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Handmade, a rising value

Craftsmanship is, more than ever, the key to exclusivity. To its artistic and cultural weight, a reflection of ancestral trades, today are added current designs and greater accessibility thanks to digital platforms. Tradition is in fashion. And in Spain there is a quarry

Sarah Saez

They are the mantra of luxury: legacy and tradition. The chant that is repeated in each firm, house or label in the sector since exclusivity was called into question, at least five years ago, in view of a huge production volume that not even the high price of the items can justify in such a elite pitch. Appealing to the unique and genuine object, the result of years of expertise and experience, is today the solution. A claim that also abounds in the current discourse on sustainability: not only is it a durable product, but it is also made in the most natural way. By hand, of course. That is why artisans have become valuable assets in this industry. And it turns out that Spain is a power in the matter. Hecho a mano, un valor en alza Hecho a mano, un valor en alza

In 2018, Chanel acquired the Colomer Group, heir to the old Colomer Munmany, a benchmark in leather tanning since 1792 located in Vic (Barcelona). It was one of the latest pre-pandemic moves by a luxury conglomerate in its quest to control higher-quality suppliers. The French firm is a specialist in rescuing and sustaining old artisan trades of guild origin —from embroidery to hat making, passing through silverware— that would otherwise be doomed to disappear. A task that Loewe especially praises for its part through its foundation, which in 2016 established the Craft Prize award to publicize excellence, but also innovation, of contemporary craftsmanship, one of the objectives set by designer Jonathan Anderson upon her arrival at the brand, in 2013. Three Galician basket makers, Idoia Cuesta, Álvaro Leiro and the As Redeiras collective, contributed to a line of bags a couple of years ago. “Actually, I have been working for her since 2011, when they called me after seeing me at the Maison & Objet fair in Paris. From there, I have developed prototypes and projects, such as the Baskets collection presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2019. I am delighted with learning and continuing to participate together with the designers of the house in both the creative and production processes. ”, says Cost.

Basque by origin, but “Galician in feeling”, Idoia Cuesta is a clear example of a modern craftswoman who explores ancestral methods adapting them to the present day. "After several years of training and research, experimenting with natural and vegetable fibers, I have incorporated new materials such as felted wool filament, cotton ropes, jute, hemp... Even fibers from recycled plastic, paper, cables or textile waste . I think about how to mix the various weaving techniques, how can I use them to create new collections”, she tells from her workshop, located in a Galician biosphere reserve. Cuesta is the spearhead of those young craftswomen who have been joining the tradition considerably in recent times: the female presence in crafts already accounts for 37.1%, a relatively low percentage, although higher by 10 points than observed in 2010, according to the study Situation of crafts in Spain. Report on competitiveness and main economic variables, prepared in 2015 by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism and the School of Industrial Organization. The same report —the last— points out that the value of the sector amounts to 4,042 million euros, which represents around 2.4% of industrial GDP and 0.4% of the total.

Hecho a mano, un valor en alza

“Before, crafts were a traditional trade that was even passed from generation to generation. Now it is more vocational, since there is a market where creativity, innovation and design are valued and allow the craftsman to create with more freedom”, explains Ima Garmendia, a potter who in 2004 changed the camera of renowned photojournalist —she was in the Afghanistan war and has been published in The New Yorker and the Sunday Herald—for the oven. “I always thought that my vocation was photography and I dedicated myself to it for two decades, until I discovered that I was just as good at ceramics. And I am passionate about it,” she continues. At Adarbakar, her firm and her workshop in Barcelona, ​​this woman from Tolosa creates elegant, minimalist and organic pieces. "My inspiration comes from nature, and all my works are functional because my goal is to bring beauty into everyday life," she explains. She uses the modeling technique and decorates them with decals from her own photographs, which she accompanies with verses by the poet Jesús Aguado.

Like her, Nando Cornejo also decided to give a professional script a twist in search of enriching experiences that money can't always buy. He planted women's prêt-à-porter — she was a founding member of the Potipoti firm — to make knit blankets in a family workshop in Béjar (Salamanca). “I wanted to explore other avenues focused on interior design. And blankets are an ideal format to artistically express my concerns. They are like a blank canvas,” she says. Under the banner of Mantas Cornejo, she weaves home clothes in merino wool, an exceptional material "because of its great possibilities, its warmth and its versatility". The months of confinement have helped him: "They have gotten people excited about beautifying their homes." She is an artisan blanket and streaming movie.

This year of living behind closed doors has, of course, contributed to the fever of the handmade. Take macramé, a thousand-year-old technique used by the Persians and Assyrians and which is now enjoying another moment in fashion, according to Ikram Maymouni, from Abha, a center in Barcelona, ​​in the Poblenou neighborhood, specializing in the manufacture and dissemination through of workshops of knotted thread ornaments. "The people who come to the courses appreciate very much that this type of craft, so ancient, can be done with just a stick, threads and your hands," he points out.

It is more complicated for those who want to discover glass blowing. "They are going to encounter many difficulties to be able to train," says Alex Añó Frohlich. From her workshop in Barcelona, ​​Alexfrosum, she insists on teaching new generations and not so much: "Artisans from other disciplines, such as potters or jewelers, who want to work or learn about different materials, sign up." Frohlich, who also designs and creates glass pieces that are as beautiful as they are useful, is clear that craftsmanship is on the rise, but he also thinks that “there is a lack of a circuit where you can see and buy quality work. That and that there is no awareness of the high cost of producing artisan objects in Spain”.

The moment, for the case, is propitious, and the internet has made it even easier. "We feel very lucky to have been born alongside social networks," say Andrea Caruso Dalmas and Alberto Gobbino Ciszak, creators of La Clínica Design. Its origin was the design and interior design studio Ciszak Dalmas, but after winning an award from the Youth Institute they decided to invest the money from the award in producing "simple and simple furniture that adapts to each environment", such as those multipurpose carts that have given international fame. “The craftsman was very involved in the workshop because his task is usually laborious, but today you can show your work to the world live and for free via social networks. What happens is that what begins as a game becomes another task almost as important as the work itself in the workshop”, add Ana Ferichola (Madrid, 1980) and Natalia Figueroa (Bogotá, 1982), ceramists trained in the Madrid School of Art Francisco Alcántara and allies in the firm Tánata.

That craftsmanship is considered a luxury item today makes them suspicious: “There are many workshops and brands that manufacture in a close and artisanal way and we would not consider them luxury. They are nothing more than products with fairer prices than others that we buy because they are cheap. Of course, that a brand or a designer commits to craftsmanship will always be a declaration of intent”.

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