In praise of craft and craftsmen
There is a discernible thread that runs through, or rather ties together, various endeavours and endeavourers in this world we inhabit, the community we have built. From a handmade florentine giacca to a Detroit made d-pocket motor jacket, the application is different, the aesthetic at odds, but a spirit of craft and utility, beauty in function and economy has them inexplicably linked.
Travelling south in the wardrobe, an engineer boot from the 50’s, Cats Paw with its distinctive white spots on the sole, cordovan uppers rubbed to a gleam, canted heel and cinched straps, shares a distinct heritage with the black dress oxford beneath the grey Birdseye the same man might wear twenty years later.
What is this spirit that unites them? And what drives the craftsmen that see fit to put hours in to the make of something the average consumer neither understands nor seeks? There are certainly consumers that can see the difference between a good and a great piece, but are they enough to sustain an industry?
In the past three years, I have had the great pleasure to sit at eye level with giants of the classic menswear industry, from jacket makers and trouser makers, shoe makers, tie makers, leather craftsmen and mill owners. The respect and rivalry they afford each other has had the effect of refining every step, every craft, to a razor keen edge. They’d as soon admit their product inferior to another as they would be judged on the output of their worst day. Indeed many I have met will tear a sleeve from a jacket, it’s insertion close to sublime, on the whim of a slight difference in pitch to true, a degree of angle mirroring the degree of insanity the joy to create exceptional product inspires.
It is this community of rivalry that makes an amazing craftsman, inspiration and rivalry, good natured or not, in a community of makers so small and intimate that most will know the work of another on sight. I imagine that great renaissance artists were the same, secretly spying the works of another only to run back to a canvas or a fresco, rag in hand and margins of acceptable fault sheared even further toward naught. The patrons of these artists left us with the legacy of beauty that has defined each movement since, a foundation of art that by nature we praise, even when we reject it.
The great masters of tailored clothing, shoes and the accoutrements that season each wardrobe are amongst us still, or their protégés, their right hands, still working at an art that they were taught by these lions of industry. Attolinis and Tuczek’s through Panicos and Ugolinis, Ciccio’s and Spigolas carry a learned history that we can still continue to patronise.
And us, the mad and maddening that are customers of such artisans, we are patrons and not consumers, regardless of how conscious we are to this noble pursuit. Every time we drop coins in an artisans pocket rather than a corporations coffers, we vote for craft, for art, and for an ongoing community of masters and apprentices.
It sounds so very high minded, the irony doesn’t escape me that I have built my career, and a tenuous financial security, on the appreciation of this work. But I hope over the coming pages and posts to document something of these great talents, and perhaps inspire a few more people to vote with their dollars for something above consumerism and fast fashion, and invest in a culture that might otherwise be lost.
I invite you along for the ride.