Thibaud Cau-Cecile is the founder of trade show DEN, a juried event which will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from May 14-16.

Cau-Cecile is also the founder of Life Instyle and The Wearer's Right. He studied visual arts in Paris and moved to Australia in 1996.

Architecture & Design speaks to him about DEN, why trade shows are important and the French approach to design.

You started DEN to connect people in the interior and design industry. What was the inspiration for starting DEN?

The idea of creating a show such as DEN has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. My love for design and aesthetic combined with my experience in producing boutique trade shows showcasing selected brands is the perfect mix for the launch of a new design show with substance and a good dose of personality. 

Not unlike an interior designer would put his trademark to a project, I tend to get involved in all the creative aspects of our shows and have created a recognisable style in the Australian trade event arena. My French background, growing up with brands which reflect a strong sense of heritage, craftsmanship and aesthetic, has been a big influence in my attraction to beautiful spaces, products and ultimately beautifully designed and produced events.

The Australian design event scene has seen a few recent changes and we felt that it was the perfect time to launch something fresh to connect a fine selection of Australian and international design brands with interior designers, specifiers, design retailers and the media. Rather than just focusing on furniture design and categories such as flooring, wall finishes, bathroom, we are more drawn to furniture, textile, lighting, object and homewares design categories.

What is your aim with DEN?

By bringing together the most inspiring collaboration of talent and brand names this continent has ever seen under one roof, our aim is to provide Australia with an unprecedented platform for the interior and design industry to connect and do business together. The vision for the show is to place Australian design firmly on the international agenda. In addition to shows held in Australia, DEN is planning to also take place in major overseas design pavilions such as 100% Design, Milan Furniture Fair and Maison&Objet (Paris and Singapore).

Why are trade shows important to designers?

Designers need to turn their name into a brand to sustain a living out of their passion. PR and marketing work is crucial to building their brand but ultimately they need to write some business and show their latest products to a discerning audience.

More important than simply participating in trade shows for them is picking the right trade show. We do not sell a show based on an expected guessed number of visitors but rather work on ensuring that we engage with the right audience who need to know about designers for their project or stores.

What are some important lessons you've learnt from running other trade shows?

Some of the important lessons I have learnt is to never compromise the quality of the content and knowing where to stop when you sell space in a trade show. This is a lesson I learned from other trade shows as we never did compromise on quality in any of our shows.

Being the owner and main driver of the business, I never had any pressure on sales in my past shows, always knew our potential without over estimating and ensured that we spent enough resources in designing an incredible space to do business without compromises.

You can never presume that others think on the same level that you do is another good lesson and if you really want to deliver something outstanding for the visitors and exhibitors alike, you need to spend the time refining every aspect of your trade show.

Finally, when you create successful trade shows, you do attract a lot of interest from various directions and you have to be extremely vigilant on how you associate yourself and who with!

You studied visual arts in Paris. How does the French approach to design differ from the Australian approach?

The French have a big heritage in design and their inspiration is completely different to the one down here. The landscape and culture being so strong produces a very different result. The heritage is definitely a great asset, but it is also very restrictive in the sense that it does produce, too often in my view, an expected outcome. This is a general comment, which of course doesn’t include all top French designers.

Australia has such a diverse mix of culture and therefore a broader source of inspiration which produces something a lot more surprising. The Australian revival of incredible makers and craftsmanship has become something that the rest of the world is now looking at and those fine makers are now in demand outside of our local market.

As far as young emerging designers are concerned, I was at the Paris Design Week last September and could say that I could have felt somehow at home (which is here now) in what I saw. The biggest difference was that the French are mixing design with the latest technology, especially in lighting and wireless, whereas Australian are a lot more influenced by nature and sustainability.

What is your favourite piece of furniture that you own?

My favorite piece is a lamp that I found by pure coincidence going through boxes in a very messy truck in France. I was at an antique dealer house some years ago and I was looking for Jielde lights to buy and bring back to Australia.

The process of finding good lamps in this mess was very tedious but I managed to find in a box a perfectly preserved Bernard-Albin Gras lamp made by Ravel in France and the lamp is estimated to be dated back to the 1930s. The design is simple, robust and innovative, which made it timeless. Designers such as Le Corbusier or Eileen Gray became big fans of that particular lamp and used it in many residential and commercial projects, as well as their own studios.

I am a real lover of pre-owned design and I always wonder where this lamp has been for 85 years.