craft mania

From bas­ket weav­ing to pot­tery, the fast world of fash­ion is seek­ing some­thing sim­pler. Lou Stop­pard re­ports on the rise of all things hand­made, both on and off the run­way

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

De­sign­ers are lov­ing hand­made, ar­ti­sanal pieces, with em­broi­dery, ap­pliqué and patch­work lead­ing the way.

Ear­lier this year, while the rest of the fash­ion pack were in Paris for the cat­walk shows and the cor­re­spond­ing glut of cham­pagne, free­bies and par­ties, es­teemed US fash­ion jour­nal­ist Deb­o­rah Needle­man had given up her place on the front row to visit the John C Camp­bell Folk School in North Carolina. “In­stead of be­ing at some nice ho­tel, be­ing driven to all the shows, I was in this shack for a week, mak­ing brooms,” she says.

Last Novem­ber, Needle­man quit her fast-paced role as edi­tor of T: The New York Times Style Mag­a­zine, a job she took in 2012 af­ter helm­ing other fash­ion and life­style ti­tles since 2005. On an­nounc­ing her res­ig­na­tion, she con­fi­dently in­formed re­porters: “I want to take a break and spend more time alone. Read­ing. Think­ing. Gar­den­ing. Bas­ket weav­ing. No shit.”

She wasn’t jok­ing. She’s since been on a “craft mania” trip, as she calls it. First, it was bas­ket weav­ing, then it was per­fume mak­ing, then spin­ning wool. “These things had never ap­pealed to me – I had no

in­ter­est in mak­ing stupid lit­tle craft things that were cute – but when I was leav­ing T, I got it into my head that I just wanted to weave wicker bas­kets. It came out of nowhere. ‘I’ve left my job to go weave bas­kets’ – it’s al­most like the ul­ti­mate bull­shit cliché,” she laughs. “It was about bring­ing my­self back to my val­ues and what in­ter­ests me. With bas­kets, it was a tac­tile thing: grow­ing the wil­low, cut­ting the wil­low. It was a way to con­nect with the sea­sons and the process of the whole year. You ap­pre­ci­ate things more when you un­der­stand the process be­hind mak­ing them. And mak­ing things is the op­po­site of multi-task­ing. I was used to a job where I al­ways had lots of things go­ing on at once.”

Oth­ers are also yearn­ing for the sim­plic­ity that Needle­man was seek­ing. Naomi Bikis, fash­ion fea­tures edi­tor at UK mag­a­zine Tank, re­signed from a full-time job to bal­ance writ­ing with ce­ram­ics, a pas­sion she picked up in 2013 af­ter join­ing an evening class at a com­mu­nity cen­tre. She rev­els in hav­ing to spend weeks con­cen­trat­ing on one thing, and hav­ing a break from her phone. Model Lind­sey Wix­son is also good with her hands – she re­cently an­nounced she was re­tir­ing from the cat­walk to fo­cus on “new en­deav­ours with de­sign­ing in­te­ri­ors, pot­tery, sculpt­ing, carv­ing and in­vent­ing for the fu­ture”. It all sounds a bit Eat

Pray Love, but re­ally it’s about hav­ing the time and chance to learn pre­cious skills that may die out rather than the op­por­tu­nity for es­capism.

Many peo­ple first get in­volved in fash­ion for the love of beau­ti­ful things. They’re spell­bound by cou­ture cre­ations or the crafts­man­ship of de­sign­ers such as Alexan­der Mc­queen and John Gal­liano. Of­ten, a new hobby is about get­ting back to the roots of one’s in­ter­ests; Needle­man’s bas­ket mak­ing be­gan partly from a jour­nal­is­tic per­spec­tive, an in­tel­lec­tual in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “When ev­ery­one has a shorter at­ten­tion span than ever be­fore,” she says, “why is there a mania for sim­ple, repet­i­tive acts that lead to a tac­tile prod­uct? But then ev­ery time I go to do some­thing like this, I love it.” She’s un­cov­ered a new side to the fash­ion in­dus­try: “Craft peo­ple are in­ter­ested in fash­ion, but from a dif­fer­ent place to those of us in the depths of it. They’re in­ter­ested in a way that a lot of us were in the be­gin­ning, but then it moved fur­ther away from us the more ‘in’ we got. It’s not the ad­ver­tis­ing, brand, mar­ket­ing or show-cy­cle part of the in­dus­try.”

