“THE LIFE SO SHORT, THE CRAFT SO LONG TO LEARN” – GEOFFREY CHAUCER
From ancestral traditions to technical innovations, craftsmanship is celebrated each February in the Maison d’Exceptions “high creativity experimental zone” at the heart of the Première Vision Paris fair. Now in its 7th edition, the curated selection of premium ateliers from around the world reveal the expertise that got the world’s best known luxury houses knocking at their doors. Supporting the continued development of artisanal techniques in textiles, leather and accessories, the Maison d’Exceptions gives brands and designers the opportunity to be inspired by and meet these extraordinary companies who can bless their upcoming collections with that special, unique touch.
To keep control of their precious supply chains, maintaining quality, creativity and – of course – exclusivity, luxury fashion houses such as Chanel have been buying up their native suppliers to ensure their long-term sustainability and to preserve traditional, regional craft industries that are otherwise at risk of disappearing. A return to this vertical/in-house model also neatly coincides with the increased demand for European trademarks – “Made in Italy”, German engineering, British heritage etc. – in the growing luxury goods markets across the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Reshoring is therefore also advantageous from a marketing point of view, however relentless vertical integration by luxury conglomerates is putting pressure on smaller labels left struggling to access key suppliers.
As put forward in her ANTI_FASHION Manifesto, trend forecasting heavyweight Li Edelkoort firmly believes that couture and craftsmanship are making a comeback – evidenced by the record number of visitors attending fashion exhibitions like the sensational Alexander McQueen retrospective. The hope is that this spurs more individuals to start making clothes and take up textile-related crafts, reawakening cottage industries and eventually reopening factories. After three decades of rampant offshoring, unable to compete with the lower costs offered by their Asian counterparts, many European factories went bankrupt and closed down – but all was not lost.
Thousands of textile companies do still exist across Europe, albeit many with an elderly workforce, but with various initiatives from apprenticeships and specialist university courses to government-backed rehabilitation programmes, a new cohort is taking up the tools of the trade. At a time where the glossy, two dimensional world of advertising feels ever more irrelevant and value is instead being placed on experience and storytelling, apparel and textiles manufactured on home turf should also appeal to a more conscious consumer, willing to pay a fairer price to keep these industries going, support the local economy and keep carbon footprint down.
Media exposure in itself helps to give craft greater visibility in the public eye, and for those in the fashion and textiles industries, expositions like Maison d’Exceptions and online databases including The Atlas of Wearable Crafts and Sourcebook are making it easier to connect to and utilise the skills of artisans around the world – yet plenty more must be done in terms of campaigns and lobbying to ensure this craft revival isn’t merely a fad. Following our recent visit to the Maison d’Exceptions, we spotlight three of the 25 exhibitors who came in from across Europe and Asia: some with knowledge passed down generations, others embracing pioneering technology, all masters of their craft.
Cecile Feilchenfeldt (France)
Combining traditional knitting techniques with new fibres, intricate beadwork, unexpected materials, colour combinations and proportions, Cecile Feilchenfeldt creates highly sophisticated, yet equally playful, knits. With a background in costume and set design – most notably at the Comedie Francaise (Paris) and the Zurich Opera – she believes in letting the yarn express itself and is very conscious about how her voluminous forms move. The sought-after knitwear magician has collaborated with the likes of Maison Schiaparelli, Walter van Beirendonck, BLESS, Tata Christiane and many more that remain secret. Take a trip to her rainbow-hued Instagram page and prepare to be hypnotised.
EE Exclusives by Van Engelen & Evers (Netherlands)
Ultra-HD custom jacquard weaving
Van Engelen & Evers have been weaving in the town of Heeze, North-Brabant since 1900, where the family business started out making ribbons, and today supply woven labels to leading global brands. For EE Exclusives they enhanced their label making techniques to produce ultra-high-definition jacquards that can achieve a level of photographic detail: check out Walter van Beirendonck’s SS14 collection or just be stunned by the still life scene at the top of this page. A purveyor to the Royal House of the Netherlands, their clients include Viktor&Rolf, Hella Jongerius, MOOOI and Ximon Lee, collaborating not only on fashion projects but interiors, upholstery, soft furnishing and book covers too – get a glimpse of their latest creations on Instagram.
Living Blue (Bangladesh)
Hand-dyeing and needlework
A cooperative initiated by the international relief organisation CARE, Living Blue offers a range of products and services that showcase centuries-old North Bengal handicrafts and locally produced indigo dye. Representing artisans and farmers in the rural areas of Rangpur in Northern Bangladesh, Living Blue takes care of the entire production chain from the cultivation of organic indigo to partnerships with Galeries Lafayette, simultaneously supporting sustainable economic and social development to help alleviate poverty and empower female artisans within the region. Alongside indigo dyes and dyeing services, Living Blue produces fabric, clothing, homeware and accessories enriched with embroidery, shibori/tie dye and quilting.
Title image: A feat of weaving by EE Exclusives, photo by David Peskens. All other photos by Daniel Gebhardt.