The New Craftsmen – Luxury Now
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The New Craftsmen – Luxury Now
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London’s position as one of the largest luxury markets in the world affords those of us who live and work within the industry an opportunity to watch it evolve, and to ask, as the V&A did with one of this year’s exhibitions: ‘What is luxury?’ It’s a question that Mark Henderson, Founder of The New Craftsmen, is focussed on having set himself the mission of bringing British craft into the luxury sphere. Even now, the word ‘craft’ for many evokes scenes of knitting circles, or afternoons spent collectively making bunting, and while, acknowledges Henderson, "there’s something rather wonderful about that because there’s a connectivity to making, it’s a hobby, which is quite different from craft.” Flying the flag for the latter camp, The New Craftsmen, which launched in late 2012, sells the work of the best British makers – across furniture, textiles, silverware, ceramics, jewellery and glassware – and, in acting as a go between, is also connecting these talents with leading designers, altering the entire scope of possibility when it comes to contemporary interiors. 

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Mark Henderson
Courtesy of The New Craftsmen
 

Dapper, charming, and exhibiting a boyish enthusiasm that belies both his experience within the luxury industry and his authority on the subject of craft, Henderson has come directly from a meeting with the British Crafts Council to discuss their upcoming joint set of shows in Europe and the U.S. Henderson’s excitement is palpable: “It’s the most fabulous recognition, because we are something of an upstart within the craft space.” Together with Yelena Ford, Business Development Manager at The New Craftsmen, we’re informally arranged around a trestle table - by Lola Lely, colour-blocked in natural and ebonised oak - on the shop floor of The New Craftsmen’s Arts and Crafts building just off Oxford Street, which they moved into in June of last year. The Mayfair positioning is deliberate, placing them in proximity to the more traditional luxury brands, such as Savile Row tailors Gieves and Hawkes, where Henderson spent thirteen years as CEO before becoming Chairman, and Dunhill, where he was Marketing Director. The shop doubles as a gallery, and while currently the space has been set up as a magical forest to complement a series of fairy tales by the novelist Sara Maitland, previous exhibitions have seen member makers taking over the front of the shop for two weeks each at a time, transforming the space into a studio so that their craft can be watched and understood, lending a narrative to their creations. 

But critical to understanding the extent of just what craft can be is the commission aspect. Whether working with someone as established as Jonathan Reed, or the younger Studio Ashby, the end result could be a light, or a room, or indeed a whole house. “We have an understanding of material, and we have an idea of who the right maker can be, and we can advise,” explains Henderson. To illustrate, Ford, whose role it is to manage and coordinate these projects, picks up a bowl by Stephanie Tudor. “It’s quite an extraordinary material,” she explains. “It’s jesmonite, which is an acrylic-based plaster. It cures quite quickly, quicker than concrete, but you can be much more creative with how you integrate pigments and aggregates and create some really interesting surfaces – it can be a table top, tiling, or even a wet room. And the interior designer can decide if they want to incorporate the local slate from a particular region, they can add the story of a locality.” 

Eye Vase

Gaia & Gino

Eye Vase

 

But while that particular example neatly illustrates craft’s place in design, it’s not always so black and white. Going back to the bowl – is that craft, or design, or both?  “There are definitely makers who see themselves as designers, or who don’t necessarily put a label on it. You can’t design without making, and you can’t make without design,” points out Ford.  But, continues Henderson, “Design is a broader process, a broader notion, craft is much more connected with material, and often a specific locality. There’s always something quite unique that comes from a maker’s notion about a particular material from a particular place. We run a risk when we separate design and production – when you have design in Britain and manufacture in China you have the designer thinking ‘let’s do it this way’ and the factory thinking ‘well that’s a stupid piece of design, because if we did x or y it would be so much better and more cost effective.’ Environmentally, too, it doesn’t make sense to make a whole warehouse worth of stuff, fly it all over, stick it in another warehouse and hope somebody buys it, and then, when they don’t, stick it in a sale.”

This ideal, which essentially translates into sustainable design, is one that is shared in the brands carried by Esensual Living: AAVA is the collaborative result of four highly respected and well-established local textile specialists, who use traditional techniques from the Ostrobothnia region of Finland, where they also produce their towels and other bathroom accessories.  The exquisite textiles made by the Spanish house Teixidors, who are set up as a cooperative, are hand made on traditional wooden looms. And our limited edition kilim-style rugs are hand-spun in Turkey, using centuries-old craftsmanship. “It’s wonderful to see how you are celebrating the origins of the range that Esensual Living carries – I applaud you,” comments Henderson.

And when it comes to luxury now, it’s worth noting that both Louis Vuitton and Chanel have mounted exhibitions this year showcasing the craft behind their designs. “There’s a swing towards customisation, and an exclusive history,” suggests Henderson. “People want to be able to understand the objects that are inhabiting their world,” adds Ford. It would seem, fortunately, that the future of craft looks promising.  “There are 32,000 independent makers in this country, and of those there are hundreds of good ones. Industrialisation served a purpose, it made lots of stuff available to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it, but that’s now finished. And why would you want a cheap lousy jug when you could get something handmade and beautiful?”  Quite – especially when one looks at the ceramics arranged on the surrounding shelves, or, on Esensual Living, considers Gaia&Gino’s Eye Vase that uses an Iznik Ceramic technique mastered by artisans in Western Anatolia. There’s pleasure to be taken in something handcrafted, that comes with its own history - whether of British, Spanish, Finnish or Turkish origin - and that’s the new definition of luxury. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lola Lely in the studio exhibition
Courtesy of The New Craftsmen
 

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