The Women Behind New York City’s Bid to Become the Heart of American Design

In its 35th year, ICFF is undergoing a transformation. Guided by Brand Directors Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat, the fair has begun to evolve into a dynamic, year-round design epicenter.

This year, ICFF is focused on reshaping design, and creating inviting spaces in which to do it. Pictured: The Oasis 2023. Photo by Studio Caribe


April 26, 2024

This year’s iteration of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) marks its 35th anniversary, a milestone celebrated by brand directors Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat, who are eager to unveil their vision of placing design at the heart of the fair. Through curated experiences and a fresh rebranding effort, ICFF aims to captivate a younger audience and remain at the forefront of design innovation.

Odile and Claire’s partnership began in 2011 when they launched WantedDesign, a trade event blending design commerce and culture, which led to their collaboration with ICFF in 2019. Officially assuming the role of Brand Directors at the end of 2022, their focus for ICFF 2024 centers on fostering meaningful connections, aiming to sustain and expand impactful industry connections.

“We are building upon the foundational principles of WantedDesign, which emphasize bringing together the right people and bridging different design communities,” Claire explains.

Observing a disconnect among various design spheres, their goal this year is to unite individuals around shared ethos and values, transcending mere product showcases. The following is a conversation between Sixtysix’s editor-in-chief Chris Force, Claire, and Odile. – introduction by Gianna Annunzio

Chris Force: How did you two originally meet and begin your partnership?

Odile Hainaut: It’s a nice story. In 2007 I owned a gallery of collectible design next to the Flatiron building in New York City. I met Claire in November 2010 while she was working as the marketing director for Roche Bobois North America. A friend of ours introduced us to each other, and we had a three-hour conversation at the gallery.

We realized we had a shared vision for the design scene in NYC. While ICFF was considered the design week, there was no official celebration of design in the city. We were both thinking, “Wow, this is crazy. We’re in New York City, and there is no big celebration for design.”

We saw an opportunity to create a platform that combined design, commerce, and culture and create a moment in New York where we could bring together the entire industry, from young designers and students, to museums, cultural institutions, schools, and manufacturers from all over the world.

Many designers based in New York were frustrated that they weren’t branching into the international market, and in Europe no one understood the design landscape in the US. That’s one of the reasons we started WantedDesign; to create an international rendezvous for the industry.

We worked like crazy, convincing people to support what we were doing. The first year, we had 30 exhibitors and three key elements: exhibitions, workshops, and conversations. The event was well-received, and year after year, it grew.


In 2019, ICFF told us they were interested in bringing WantedDesign on as part of the fair. They wanted to bring back some creativity, a younger audience, and more discoveries in emerging design. It was a quick decision, but we decided it was a win-win opportunity. We were missing the outreach power that ICFF had, and the financial support — and ICFF was missing two crazy, passionate people like us who would bring new energy to the fair.

At the end of 2022, the director of ICFF, Phil Robinson, left his position. Claire and I were asked to take over this role as brand directors. It was sudden; we had never considered something like that. We thought it over for 24 hours and finally we said, “Let’s do it.” We knew there was an opportunity there for us to implement the vision that we had for this show.

This year, 2024, is the 35th anniversary of ICFF, so it’s a very important new chapter. We have been working for months now with the team to redefine what ICFF can be, should be, and will be.

Our vision is that ICFF is more than just a show. It’s also an organization that supports the industry all year long, hosts multiple events during the year, and is a communication channel for promoting designers and brands.

We also want to put design at the heart of the show, which is really our main goal. When we say that, it means curating the show, selecting the brands, designing the fair itself, and working to design the experience of the show.

We also launched our ICFF rebrand two months ago, and I think it really highlights the vision we have. We want to be relevant; we want to be pioneering; we want to bring the best of what’s coming. I hope that is something everyone will see and appreciate in May.

The 2024 version of the installation titled At The Crossroads of American Design: Sustainability in Practice and Spirit is located at the heart of ICFF. Creative direction by David Rockwell, Rockwell Group, co-curator Pei-Ru Keh, Odile Hainaut, and Claire Pijoulat. There are also contributions from Daniel Michalik, Elodie Blanchard, Kamilla Csegzi, Lichen, LikeMindedObjects, Madeline Isakson, MushLume Lighting, Sahra Jajarmikhayat, and thehighkey. Photo courtesy of Rockwell Group

Why do you think America lacks a strong, defined design voice, especially in comparison to other industries like fashion and technology, despite its robust economy?

Claire Pijoulat: That’s a question centered around a few things—around the culture of design, which is very different from other countries. It’s also a question of the size of the country and just how geographically complicated it is to implement something in the US.

