A Return To Crafted Luxury
In June, our studio snagged tickets to 2023’s London Design Biennale – a global gathering of the world’s most ambitious & imaginative designers, curators & design institutes who wish to create a better tomorrow in every corner of the world.
Exhibitions covered every square ft of Somerset House: a fabric-filled courtyard, sculptural sand dunes took over an entire hall and across the cobblestones was ‘Woven’, an interactive installation simulating the artisanship of Al Sadu – the name of a traditional weaving technique performed using a simple loom, moved to the places women gather.
The history of weaving is a tale as old as human civilisation, tracing as far back as the Paleolithic era but reaching new heights during ancient civilisations. Woven demonstrated not only the craft of picking threads and yarns through the loom’s weft but the tradition’s cultural richness too.
Tapestries woven in both the ancient world and the modern one are considered symbols of timeless beauty and exquisite craftsmanship. And made with story. Those told by women working the loom, those told within the work’s pattern and the details in the creation. Its provenance.
Consider Persian rugs. From around 1500 to the early eighteenth-century master weavers, often working in royal ateliers, transformed carpet making from a purely utilitarian pursuit into a highly sophisticated art. The materials and techniques used in crafting Persian rugs have always been central to their allure. As well as intricate patterns inspired by myth, literature, poetry and nature. The geometric motifs, intricate arabesques, and floral designs that adorn each tell a story that resonates with the rich cultural heritage of Iran and the curious collector.
Dynastic rulers of the time, recognizing the rugs' potential as diplomatic gifts, elevated them to objects of desire and prestige. And with the expansion of trade, the Silk Road and the artisans who have kept up the craft since, that pedastal has persisted to today.
Traditional craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage.
As people, we derive such pleasure from the story and details of craft. Immediate examples volleyed around the studio include the textural detail of G. F. Smith stock, a surprisingly ornate umbrella canopy and an unassumingly expensive yet beautifully made fountain pen. In a recent What The Luxe episode, Tom Goodwin – business consultant and author of Digital Darwinism – revealed a love of luggage: anything shiny and metal with Swiss-looking features.
We’re not the only ones talking about this either. When so much of our lives are automated; saturated with mass production, mechanic means and the artificial, it’s not surprising we covet the opposite. Human-made, or at least things crafted from human ideas and effort, are the epitome of luxury.
Walpole – the official sector body for UK luxury and associate partner of Matter Of Form – has been honing in on British Craft in a series of interviews with businesses committed to making in the UK to celebrate International Trade Week.
Sitting down with stakeholders from Fleming & Howland, Gusbourne, Molton Brown, Sunspel and Range Rover, contributing writer Grant Bradley Ford finds “that alluring notion of Britishness, with all its nuances, is still an enduring stamp of quality, heritage, and aspiration.” Further, that “home-grown craftsmanship – no matter the scale – is what people buy into all over the world.”
LVMH Maison des Métiers d'Excellence
Just over the Channel, the world’s largest luxury group is reaffirming Ford’s findings. In late October, LVMH revealed plans for a dedicated space for craftsmanship in Paris’ eighth arrondissement – neighbouring one of the most exclusive and luxurious arteries in the capital, Avenue Montaigne.
According to a WWD piece, “the Maison des Métiers d'Excellence would allow visitors to touch and feel the breadth of the 280 skilled trades represented across its 75 brands, which range from Louis Vuitton to Dom Pérignon, Tiffany & Co. and Sephora.”
The 21,500sqft space will, as well as being open to the public, provide a physical home for the maison’s Institut des Métiers d'Excellence – the vocational training program aimed at promoting, enhancing and ensuring the transmission of craft expertise in partnership with leading schools.
It’s part of a push to consolidate the LVMH portfolio while sourcing new, up-and-coming talent amid a shortage of skilled workers. Expected to open at the end of 2025, the house won’t shy away from the ways in which established craftsmanship and traditions can use tech to spur innovation. Another meticulous balance to be found here, no doubt.
Bottega Veneta’s Accademia Labor et Ingenium
Within the same week, Bottega Veneta announced the opening of their Accademia Labour et Ingenium (Academy of Craft and Creativity). Founded on the principles of craftsmanship, creativity and sustainability, the Academy is another touch point in continuing the Italian house’s commitment to preserving traditional technique.
The school, located across two sites in Veneto – the northeastern region of Italy where the house was established – will not only train 50 students a year but offer them positions as an artisan. Open to aspiring designers, designers, artists, and industry professionals, the Academy’s immersive learning experience will be rooted in safeguarding and evolving traditional Italian craftsmanship – which Bottega Veneta has played a significant role in since 1966.
The house’s relationship with craft is certainly an enduring one (bottega is an old Italian term for a shop with a workshop or studio in the back), founded with the development of a leather weaving design known as ‘intrecciato’ which will presumably be a strain of the Academy’s course.
Five master artisans from Bottega Veneta will be teaching the classes, while the academy will additionally mentor current employees in upcycling and reskilling. Simultaneously, the Academy will collaborate with local partners to celebrate the region's broader made-in-Italy craft scene.
The Value of Craft
Though ‘a return to crafted luxury’ implies a prior severing of the two, our title is a reference to craft’s return to the fore in culture and commerce. Led by luxury heavyweights who find much of their footing in fashion and apparel but who are clearly unafraid of transgressing sector boundaries.
These moves are being made against a backdrop of culture-first strategies to capture new audiences for luxury fashion houses. There seems to be new focus on balancing history with contemporary, to find a sweet spot that melds heritage, relevance and brand vision.
As status shifts from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous commitment (to craft, values and community), luxury finds new meaning in the old adage: less is more. A measured indulgence where gratuitous spending doesn’t go unchecked, where high-ticket purchases are, more often than not, driven by provenance and craftsmanship as well as the context they sit within.
In a world swamped by fast fashion and mass production, skilled hands have become a luxury. And the brands that can deliver quality artisanal craftsmanship – human-made with thought and genuine care – will be the ne plus ultra of story and pleasure. Possibly for centuries to come.
We know the value of tradition. We know when to lean into its soft familiarity and old-school charm, and we know when to push against it. Craftsmanship is an unwavering cornerstone of luxury; in both product and service, digital and analog, real and virtual. We delight in the details of all of them, especially when we’re helping in their creation.
Whether it’s creating a timeless positioning, layering innovation or designing moments of surprise and delight in a brand’s experience, we’re continually mastering our craft; having worked with some of the world’s forerunners in luxury and beyond. To do this with us, get in touch with one of our consultants via email@example.com.