Handmade

Handmade not by me. But by some Repetto shoe-makers in Paris.

This isn’t an advertisement for Repetto, but I respect craftsmanship, especially when done by the human hand rather than a machine–an art that seems to be becoming obsolete. There are a few episodes of the Twilight Zone (a show I watch every other day or so on YouTube) that stuck in my mind because of this very issue. One in particular is the”The Brain Center at Mr. Whipple’s,” where a factory manager becomes obsessed with replacing his workers with machines. Think of the cost savings–no paid vacations, no sick leave, no family emergencies. He believes that whatever a human can make with her/his hands can readily be replaced and even be made better by the use of a machine. Until the manager himself is replaced and he is confronted with both the obsolescence of the individual and the value of one–the value he sees in himself over another and especially over a machine. A machine couldn’t think, it couldn’t feel and it couldn’t give the thing it was making the character produced by human variation and error.

Even in the 60s, we recognized the romanticism of craftsmanship, but we still continue to ruminate on it in words and ignore it in practice. Several months ago I accompanied a friend to the opening of the new Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase. I was in the height of my China boycott and couldn’t believe how all the expensive Diane von Furstenbergs and Marc Jacobs were made in China…in a factory just like the ones used for the cheap Walmart and Target clothing. Overseen by humans, but mostly run by machines. Apparently I’m paying for the design, but at this point a wrap dress is a wrap dress and the same goes for a canvas jacket with jumbo buttons. I appreciate the innovation to a certain extent, but what makes Chanel Chanel is the couture. The unique and exquisitely artful designs of Karl Lagerfeld may be in a different class the normal, more everyday pieces being designed and sold by the aforementioned designers, but the pieces in the seasonal shows–the couture, the stuff made mostly (or entirely) by hand are what’s stunning. It’s the shockingly complicated and intricate handiwork, the knowing feeling that this could have only been made by a select group of people not because they are the only ones with the owner’s manual to the magic automated sewing machine, but because they have the skill to masterfully manipulate textiles running through their veins. This is why I have an obsession with Hermes–a label that has remained true to its traditional family practices and still makes its $5000 bags with multi-year long wait lists using stitch techniques that can only be done by hand.

I will never buy a $5000 handbag, but in my world, handmade is damn impressive and worth every penny. That price tag may just be justified.
But a machine is a machine and a design alone can’t be worth $500, especially when I can buy a knitting design for $5.

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3 Responses to “Handmade”

  1. Nadine Fawell Says:

    What great shoes! I think handmade is probably about the most ethical you can get in terms of labour rights too; specialised craftspeople do tend to earn a decent living, I believe.

  2. Tom Says:

    Great shoes!

    …And this is not advertisement for Mr Poulet…but if you like ethical fashion, I guess you’ll like it 😉

  3. linda Says:

    great blog, Nadine turned me on to it….

    while I am not a knitter or beader — although I used to sew and used to collect vintage textiles — I am right there with you about boycotting China and buying handmade.

    shanti!

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