RADICAL LUXE

Not as we knew it: a post-mil­len­nial, post-lux­ury world is be­ing redefined from the bot­tom up, as epit­o­mised by Lon­don Craft Week, writes STEPHEN SHORT

#Legend - - CRAFT -

WE LIVE IN in­ter­est­ing times. Streetwear brand Supreme re­cently con­ducted a whop­ping five col­lab­o­ra­tions – with North Face, Un­der­cover, Ri­mowa and La­coste, and us­ing images from Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Nan Goldin – in a lit­tle more than a month. Rus­sian de­signer and go-to fash­ion hip­ster Gosha Rubchin­skiy, who makes per­fume for Comme des Garçons among a host of other ac­co­lades, an­nounced via his In­sta­gram on April 4 that he was done with his epony­mous la­bel and is mov­ing out of fash­ion. And Vir­gil Abloh, a man who stud­ied civil en­gi­neer­ing and ar­chi­tec­ture but never had any for­mal train­ing in fash­ion, has be­come the cre­ative di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton. It’s not that there aren’t con­ven­tional rules any­more; it’s just that a new – and tem­po­rary – set has sprung up in their place. Given the now­per­ma­nent state of high/low or col­lab­o­ra­tive projects be­tween high- end lux­ury and street, what’s down the road?

It’s a sit­u­a­tion on the mind of Guy Sal­ter, a man dubbed Mr Lux­ury by the UK press, who as well as be­ing an OBE is a long-stand­ing spe­cial­ist in­vestor and re­tailer. He started out at the Ar­ca­dia Group, grad­u­ally mov­ing from fast fash­ion to lux­ury, with a spell work­ing for the Prince of Wales. (The two set up the 100 per cent or­ganic brand Duchy Orig­i­nals with prof­its ben­e­fit­ting char­i­ties). Sal­ter has been the di­rec­tor of Bri­tish jew­eller Asprey and cham­pagne house Lau­rent-Per­rier, as well as an in­vestor in a range of re­tail and tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses such as Gar­rard and Mon­ica Vi­nader (he in­vested in the lat­ter a year be­fore she opened her first store on South Molton Street). His pro bono work in­cludes 15 years lead­ing Walpole, which rep­re­sents the Bri­tish lux­ury in­dus­try. And in 2015, he founded Lon­don Craft Week, an an­nual “be­yond lux­ury” show­case that launches its fourth show this month, with more than 230 events spread across the city. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron made him vice-chair­man of the Great Bri­tain Cam­paign in 2012, and he’s also chair­man of the Great Fes­ti­val of In­no­va­tion, re­cently held in Hong Kong.

So, is lux­ury as we know it – or even lux­ury fast-for­ward, our #leg­end tagline – doomed? “If by that, do you mean are the lux­ury com­pa­nies all go­ing to dis­ap­pear?” queries Sal­ter. “Per­haps some brands will, yes, or they will if they don’t change.” Lux­ury has be­come too trans­ac­tional and ubiq­ui­tous, he be­lieves. A cen­tury ago, a very small group of peo­ple who could af­ford lux­ury made it a much more hu­man thing. They were fam­i­ly­owned busi­nesses, where the per­son who came into the shop had of­ten com­mis­sioned some­thing, which gave it much more value.

“It was like a part­ner­ship,” he says.

Lon­don Craft Week is Sal­ter’s an­ti­dote to massed- out con­tem­po­rary lux­ury. “Lon­don Craft Week is a re­sponse to a re­nais­sance in the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of creativ­ity and craft, to the role of hand, head, unique skills and true tal­ent,” he ex­plains. “It is another ex­am­ple of what, at its best, the world’s cre­ative cap­i­tal does so well – mix­ing glam­our with cut­ting edge, her­itage with con­tem­po­rary, and the com­mer­cial with the cul­tural.”

In mat­ters of lux­ury, he thinks mass com­mer­cial­ism has af­fected ev­ery­thing.

“The level of knowl­edge and in­ti­macy the in­dus­try had was then oblit­er­ated by the growth of baby boomers and the rest,” he ex­plains. “It was a huge suc­cess for lux­ury brands, but also con­tained the seeds of some of their de­struc­tion, be­cause they’ve then had to turn into mar­ket­ing ma­chines they could never have en­vis­aged.”

All of which comes at a cost, both fi­nan­cial and rep­u­ta­tional. “Once that hap­pens, you spend huge amounts of cap­i­tal trans­form­ing shops into tem­ples and broad­cast­ing a brand’s new wares as of­ten as pos­si­ble,” he ex­plains. “But once they do that, stan­dards start slip­ping in terms of qual­ity, and creativ­ity starts to suffer as things get churned around in col­lec­tion af­ter col­lec­tion.” Ul­ti­mately, Sal­ter sees lit­tle spark. “Con­sumers are bored, bored, bored out of our brains with see­ing the same old brands and the same old shop­ping malls wher­ever we go. Plus, we’ve al­ready got so much stuff – none of us needs to keep buy­ing more and more clothes.”

Hence, he’s not en­tirely up­beat on im­me­di­ate prospects. “I think po­ten­tially there are the seeds for a real dev­as­ta­tion of some of these brands,” he says. No­tice­able, too, is a sense of ten­sion in the lux­ury in­dus­try. “I do sense a cer­tain ner­vous­ness out there on the part of some pur­vey­ors. Sev­eral brands ac­tu­ally do play a clas­sic lux­ury brand game, but it’s be­com­ing harder and harder. And I think we’ll reach that aw­ful mo­ment when a brand has not been quite clever enough to keep up, and it wakes up one day and it’s gone. Once it starts to go, it’s gone. That’s where we are now.”

