If there is something about fashion that can make people very nervous (quote Anna Wintour), then there is something about craftsmanship that can make them feel rather nostalgic. Truth to be told, craft can sound like something preserved in aspic. Something of a bygone era, when people still took their time to build Rome and had affairs to remember. Not something that comes to mind in today’s age of ‘fast, furious and first to like your post’, where we build 140 character count sentences and affairs are only a Tinder-swipe away. One can’t help but wonder: has craftsmanship flown the coop and has compromise become the new normal? Is ‘fast’ a prerequisite to make it into the lives of the faster?
As someone who you can find sitting at a terrace in Venice, Italy, enjoying an espresso (Venice has the best ones) and the view (Venice has the best ones), as someone strolling down the Louvre’s hallways (after all this time still in awe, so I move at a slow pace), and as someone you can see jumping into a taxi to make it to the next meeting, right after kissing Indy goodbye at his school, right before texting our atelier some ideas to solve a design challenge, and calling Markus to discuss the costs for cashmere yarns and my choice of knitting atelier, asking our web developers about that update on the website layout, posting a new Instagram post….I consider myself the ultimate modern-day-time-craved connoisseur: in appreciation of the passion and endless obsession of makers, whether of coffee or art, and in appreciation of convenience, messenger, the Uber app, and same-day delivery services. All I ever wanted was everything, thank you very much. Maybe there’s a truth in here. Maybe slow and fast is not a matter of ‘either/or’, bur rather of ‘both/and’ (like an indecisive balance of power)?
While going over my early morning dose of online inspiration I ran into a short piece by Garance Dore contributor, Brie, who got herself thinking about the fact that “simple, good craftsmanship of decades pasts is no longer possible because our industry is so focused on “fast fashion”. Products can no longer be quite as beautiful without costing an arm and a leg, and so are forfeited for lesser quality, quickly produced goods.” It reminded me of what ignited my own craftsmanship spark.
#TBT Markus and me, standing in the rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, circa 2012. Our status: sweaty, tired, frustrated. We both had tried on countless T-Shirts and had not found one that fulfilled all our requirements. In my case, one that felt as soft as cashmere, with a fit that would lift me up (and put the thin Gazelle I carry inside of me on display for the world to see), from a not too thick, not too thin, exactly right fabric. The T-Shirt that lasts forever and every single time you see it hanging in your wardrobe, your heart skips a beat. Yes. That one. Somewhere, somehow, we – the fashion people – had gone from ‘Coco cares about jersey fabric’ to… ‘who cares, it’s just a jersey T-Shirt’. Or so it seemed. In the plane back to Berlin, I made a note to self: must create the perfect white T-Shirt. And to do so… I had to put in thought, care, time to create it. In other words: craftsmanship.
Creating the perfect T-Shirt turned out to be preceded by 10,000 ways how absolutely not to make a T-Shirt. Aargh, Zut Alors!, the frustrations (and the nightmares, and the eye and tooth infection, I kid you not) that come with finding the perfect cotton fibres to create the perfect cotton yarn (in Italy via Egypt), creating the perfect jersey fabric (in Germany), finding the perfect silk thread (in France), finding the perfect fit (for men and women, because who needs one challenge when you can have deux), and finding the people mad and skilled enough to work with you on turning that one single T-Shirt into a 21st Century craftsmanship product. Despite all of my frustrations and a decent amount of cursing, something good came out of diligence, skills and passion: a perfect white T-Shirt.
Maybe even more now then in the past, craftsmanship functions as that rare human thread that holds it all together. It reminds us of the cultural connection we share, rather than our cultural differences. It’s knowledge transferred from one skilled person to the next. Yet modern-day craftsmanship is not only about hand-craft and tradition. Craftsmanship today is a mix of the unique fingerprint of the maker, of technology, of fusing modern-day and old-world knowledge. It is about continuously taking the time to scrutinize a piece made, and go back and improve upon it. To find answers to questions like ‘Am I satisfied that this is the best I can do? Did I go above and beyond?’, instead of being okay with ‘good enough, who sees it, who cares’ (I see it, I care, everybody in our atelier knows). It’s also about using new technology to make new ways of excellent craft. The small knitting ateliers we work with both have over 100 years of knitting experience, and at the same time use technology to patiently program their knitting machines to make our Egyptian cotton and cashmere fabrics. It’s about working with a new generation of 20 – and 30 something year old tailors and dressmakers and with craftsmen carrying generations of savoir-faire. It’s about keeping a continuous eye on quality and therefore not shipping designs oversees to be made. It’s about creating worth and value rather than lowering costs. It’s about making the hemline more important than the bottom line (indeed, it’s a business model for the brave with long-term vision and staying power potential). It’s not as fast as fast fashion, not as time consuming as haute-couture. Craftsmanship has a speed of its own. It’s a pace befitting superior quality in materials and fit and designs that fit to our 24/7 lives in the fast-lane. It’s something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (or in our case: white). It’s a happy marriage of traditional know-how, and modern product innovation. Now, in a world full of odd dark corners and unsettling nooks, reminding ourselves of that what is beautiful and truthful through craftsmanship is of incredible importance. In this sense, it’s my humble opinion that craftsmanship (in any field) not only matters, it is all that matters.