, I have a recurring anxiety dream which involves me forgetting to pack my toiletries for a trip! So sorry it happened to you in real life.

You did a terrific job on the stall and I did find the background interesting. I love a good print.

What a star the gentleman in Egypt was!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

How interesting to hear about your previous life! I wasn't involved in the prepping for the show, but some of the standholders, M included, were chatting about it, and all agreed it was the most stressful part. I guess it could be relaxing for a professional in that industry to get down to the actual selling bit, but for me there were so many new things to take on board that I wouldn't say I relaxed till maybe the last day when it got a lot quieter. ;)

LOL at the worse impact of forgotten perfumes. No, I think I could have coped with that just fine. Or M and I could have worn Orange Blossom in stereo!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Funny that I was living your nightmare! I have never forgotten the whole darn lot - what a numpty. ;)

You will be pleased to learn that the credit of £15 the Egyptian gentleman wangled for me has stuck to the wall, so also his job, with a bit of luck!

Tara said...

It did give me a bit of a chill! You dealt with it well though and I think it's perfectly understandable considering they were put to one side.

Oh great news about the credit! Very happy for you and our Egyptian friend.