15 November 2010

WATCH My Gucci Bag Being Made By The Artisans!

Well, the jury’s decision on which of the two Gucci bags should be given a home at Grazia, was pretty much anonymous. And I have to say, I knew you were ladies who appreciated the finer elements of a handbag. But I am impressed by your connoisseurship.

I went, on Friday, late in that miserable afternoon, to meet Signor Cambi, the man who made both bags, and to watch him finish mine off and take it home with me.

A Gucci artisan, displaced from the factory in Florence to stormy London for three days, he had come here to set up a mini version of his workshop in the Sloane St store. The object of the exercise was so customers could see at first hand how luxury Italian leather comes into being: not from the cold metal of machinery, but from the implausibly smooth hands of the likes of Massimiliano Cambi. He looks no older than 37 but swears he has 30 years experience. Maybe they start them really young in Italy. In any case, I’d say his charming workbench-side manner has got to be worth a quibble-free extra 10%.

Like watching Jenson Button overtake into the final straight, or David Blaine steal someone’s neck-tie, or Gordon Ramsay finish a dish, there is something mesmerising about people who do mind-boggling things and make them look easy.

The only thing I am really good at making is a mess. So I have to admit, I am a sucker for workshops. Anywhere people make something useful out of raw material fascinates me. And workshops where the output is luxury is like being in the magician’s cave.

Massimiliano and his team working a simple piece of leather into something to cherish, is hypnotic. It’s pretty low tech. The lack of machine noise is one of the first things I’ve noticed when I got to visit the workshops of Hermes, Bottega Veneta and Van Cleef and Arpels. The skill is in the years of experience of the people who make these things by hand. At Gucci, as at Hermes and Bottega, and, indeed, the Paris couture houses, many of the craftspeople have been employed for decades, for some them are the second generation in their family to work where they do.

For a long time it was feared the craft was dying because young recruits were difficult to attract. But the economic downturn seems to be changing this. Customers in emerging markets are clamouring for goods that bear the mark of the European luxury heritage. And even here, in the comparatively impoverished euro-zone, a hankering after something with the solidity of tradition in these changing times, has a seductive appeal.

Massimiliano was thrilled that you’d voted the way you did. He explained why as he talked me through what he’d done. Both bags have the chunky bent bamboo handle: that thickness can only be harvested from the root, by the way, which explains why I’ve never seen a bamboo shoot that big before. As our chat attracted a little audience around the artisan’s corner, it was agreed, by the girls at least, that the pinky terracotta was way more fun and versatile than the option in ladylike cream. But, said Massimo, the important thing was the amount of hand work in the terracotta bag: the panels are finished with a stitch called “pettine” which can only be done by an experienced craftsman who measures everything (spacing, tension and angle) by eye. Under close inspection, no two items would be the same. He showed me equivalent work he was doing on a New Jackie. It takes 10 hours of his time to finish one of those. The bag you voted for has at least all of that. Well spotted Grazia Girls!!

My new bamboo bag has been sitting on my coffee table all weekend. I have to admit, having been present at its birth, I am a little timid to take it out, unprotected. What if someone bumps into it on the bus! (Aaaaagh!)

Massimiliano and his team spent the weekend sight-seeing in the city, before going back home. Hope the weather held up. And come back any time, guys. Watching something gorgeous and unique come into being, slowly, in the hands of an expert, is a perfect tonic for our Twitter driven, turbo boosted times.

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