Craft the new luxury

by Professor Bruce Montgomery

Professor Bruce Montgomery is a former Menswear Designer Director for the Daks brand worldwide and one of the newest professors at Northumbria University�s School of Design. Professor Montgomery started his career in 1984 working for Nigel Cabourn and Katherine Hamnett. In 1987 he moved to Italy where he spent seven years working as a menswear designer for notable Italian fashion houses including Luciano Soprani and Moschino. Returning to the UK, he was with Daks for twelve years before taking up the professorship in Design Craftsmanship at Northumbria University. He is also Emeritus Chairman of the British Menswear Guild. These are his thoughts on how craft and luxury are going to converge.

Everyone has everything now. Low-cost manufacturing and competitively priced high-street and designer goods have given almost everyone the opportunity to own luxurious products in a way that would once have been unimaginable. At the same time, infinitely-replicable digital design has given us all access to virtual luxury.� So how will taste and refinement be displayed in this most democratic world?
Luxury has always included a sense of exclusivity. But as high-street retailers and counterfeiters bring variations of luxury goods within reach of every pocket, the exclusiveness of luxury is being lost. At the same time, snippets of a luxurious lifestyle are hired out for as long as they can be afforded:� Lear jets by the hour, stretch limos for a night, time-share villas for fortnights in the sun.� In this way luxury has ceased to be exclusive.
However, there is one aspect to exclusivity that manufactured goods can never attain � uniqueness. And this is why I believe craft skills and crafted products are going to become more and more important to our sense of what is luxurious. Unique, irreplaceable crafted products allow us to see that taste is about more than money. Craft will offer us a way to once again show off our originality, our refinement and our �lan.
This is not craft in the way that it is commonly used, but about an authentic, human relationship with the products we buy. Imagine a range of handbags created from natural materials and handmade by craftsmen and women: each would be high-quality, expensive (because of the years of accumulated skill that has gone into them), unique, and therefore luxurious.� Such products would no longer be totems of soul-less consumerism, but authentic expressions of creativity.�
This is the second quality that crafted products have over high-street luxuries: they embody a relationship with the person who made them.� I believe that this is also something that is going to become more important. Like the relationship between a bespoke tailor and his clients, the more a craftsperson can create and commercialise a relationship with his or her customers, the more that relationship will authenticate his or her products as luxurious. At the moment, a consumer�s relationship with designer goods is, for the most part, established through branding and marketing: consumer and creator are linked through the product. In a future in which craft and luxury become synonymous, the key relationship will be between the consumer and the craft practioner. The role of the product will change to become an emblem of a mutually appreciative relationship, just like the one between an artist and a connoisseur.
In order to achieve this, I believe crafts people will start to create events and happenings to establish and strengthen these connoisseur-like relationships. In some sectors this is already happening. People today visit vineyards both in order to deepen their appreciation of wine and to establish for themselves the authenticity of the product and its production.� Each bottle and case of wine they subsequently purchase serves to revitalize that relationship.
The third factor is price. At the moment, at least in the UK, the cost-cutting, bulk-purchasing power of the high street has encroached far into the designer-goods sector, so much so that the high-street, instead of merely offering cheaper versions of luxury goods, is starting to offer design-led product that is easily on a par with the bottom end of the luxury sector, especially elements of clothing. Craft offers luxury a way to re-establish itself in terms of price because authentically crafted products cannot be created cheaply. When something is too cheap then some essential part of standard, acceptable practices must have been cut. This part of the appeal of craft also chimes with modern concerns about sustainability in that it reaffirms the link between quality and price: it is meat from farms with the highest standards of animal welfare that is the most expensive.
The final element of craft�s appeal is its tactility. We live in an age of infinitely replicated beauty in which digitalization has given us all immediate access to the world�s best visual design. Yet these desk-top experiences are only visual and, often, intellectual. It seems likely to me that in this environment the tactility of crafted objects � those that have been formed by another human hand � will become distinctive and compelling as we once again revel in the unconscious processing of information through the intimacy of touch.
Craft for me is the future of luxury, both because the makers of luxury goods have to be able to distinguish themselves from the high-street and because consumers want to distinguish themselves from others as people of taste and style. But, fundamentally, craft products are attractive because their values � uniqueness, authenticity, sustainability, tactility � are rooted in the human. Another human being has energized and imbued them with human traits such as personality, knowledge and memory, and, as human beings, we value that creativity.

Professor Bruce Montgomery
School of Design
Northumbria University

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