AUTHENTICITY IS KEY
For many commentators, it is a sign that the humble art of making is very much coming to the fore. Speaking at the inaugural Champagne Assembly organised by Pernod Richard last November, leather goods designer Bill Amberg said, “People want to know that what they are buying is authentic; they want to pick up things and handle them, because that emotional response is absolutely necessary – particularly in an increasingly virtual world.” he continued, “People want bespoke products that demonstrate great craftsmanship and the benefit of generations of expertise.”
By anyone’s standards, Amberg’s company, which launched in 1984, has become a crafting success story. having been given scraps of leather to play with by his mother while growing up in Northampton (the home of UK shoemaking), before honing his craft as an apprentice to leatherworkers in Australia in the 70s, Amberg is one of just a handful of artisans who is committed to promoting craftsmanship in the UK. Catching up with him post Champagne Assembly, the designer confirmed that, “there is a swing back towards sourcing materials and manufacturing where the craftsmanship is clear in the product,” and cited the success of his Selvage bags, which use vegetable-tanned leather from one the last remaining pit tanneries in UK, as case in point. Amberg concluded, “Increasingly, the touch of the human hand is important for luxury goods. This element of authenticity is vital.”
For Louis Vuitton, whole rafts of its website are dedicated to ensuring that the consumer knows that it is man and not machine that is the lifeblood of the business. In a dedicated section on craftsmanship, videos show its artisans hard at work and the blurb will tell you that knowledge and techniques have been passed from master to apprentice, generation after generation. Delve a little deeper, and you begin to appreciate that the company does more than pay mere lip service to this cult of craftsmanship. Its shoemaking department in Italy’s Fiesso d’Artico places the focus squarely on the craftsman. producing a pair of shoes takes, on average, two days and demands 150 to 200 operations depending on the complexity of the design. most of these are performed by hand. “When I look at a shoe, I first look at the elegance it exudes. The craftsmanship says it all. It’s all about emotion and the quest for excellence,” comments Serge Alfandary, Louis Vuitton’s shoe department director. “Our charter is reviewed ever season, in the interests of a relationship between the craftsman, primarily based on interaction and the desire to excel. This passionate commitment means that each person involved invests himself through his production.”
At Chanel, you won’t find an all-singing, all-dancing website celebrating those behind the scenes, but through its Paraffection business it has quietly made its stake in preserving skill and tradition. Created in 1997, Paraffection is committed to saving the heritage of Parisian haute couture ateliers and now has seven ateliers d’art to its name: costume jewellery and button maker Desrues, floral fabric artisan Guillet, embroidery firm Lesage, feather maker Maison Lemarié, milliner Maison Michel, bootmaker Massaro and gold and silversmith Robert Goossens.
A SPOTLIGHT ON MAKING
For Guy Salter, deputy chairman of Walpole, the organisation that looks after the interests of British luxury brands, it is not enough to say that a product made by hand automatically makes it luxurious. When looking at truly exceptional products, his belief is that one must consider not just how the product is made, but also the quality of materials used and the creativity behind its design. He also argues that products can no longer trade on their heritage alone. “Just because something is made a certain way in the past, doesn’t automatically mean that it should continue to be made that way,” Salter asserts. “Understanding new materials and embracing new techniques is part and parcel of life for today’s craftsmen.” When pressed on whether craftsmanship is alive and well here in the UK, Salter says that although he has a positive outlook for the future, craftsmanship is rather neglected in this country. “I do think we have some amazing examples of truly outstanding craftsman in this country, but too few have been able to make their businesses successful. I believe that affluent consumers have got to the stage where they are ready to buy from these kinds of makers, but there currently isn’t an established way for them to find out who is doing what and, more importantly, who is doing it well.
“Meanwhile, craftsmen spend all day at the potter’s wheel, the leathermaker’s bench or hammering a piece of silverware without the time or knowledge to market themselves effectively,” he says. This is part of reason why Salter founded Crafted, an initiative that matches craft businesses with mentors from the luxury industry. “I felt design was broadly understood, and was in fact very fashionable for both consumers and those wanting to get into the industry. The art of making seemed rather neglected in comparison. With Crafted, I wanted to put the spotlight back on making, not for it to predominate, just to give it its share of the limelight.” With craft entrepreneurs now provided with a source of advice and support that will enable them to stimulate business growth, and with luxury businesses now connecting with a new generation of skilled craftsman, the future for artisans and the luxury products they make certainly looks a little brighter.