On the run­ways, de­sign­ers are keen to shake off the ve­neer of the lat­ter and as­so­ciate with the for­mer by also cham­pi­oning craft. A raw, vaguely cosy look has been dom­i­nat­ing the re­cent shows. For AW16-17, Christo­pher Kane showed patched-to­gether pieces com­plete with feath­ers, trims and stream­ing rib­bons that looked joy­fully stuck on. For AW17-18, Prada sim­i­larly showed fluffy, fuzzy cardi­gans that looked as though they were the hand­i­work of an ec­cen­tric grandma. All very chic, all very craft fair.

“Cus­tomers are tuned into de­sign­ers whose cloth­ing has a story be­hind it,” ex­plains Natalie King­ham, buy­ing di­rec­tor at Matches Fash­ion. “One of our best­selling de­sign­ers from our all-year-round va­ca­tion stu­dio, Kilo­me­tre Paris, ap­peals to this sen­si­bil­ity: [founder] Alexan­dra Senes works with ar­ti­sans in Mex­ico, who hand-em­broi­der an­tique shirts and smocks with scenes from lo­ca­tions, such as Brazil, and each shirt comes with a travel guide for its des­ti­na­tion. We also stock Car­rie Forbes, whose hand­crafted shoes take up to a day to make and each pair is cre­ated us­ing tra­di­tional Moroc­can weav­ing tech­niques. Clients en­joy the sense of crafts­man­ship be­hind the gar­ment they’re wear­ing.”

At Raf Si­mons’ much-an­tic­i­pated de­but for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, there were prairie ref­er­ences topped off with quilt-like coats. Stu­art Vev­ers’ AW17-18 show for Coach 1941 had a sim­i­lar feel – full of out­er­wear that looked like vin­tage blan­kets and sweet flo­ral ap­pliqué. A folk­loric thread ran through the Alexan­der Mc­queen and Valentino shows, too. Mc­queen showed lots of ta­pes­try and em­broi­dery, while Valentino had swing­ing bo­hemian dresses in earthy and rusty tones.

At the menswear shows, Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons col­lab­o­rated with Mona Lui­son, a tex­tile sculp­tor in Brest, France, who fur­nished jack­ets with strange, child­ish de­tails. Other mega brands also sought to as­so­ciate them­selves with the ar­ti­san


feel of smaller cre­atives: Fendi en­listed il­lus­tra­tor Sue Til­ley (im­mor­talised in 1995 by Lu­cian Freud in his paint­ing “Ben­e­fits Su­per­vi­sor Sleep­ing”) to offer charm­ing sketches of teacups, ba­nana skins and bath­room taps for prints on T-shirts, bag charms and silk shirts. A few sea­sons back, the look was all shiny, lo­goed sports­wear; now, it’s about cus­tomi­sa­tion and DIY. Charles Jef­frey, the de­signer of the mo­ment, showed jeans cut from paint­ings and knits cus­tomised with duct tape. Art School, the fash­ion col­lec­tive led by Eden Loweth and Tom Bar­ratt, pushes vin­tage-look­ing gar­ments cov­ered with glit­tery em­bel­lish­ments, all while us­ing their run­way as a safe space for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. Rot­tingdean Bazaar, the brain­child of James Th­e­seus Buck and Luke Brooks, has po­si­tioned it­self be­tween the fash­ion and art worlds. It com­bines in­no­va­tion and wit to cre­ate track­suits fur­nished with polyurethane foam casts of seem­ingly ran­dom ob­jects, such as matches and ham­mers.

You could call it a re­turn to tac­til­ity af­ter years of gloss and sur­face. The boom of so­cial me­dia and e-com­merce gave rise to fast fash­ion, which was based on clothes that pho­to­graph well and are quick to pur­chase on­line. The brands that have been dom­i­nat­ing the scene, from Vete­ments to Off-white, have been the ones of­fer­ing vis­ual im­me­di­acy – strong graph­ics, playful puns and punchy if vaguely facile po­lit­i­cal slo­gans – on sim­ple, nor­mal shapes. With peo­ple pay­ing up­wards of $1,000 for lo­goed hood­ies, there was bound to be a back­lash. “The in­ter­net is amaz­ing, but it doesn’t make any­one happy. No-one is happy af­ter spend­ing two hours on In­sta­gram – you’re only ever happy in the real world,” ar­gues Needle­man. “Look at the de­sign­ers at the gi­ant houses – they’re mis­er­able. They’re not free. Peo­ple were sur­prised I quit my job be­cause of how we de­fine suc­cess, but to me, suc­cess is be­ing able to do what makes you happy and sat­is­fies you.”

