In a world where traditional craft interacts with modern design, Antonia Williams discovers new frissons in the handmade. Craft is not dying; it is being brought back to life in your interest, giving support to new ideas, particularly at the haute luxe level. This is not about cheap, it is about the quality of traditional craftwork, the highly skilled methods by which the newest ideas can come into being.
European ceramic and porcelain factories, leather workers and metalworkers, the almost-disappeared workshops of historic expertise, have been bought up by canny entrepreneurs who understood how vulnerable these necessary skills had become, and how vital they are to the upper crust of the market.
So much of the new is made so much better through the knowing intervention of traditional craft and skill. Putting together new ideas with old creates this fascinating mix. The handcrafted is a vital sign of our humanity. It might speak of wabi-sabi, the Japanese sense of the hand that is still visible in the finished object. It might mean the disciplined skills available in a Louis Vuitton or Poltrona Frau workshop, where the hand has ruled for generations. Or the confident moves only possible in a ceramic or porcelain factory established for centuries – Delft or Lladro, say. Or it might be about the way in which we can connect to a communal past, when we were more aware of process and more physically involved in the making of beautiful things.
The zeitgeist has need of craft skills, and the big businesses of design have worked out how to incorporate it in the object, particularly the ultra-luxe object where the quality of the piece relies as much on the refinement of age-old skills as it does on the brilliance of any new design thinking.
Desirable examples include Andree Putman’s Oceano trunk, an haute luxe confection, certainly made for an ivory tower lifestyle in which delicacy of material demands existence within a <ital>cordon sanitaire. The trunk contains all needs, from folding desk to a pair of pouffettes. Poltrona Frau possesses the experienced makers, and Putman liaised closely with them for more than a year to ensure all details were just right. Also produced here is one of the most compelling counterpoints of old and new, Monica Forster’s Esedra. This finely dovetailed leather pouffe is cut and stitched in the shapes of a Lappish hay overshoe, weaving the past and present most convincingly.
Some of the most engaging cleverness continues to come from the studio of Marcel Wanders at Moooi. With his illusory surface on the newly launched Carved chair, he has melded brocade and timber so that the fabric appears as an integral carved surface. While his oh-so charming ceramic pieces for Delft echo the Dutch indigo traditions. Beyond Wandersful Delft, there is also the new porcelain life of Lladro, where Jaime Hayon, the gifted and witty Spaniard, makes modern creatures that have crossbred pointy little men with cacti.
There is also the matter of Meta, a new couture design company set up by Mallett, the well-known Bond Street antique dealer, which, for aeons, has had brilliant craftsmen tucked away in its business. Current darling here is the Fig Leaf Wardrobe by Tord Boontje. Launched at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, this precious metal wardrobe is a clever conspiracy of golden leaves, each signed, which opens to reveal a gilded tree on which twiggy hangers balance suitably divine items of wear.
So much modern design guided and inspired by the new and newer technologies lets craft come in as a curious and heart-warming counterpoint. We see the presence of traditional craft referencing the past, balancing the present by earthing the new. And, mostly, we love it.