Crafting the new luxury
I recently came across a thought-provoking article exploring a shift in consumer’s perception of ‘luxury’. Entitled Craft the New Luxury, it examines this new appraisal of what constitutes luxury, as well as the changing place in society of ‘craft’. Author of the article Professor Bruce Montgomery, a design consultant and Professor in Design Craftsmanship at Northumbria University, believes he understands where this newfound love of craft is coming from.
“Unique, irreplaceable crafted products allow us to see that taste is about more than money. Craft will offer us a way to once again show off our originality, our refinement and our élan… This is not craft in the way that it is commonly used, but about an authentic, human relationship with the products we buy.”
Without doubt, when I was growing up, the concept of craft had rather pejorative connotations and was widely considered the poor man’s home-made alternative to what we perceived as chic, shop-bought packaged brands. Craft was the antithesis of cool, it conjured up the embarrassing hand-knitted tank-top, the patchwork quilt and cushions celebrated by our great aunties, it was the stuff of bring-and-buy sales, it was rustic and chunky, unrefined and wonky, it was one-size fits all and, despite making a brave attempt to look like The Real Thing, it invariably failed miserably on all fronts. The Real Thing was effectively anything that came from a proper shop, was manufactured and packaged and bore a label. Not labels in the sense they are used now (as in big, in-your-face designer labels) but simply labels to show they hadn’t been made lovingly by the lady down the road or the bloke with the workshop at the back of the pub.
The rejection of all things handcrafted, home-made and home-grown was also very apparent to me when living in Brazil throughout the 90s. Despite having a considerable and indeed healthy national pride, Brazilians seemed to lust after anything that was “importado”. Adults and children alike would favour factory-made, cheap and nasty products shipped in their millions halfway across the world from Taiwan and Vietnam over the often beautiful equivalents made by their own indigenous highly talented craftspeople.
But it would seem that people’s perception of craft has been undergoing a radical change since then and much of this is down to the fact that the so-called luxury goods that we always aspired to possess have not only become so much more accessible but also totally ubiquitous. Our markets as well as our psyches are saturated with their names, their branding and the latest version/update/season of the products themselves and we are beginning to crave something completely different. According to Professor Montgomery:
“Low-cost manufacturing and competitively priced high-street and designer goods have given almost everyone the opportunity to own luxurious products in a way that would once have been unimaginable…. Luxury has always included a sense of exclusivity. But as high-street retailers and counterfeiters bring variations of luxury goods within reach of every pocket, the exclusiveness of luxury is being lost.”
It seems there is a major mood swing underway right across the board in both the definition of luxury, and the appreciation of craft and craftsmanship. Even the top designer brands are recognising that they need to introduce a differentiating factor to add exclusivity into their mass of products that flood boutiques at every international airport across the globe. It’s no coincidence that top brands such as Fendi are making efforts to present a strong craft element to some of their designs to distinguish them from the rest. In parallel, there has been a major shift in aspirations amongst a large swathe of highly fashion conscious wealthy young Japanese urbanites who are losing interest in the big brands and are setting themselves apart by tracking down the wares of the individual barely-known designers.
In our over-loaded, over-manufactured, increasingly homogenous world of Stuff, there is an appetite to return to the painstaking, loving, incredibly skilful work of the craftsperson who blends creativity with, yes, exclusivity, by virtue of the fact that they can only produce in relatively tiny numbers. Mass production is simply not an option for the craftsperson. Our clients at Tree Couture recognise the value in this on every level. They derive great pleasure from the discernible quality of the materials, the craftsmanship (time, skill effort) inherent within each piece, the exclusivity of the individual item as well as from a personal engagement with the maker. Having an insight into what has gone in to the making of their piece of solid wood furniture alone adds another layer of value to their investment.
This holds true for the clients of all the craftspeople I know, and is particularly evident amongst the clientele of The Clerkenwell Collection where we at Tree Couture exhibit our pieces. All the creative businesses that have a presence there, being at the top of their respective crafts, are enjoying and appreciating this acknowledgement of the new luxury. In the Professor’s words:
“Craft for me is the future of luxury, both because the makers of luxury goods have to be able to distinguish themselves from the high-street and because consumers want to distinguish themselves from others as people of taste and style. But, fundamentally, craft products are attractive because their values – uniqueness, authenticity, sustainability, tactility – are rooted in the human. Another human being has energised and imbued them with human traits such as personality, knowledge and memory, and, as human beings, we value that creativity.”
For the full unabridged article by Professor Bruce Montgomery, please click on the link below:
The article was published in issue 214 of Craft&Design magazine – craftanddesign.net