In a recent text for a Paris exhibition I wrote “It is often forgotten that craftsmanship is testament to the continuity of culture. For centuries, it has told the story of empires, regions and civilisations, as a vehicle of both unity and identity.” This, for me, is the irreplaceable value of craftsmanship. Who can resist the magnificence of hand stitched epaulettes, hand-woven Italian lace, intricate embroideries, a delicate filigree surface or a sharp tailored suit? Anyone who has witnessed a couture exhibition, with works of the old masters such as Vitaldi Bababani, Jean Philippe Worth or Jeanne Lanvin, can attest to the bewitching powers of craftsmanship.
We’ve come to see crafts vanish in daily wear, with the rise of mass production and the rapid speed of casual and disposable fast fashion. At the same time the savoir-faire required to make these unique masterpieces too- often handed on from one generation to another-are at risk of disappearing. Artisans are ageing, with no skilled successors to take over their craft. Take tailoring for an example. In the 50s, Italy was home to some four million tailors. Today, this figure has plummeted to about 700,000. For centuries, Italians, rich and poor, turned to tailors to repair a favoured garment or to commission the creation of elegant pieces. A part of Italy’s artistic heritage now risks extinction, and this is no different elsewhere in Europe. Young aspiring fashion students are often drawn to the appeal of designers as iconic figures. It is far more exciting to be a designer than an artisan –say- pattern maker, tailor or knit & crochet expert- often forgetting that some of the best designers known today (like the late Alexander McQueen himself) master some of these skills- even if they don’t have to apply them themselves.
In the words of Persian architect and couturier Keyvan Khosrovani “traditions should be honoured, but innovated for their continuity.” Reason enough for LVMH Group to launch L’Institut des Métiers d’Excellence (IME). An institute with paid apprenticeships aiming to anchor the existence of these métiers for the next generation. In her manifesto Anti_Fashion, world renown Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort predicts the comeback of couture, describing its role as a key influencer in the return of quality fabrics and artisanship in fashion. The manifest reads; “after all it is in the atelier of couture that we will find the laboratory of this labor of love. Suddenly the profession of couturier will become coveted and the exclusive way of crafting couture will be inspiring all others.”
From the Maison Margiela artisanal collections, to the fine artisanal expertise of Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen- as long as there is couture, there will be a need for artisanship. Ultimately, technology need not be an enemy. We see this in the collections of Iris van Herpen, where traditional codes of couture are honoured, innovated and reinvented through numerous research and collaborations with scientists, fellow designers, artists and architects-using cutting edge technology.
Outside the world of couture and luxury brands too, we are increasingly seeing people come together with a new appreciation for crafts. The spirit of Berlin’s clever upcyclers still lingers in the back of my head. The concept of luxury made from old to new is once again blown life a new, through craftsmanship, catering a new generation of consumers that wants something unique, handmade and personal- and ultimately sustainable.