The thirst for some­thing touched by hand is also about get­ting bang for your buck and in­vest­ing in qual­ity. For this rea­son, for­mer fash­ion writer and brand con­sul­tant Fiona Mackay part­nered up with her friend, de­signer Alexis Bar­rell, to start a craft-fo­cused home tex­tiles and cloth­ing brand called Karu. “We wanted to cre­ate prod­ucts that make you feel at home, wher­ever you are, whether that’s a blan­ket, a shirt or a dress­ing gown,” Mackay says. “They had to be made well enough to last, be unique in de­sign and, most im­por­tantly, to have some­thing less tan­gi­ble: soul – the look and feel of some­thing that was made by hu­man hands, us­ing crafts that have been passed down through gen­er­a­tions.” In part, the project was a re­ac­tion to their ex­pe­ri­ences in fash­ion. “I was com­mis­sioned to de­sign the tex­tiles for a bou­tique ho­tel in South Africa, which took me to In­dia where I was in­tro­duced to the in­cred­i­ble crafts and tech­niques of the ar­ti­sans work­ing there,” Bar­rell ex­plains. “I’d be­come a bit dis­il­lu­sioned with the trend-based fash­ion in­dus­try, es­pe­cially with all the waste in­volved, and I was in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing some­thing more mean­ing­ful for cus­tomers and re­ward­ing for mak­ers.”

To Mackay, the in­ter­est shop­pers are tak­ing in hand­made pieces is also down to the repo­si­tion­ing of sus­tain­able fash­ion thanks to the ac­tivism of key ini­tia­tives, such as Fash­ion Rev­o­lu­tion, a move­ment that en­cour­ages con­sumers to con­sider who made their clothes. “A few years ago, the idea of ar­ti­sanal crafts­man­ship or sus­tain­able fash­ion im­plied that the de­sign or style came sec­ond,” she says. “Now, that’s just not the case, thanks to big names such as Stella Mc­cart­ney who have cham­pi­oned trans­parency of the sup­ply chain, ethics and sus­tain­abil­ity. There’s also a change in the at­ti­tude of con­sumers, driven by world events and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion – for ex­am­ple, re­ports on cli­mate change or dis­as­ters, such as Rana Plaza [in 2013, five gar­ment fac­to­ries col­lapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,135 peo­ple].”

This all comes down to a search for some­thing real and good. That sounds like an old-fash­ioned idea, but it fits with the mood of to­day. This has been the year of “stay­ing woke”, aka be­ing aware, en­gaged and out­spo­ken. It’s the no­tion that is to blame for that


ter­ri­ble Ken­dall Jen­ner Pepsi ad­vert, which at­tempted to coopt the post-trump en­thu­si­asm for protest to sell drinks. Be­ing woke has had a pos­i­tive ef­fect, too, boost­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of out­lets and mak­ers who can offer the au­then­tic­ity a mod­ern shop­per is look­ing for. There are woke In­sta­gram­mers who share be­hindthe-scenes shots, cut­ting through the ve­neer of the cu­rated and crafted “per­fect life” we’re so used to see­ing on­line. Lead­ing the charge are celebrity trail­blaz­ers Amy Schumer and the en­tire cast of Or­ange Is The New Black, who take a warts-and-all ap­proach to so­cial me­dia. Credit also goes to Lena Dun­ham, who, on wrap­ping the fi­nal se­ries of Girls, re­flected: “I hope that Girls is gonna rep­re­sent a mo­ment in which it be­came okay for women to show the full range of their com­plex­ity. Be­ing messy, or in­ap­pro­pri­ate, or sex­ual, or hav­ing dark urges, or act­ing like a fuck­ing bitch, be­came al­right and be­came some­thing you were al­lowed to show on TV.”

Women who speak out are now find­ing a place in fash­ion, an in­dus­try known typ­i­cally for pre­sent­ing a shiny, cookie-cut­ter mould of fem­i­nin­ity. Ad­woa Aboah is the lat­est It-model, fronting cam­paigns while talk­ing openly about her strug­gles with ad­dic­tion and men­tal-health ill­ness. Her close friend Slick Woods is also com­man­deer­ing at­ten­tion, mod­el­ling for Calvin Klein and Marc Ja­cobs. These women are politi­cised and proud; they cut through the bull­shit. And this isn’t a fad: the par­tic­i­pa­tion rate in the 2016 Aus­tralian fed­eral elec­tion was 95 per cent, up from 92 per cent in 2013. It’s cool to be en­gaged. And as Needle­man says: “It’s about an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what’s real.”


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