But Sal­ter’s far from pes­simistic about the long-term fu­ture of lux­ury. He just sees a more radical ver­sion of it emerg­ing from the bot­tom up, rather than the top down.

“You have to com­pletely turn it around and think about the mas­sive tal­ent bub­bling up that you see ev­ery­where now – in Korea,

“Con­sumers are bored, bored, bored out of our brains with see­ing the same old brands and the same old shop­ping malls wher­ever we go. Plus, we’ve al­ready got so much stuff – none of us needs to keep buy­ing more and more clothes” GUY SAL­TER

Ja­pan, France, Italy, the UK, China,” he says. “In some cases, these are fam­ily- owned busi­nesses that, for what­ever rea­son, never even had a store, or maybe just one shop.”

He elab­o­rates that another amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non is the num­ber of new brands start­ing up each year that are do­ing in­ter­est­ing work. “There is so much tal­ent out there do­ing things be­yond what peo­ple think of as lux­ury now,” he ex­plains. “If you re­de­fine it that way, and say part of this is about mean­ing and spe­cial­ness and cul­ture, it’s much less trans­ac­tional and much more var­ied. You hard- earned dol­lars buy things from real peo­ple. Even if you’re buy­ing on­line, you can talk to the pro­ducer, de­signer or maker. That doesn’t mean all great brands will dis­ap­pear. They will con­tinue to do all kinds of stuff. I think the ecosys­tem will be­come more in­ter­est­ing.”

Who does he view as the new model for radical lux­ury? “The sort of peo­ple I love are the re­ally small guys. A tiny shoe com­pany called Car­ré­ducker, based in Bloomsbury, Lon­don mak­ing be­spoke shoes – and do­ing so in the way John Lobb’s would have done maybe 200 years ago. I think this is what’s go­ing to change the whole in­dus­try. It’s about those iso­lated tal­ents.”

Who does Sal­ter have his eye on in China? He men­tions two en­ti­ties; one is Shang­haibased cou­ture de­signer Grace Chen. “The other I con­tinue to re­ally hold a can­dle for is [the Her­mès-backed com­pany based in Shang­hai and Paris] Shang Xia. It’s funny, be­cause in many ways, it hasn’t re­ally worked. But that, for me, makes it all the more spe­cial. I think what they are ac­tu­ally do­ing is far and away the best ex­pres­sion of Chi­nese crafts­man­ship and lux­ury qual­ity. All the things are beau­ti­fully made. But iron­i­cally, the rea­son it’s not work­ing is be­cause the Chi­nese aren’t buy­ing. I still think most of what they do is un­be­liev­ably beau­ti­ful and in­cred­i­bly clever; it’s one of those great, huge ques­tions. When it first started, you thought, ‘It’s just a mat­ter of time.’ It hasn’t hap­pened yet, but you won­der when it will. Or maybe it won’t. I’m hop­ing we can in­vite them to Lon­don Craft Week and do some­thing re­ally cool, be­cause I think Lon­don would love it.”

And from which ge­og­ra­phy can we ex­pect new craft to emerge? “The city to watch, in my view, al­though slightly writ­ten off, is Bangkok. On all sorts of levels, it’s su­per in­ter­est­ing. Look at a name like Alexan­der La­mont; I went to see the fac­tory. His R& D stu­dio is in Lon­don and all his ar­ti­sans are Thai. It’s this sheer un­be­liev­able qual­ity of what they make – fur­ni­ture, light­ing, ac­ces­sories. It is just breath­tak­ing. And it’s hid­den away. Very few peo­ple have heard of him. For now, La­mont is dis­trib­uted in Sin­ga­pore, Tokyo, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, but not yet in Hong Kong.” Watch this space.

For those who do make their way to Lon­don Craft Week, be sure to look in on

The Flip­side, un­til May 20 in the one- ofa-kind set­ting of the Old Sel­fridges Ho­tel.

It’s a multi-sen­sory ex­hi­bi­tion that sees Google, Loewe, Mr Lyan, Thom Browne, Gareth Pugh, Louis Vuit­ton and Byredo all con­trib­ute to a thought-pro­vok­ing jour­ney into radical, al­tered states of lux­ury.

How can we re­de­fine this word for the next gen­er­a­tion? And how do we make lux­ury ex­cit­ing and mean­ing­ful again? In search of the an­swers, the film – fea­tur­ing footage shot on a Google Pixel 2 – ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship that three radical cre­atives have with the con­cept of lux­ury. Fea­tur­ing mu­si­cian and ac­tivist Mykki Blanco, chore­og­ra­pher Holly Blakey and fash­ion de­signer Gareth Pugh, the film in­cludes a poem writ­ten and per­formed by Lily Ash­ley and a per­for­mance by dancer So­phie Apol­lo­nia. Wel­come to the fu­ture.

Clockwise from here: Dan­ish ce­ram­ics by Ma­lene Hartmann Rasmussen; Lon­don Craft Week founder Guy Sal­ter; pieces from Cou­ver­ture & The Garb­store

Clockwise from below:Brown bearskin by Eelko Moorer; Reiko Kaneko at SCP; ves­sels by Cock­pit Arts; Cu­bitts horn glasses

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