Image source: Iris Van Herpen
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘craftsman’? Perhaps an elderly, bespectacled man hunched over a kiln; perhaps a more fashion-fitting scenario, featuring a Hermès Birkin being carefully hand-stitched by a pair of expert hands. Either way, when considering the concept of craft, most of us automatically think of something slightly antiquated and nostalgic. So how can craftsmanship – and the luxury goods that go hand-in-hand with it – possibly survive in 2015?
As a society, we keep wanting more. Social media has benefited us a lot, but it has done nothing for our buying habits. Thanks to the internet, new sartorial temptation is only a click away; apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Depop and Villoid can easily pique your interest in things you never knew you needed. Furthermore, high street stores and low-cost e-tailers now have a lot of advertising tools at their fingertips. They may not be able to rival Chanel or Saint Laurent in terms of expenditures on glossy magazine advertising space, but it’s 2015 – who reads magazines now, anyway? A backlash against disposable, poorly made fashion has started to make small waves across the industry, but for each individual flying the flag for quality over quantity, there is an army of 100 people hopelessly devoted to refreshing the Topshop website every morning.
“Digital technology brings to the craftsman and artist a range of tools that offer creative opportunities that, before, were too expensive for an individual making one-offs, or too time-consuming or just plain impossible,” Grayson Perry has noted. He has a point: technological advances can only ever be a good thing for the creative industries, expanding the paradigms of craftsmanship. An increased demand for cheap thrills shouldn’t mean it’s game over for the luxury goods sector – it’s time for some fashion houses to stop romanticising the past and recognise that the talented craftsman can still exist in our digitised society, but it’s time for him to change his tools.
Take Iris van Herpen, for example, who has collaborated with a variety of talents in order to produce some exciting, fully future-ready garments. From creating magnetic dresses in collaboration with product designer Jólan van der Wiel to conjuring up a 3D-printed water dress for Show Studio, van Herpen clearly isn’t scared of the future. On a less dramatic scale, many fashion designers are enjoying playing around with fabrics, as textile technology has allowed them to innovate and push the boundaries of their craft. Remember Christopher Kane’s delightful über-fine aluminium organza back in S/S 12? And what about Stella McCartney’s continuing dedication to research and develop animal-friendly leather alternatives (which are then stitched in Italy, mostly by hand, to create the brand’s latest shoes and bags)? With a luxury brand’s budget, the sky should be the limit when it comes to utilising tech. It is a shame, then, that some parts of the fashion industry still have a narrow-minded view of what classifies as craft.
An argument exists for tech being soulless. The average consumer will find it more appealing to hear that their new shoes were lovingly hand-stitched than if they heard they were created by a 3D printer, but it’s important to remember that (most of) the robots have some form of human influence behind them. Anyone can operate the basics of Photoshop, but learning how to use the software like a pro takes a lot of time and effort. While it’s obviously not comparable to spending weeks creating a garment by hand, surely using a 3D printer to create a one-of-a-kind, out-of-this-world luxury product counts as craftsmanship too?
We're exploring how digital technologies can enhance craftsmanship at our Milan Summit on November 17-18 with Rene Caovilla. Join us, by booking your ticket here.
Reported by Grace Howard