There is an economic theory around design. In Europe, you find small brands that bring design to the forefront. In the US, we have this gap between Ikea, who brings design down to the people, and MillerKnoll or the very expensive brands.

There are now so many small brands in the US, so many makers, so many entrepreneurs that are filling that void. We want to put the spotlight on them.

We’ve seen a huge evolution since we started WantedDesign. There was this movement of makers, entrepreneurs, and smaller companies that were starting to make a difference. It’s been beautiful to see them grow.

Odile: The way it works is so different from Europe. In America, there is such a big market; studios often have their clients locally. There is an ecosystem in the US. But nowadays, American designers are starting to go outside of the US.

Coming from France, it was interesting for us to see all the European brands viewing America as the place to develop their brand and business — without really understanding how the market works.

The reality is you have to spend time here. If you want to develop something in the US, you have to live here and appreciate the methodology. We say that to any international brand who tells us they’d love to develop in the US.

Both Claire and I adapted very well to the speed of the American market. The culture of when you say something, you do it. As soon as you say you have an idea, you better be ready. If you are not, you’ll kill yourself. It’s very bold. It’s very concrete.

WANTED, previously known as WantedDesign Manhattan, is dedicated to emerging design and returns with Look Book, an in-person portfolio for the A&D community to connect with high-end North American designers and makers and source original designs and beautifully crafted products for their next projects. Photo courtesy of INDO-

How do you perceive the challenges of taking on an ambassadorship role to the American and global design communities, especially considering the unique characteristics and size of the market? 

Claire: One of the things we learned through WantedDesign was to focus on the people and the connections. We’ve been working on scaling up the foundations we established with WantedDesign, which is based on bringing the right people together.

The design world can be disconnected at times, but we love to bring people with the same ethos and values together. It’s not so much about the products at ICFF, but the people behind the products. We want to create a space to nurture that conversation.

We hope that New York becomes the Milan of North America in terms of design.

Odile: We strongly believe people need to meet in person. How else will you understand what they’re trying to do? For us, it’s about making sure ICFF continues beyond the fair to make those conversations translate into business. We want everyone to succeed.

The fair is at the crossroads of so many people and facets of the industry. When we talk about scale, I very much believe in the scale of things, scale of moments, scale of architecture, and scale of events.

With ICFF, we’re creating multiple destinations under the same roof. The show is “edited.” I really like that word “edited,” as if it were a magazine. We help people navigate and not only find what they’re looking for but discover things they didn’t expect to discover.

ICFF aims to enhance attendees’ experience by creating new and appealing spaces, a focus that will continue this May. Pictured: The WANTED Lounge designed by Rodolfo Agrella from Rodolfo Agrella Design Studio (RADS) in 2023. RADS is returning to design the physical experience of the fair in 2024. Photo by Studio Caribe

How do you balance growing a fair to meet increasing demands while also navigating partnerships?

Odile: As we took over this new role for ICFF, we have been able to bring something new to the fair, even companies who never thought about joining before. We are proud of that. We want to ensure this is something that really serves and responds to what’s needed.

This year we’re launching ICFF Night Out on Friday evening in Flatiron NoMad, building on the success of last year’s celebration with Moooi, as a way to invite visitors to explore this new vibrant design destination. Last year we also had successful events with Natuzzi and Poliform. We found this way of bringing ICFF outside of the Javits Center, and we are excited to serve.

Can you share any of the other new brands that are exhibiting for the first time this year?

Odile: Home Spirit is one, it’s a French brand. They usually do Maison&Objet. They have a showroom in Miami but they’ve never participated before. We are also bringing back Ethnicraft.

The Bespoke section is also a new feature. For that, we aren’t bringing companies that are presenting product, but instead they’re presenting their savoir-faire. We have a few firsts, including Neal Feay, an amazing company creating high-end aluminum products from small scale to architectural implementations. ­­

A part of WANTED, Launch Pad is an international platform for emerging designers to introduce new concepts and showcase furniture, home accessories, and lighting prototypes. Photo courtesy of Lisa Sacco Design

For people who are beginning to plan their trip, are there any things that you want to highlight or don’t-miss to see at this year’s show?

Odile: We are bringing back At The Crossroads of American Design this year. It was maybe the most covered part of the show last year. We’re bringing back some prior participants, in addition to 18 new companies that are based in the US.

We also really want people to explore the programming. We have a very rich, daily program, customized with a specific focus. We’ll have the main stage, but we’ll also have daily talks.

We will have more cafe lounge seating areas, so people can plan to spend the day at the Javits. They will have a qualitative time, they will have a creative time, and an inspiring time. That’s really what we want people to remember.

ICFF registration is now open, May 19-21, 2024, at the Javits Center in NYC.