Back to re­al­ity

From bas­ket weaving to pottery, the fast world of fash­ion is seek­ing some­thing sim­pler. Some­thing that feels more real than what they’re used to. Lou Stop­pard re­ports on the re­turn to craft, both on and off the run­way

ELLE (Malaysia) - - AGENDA FEATURE -

In Fe­bru­ary, while the rest of the fash­ion pack was in Paris for the cat­walk shows and the cor­re­spond­ing glut of cham­pagne, free­bies and par­ties, fash­ion jour­nal­ist Deb­o­rah Needle­man had given up her front row seat to visit the John C. Camp­bell Folk School in Brasstown, 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.”

In Novem­ber 2016, Needle­man quit her 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 mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, 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 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 mul­ti­task­ing. 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. Fash­ion fea­tures ed­i­tor Naomi Bikis 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 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. Lots of peo­ple first get in­volved in fash­ion for the love of beau­ti­ful things. They were 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 the peo­ple who are 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.”

“‘I’ve left my job to go weave bas­kets’ – it’s al­most like the ul­ti­mate bull­shit cliché.”

A Sue Til­ley il­lus­tra­tion takes pride of place on a Fendi menswear bag

Left and cen­tre: Alexan­der McQueen

Above and left: Prada. Be­low: Christo­pher Kane

Deb­o­rah Needle­man quit her job to take up a series of hand­crafts

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