Fashion: The return to traditional craft skills
In 2009, in a reaction to the economic climate, fashion had a brief flirtation with make-and-do, creating pieces that looked like you, or your granny, made them.
But a fundamental importance of fashion is that it is a signal of status, power and wealth; dressing as if you have none is strictly for those with loads. The rest of us, especially when times are hard, want to look like we are doing OK. That is why recessionary fashion is always so classy and streamlined-looking.
But, although high fashion abandoned make-and-do, the street didn’t. Young people, already environmentally and ethically aware, chose second-hand shops, vintage, recycling and up-cycling clothes as a way of keeping down their carbon footprint and distancing themselves from the establishment. They have also been embracing crafts such as sewing and knitting.
Thus a new fashion movement is born. It reminds me of the trend, around the end of the 19th Century, when Victorians such as William Morris, the pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, in reaction to zealous industrialisation, were desirous of a return to nature’s bounty and traditional craft skills.
Where the street leads, innovative fashion follows. This autumn, designers such as Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Peter Jensen and Joanne Hynes are incorporating traditional crafts through their use of hand knits and wool flannel, as well as tweed that looks as if it just came off the looms at Magee, all in soft, natural colours such as russet, gold, burgundy, heather, green and brown.
The silhouette is soft and unformed; tailored pieces, such as wool-flannel coats or trousers, look as though they got a dunking and didn’t quite return to their former shape. Sweaters and shirts, often oversized, look like you borrowed them from a lost and found box. Dresses are romantic and vintage in feel. Footwear, too, can be old-fashioned, from chunky, funky granny boots by Camper to retro dance sandals and bog-standard Wellington boots. It may be a low-key look, but it can be startlingly evocative.
Stores such as Urban Outfitters, boutiques such as Dolls, Indigo & Cloth and Harlequin, and to a certain extent, BT2, have been catering to this aesthetic for a while. Equipment’s androgynous silk shirts, and shirts and jackets from old, respected brands such as Levi’s jeans, are key components in the knits-and-wool mash-up. It’s a more naturalistic, organic type of fashion, soft and easy: what we have, rather than what we could have. There are no pretensions to power and ambition, just a love of nature and keeping things simple.