Over the past few years fashion house Chanel has bought six of the oldest artisan workshops in France, including Lesage; Michel, a milliner; Desrues, a button and costume jewellery maker; and Goosend, a gold and silversmith. Karl Lagerfeld describes the Chanel ‘satellites’ as the only way to keep French fashion both sought after and creative. While in Italy, Charme, the Milan-based investment group that in 2004 acquired furniture houses Cassina, Poltrona Frau and Cappellini, also bought into traditional know-how, heading to the Scottish Highlands for the cashmere company Ballantyne, which has been knitting some of the world’s most luxurious jumpers since 1921.
At the 2006 Milan Furniture Fair in April, not only was craft on the design world’s lips, it was again heralded as the cornerstone of quality and design culture in a world where mass production is growing at an ever staggering rate. While manufacturers are holding onto skills learned over centuries and passed on from one generation to the next, designers such as Tord Boontje, Fernando and Humberto Campana, Marcel Wanders, Patricia Urquiola and Tokujin Yoshioka are taking a hands-on approach to their work as well. By mixing the R&D know-how of the Italian manufacturers with traditional furniture skills, and some not so typical, such as embroidery and smocking, ideas are developing that are culturally rich and texturally poetic. In a very contemporary way designers are reinventing design with craft, telling stories through crafts linked to history, with the added benefit of offering a unique one-of-a-kind feel at a production level.
Craft was also a hot topic of discussion for countries looking to nurture their nation’s traditional manufacturing skills, and saw the world of marketing managers strangely contrasted with the world of craftspeople. One of the key shows was the exhibition commissioned by President of the Sardinia Regional Council, Renato Soru, which re-launched Sardinian craft – weaving, pottery, textiles and basket making – and allowed design to interact with local skills and expertise.