The art of craftsmanship

« Exquisite leather »: Epi black leather and natural vegetal cowhide leather bearing the LV initials and accompanied by a fabrication tool. © LOUIS VUITTON / JEAN LARIVIERE

In a world where fashion has become fast, globalised and relying on outsourcing; where designer goods have become mainstream, counterfeit and logo-based – one might wonder what is left of luxury.

For some, luxury is time, peace, quiet, nature, beauty. In the fashion industry, the concept of luxury is best embodied today by haute-couture, bespoke tailors and genuine craftsmanship.

However, at a time when the fashion world is in a fast-paced, digital revolution, few houses today still seem to hold these values that were once the core of their business. Don’t get me wrong, I am at the heart of this digital era but I do not believe online shopping, streaming and marketing should jeopardise the actual production of a luxury good. I do not expect every product that comes on a runway or under the label of luxury to be lovingly handmade and hand-stitched, but it is nice to know some still are.

If I understand that to satisfy the demand, some parts of the production are industrialised, I also believe today’s luxury should comply with the following: creativity, quality, fairtrade and no-child labour production, eco-responsability and respect of the endangered species regulations. But it all goes hand-in-hand: a product made in the UK or France will always be produced by qualified workers with none of the negative outcomes of outsourcing.

So when I was invited by my lovely school friend Myriam to visit a Louis Vuitton factory in a countryside village in the middle of France, I thought it was a great occasion to see the production of the global powerhouse from the inside. After a flight, several slow trains and finally a car journey, I had arrived at St-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, one of the six or so French factories of the brand – the others are in Spain, Italy and California, was I told. None in China, was I assured.

A horse carriage awaited us, by a glass building emerging in the sunshine surrounded by fields. Then followed a visit of the factory where I was explained how a handbag was created from scratch, by the various employees there: from leather tanning to cutting, from sawing to nailing. Thousands of handbags come out of this factory each week and they specialise in certain handbag designs: I learnt my Black Epi Speedy was born there. The special orders and bespoke products are designed and produced in the more glamorous Asnières factory, near Paris, where Louis Vuitton himself used to live with his family.

Surprisingly enough, I was then treated to hot-dogs, pancakes and candy floss, before trying myself at the work on small ateliers and creating my own LV product with small pieces of leather, folding, painting and sawing it. Very fun.

Of course they are many other smaller craftsmen who keep traditions and techniques alive, and talented young designers who spend sleepless nights handmaking dresses. These have passion for their craft, but sadly most of us are not necessarily aware of them, so when we find them we need to support them. But Louis Vuitton is part of the largest luxury conglomerate in the world, yet they manage to keep their production on a human scale, with top quality standards. And I would love to find out that more houses have this corporate ethic.

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