London Craft Week

Meet thy makers

Guy Salter, Chairman of London Craft Week, explains why the time is right for a celebration of making

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‘Why now? That’s the killer question. When I started Crafted, I was feeling very strongly that luxury brands were in danger of losing their way and no longer necessarily standing for the standards of either materials or workmanship that they used to.

At that time, even though Crafted was much less ambitious than London Craft Week, it was very hard work getting traction and getting people to take it seriously. In terms of the luxury sector it was hard, but also within the craft sector I encountered suspicion – and quite a lot of infighting. There was a big issue with the word “craft” itself, but also between what you’d call heritage craft and contemporary craft.

Over that period, the financial crisis led to the understanding – certainly among brands – that you couldn’t just go on charging silly prices. But even then, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do London Craft Week a couple of years ago.

What has really changed now is the luxury consumer – there are more and more sophisticated, interested, culturally aware people. Sometimes they know what they want and that translates into an interest in craft and the arts and culture. But in many cases there are people who have become a bit sated by what’s available in the luxury and fashion area, so they’re buying less, but they haven’t yet made that transition into the craft sector. It’s a broad area that can stretch from bespoke into commissioning something from an individual maker: all sorts of things. It’s less of a coming age than a return to what the luxury customer was like 100 years ago.

I think it goes beyond luxury, though. The designers and the creative directors themselves want to ground themselves and define themselves less simply as designers or architects. I was talking to Thomas Heatherwick about this the other day – how our most interesting designers are now thinking about craft in a different way.

Personally, I think all we’ve done is gone full circle. I developed a theory called The Discernment Curve, where I forecast that the luxury sector would return to craftsmanship, because the overall growth in wealth completely diminished the amount of sophistication in the market – there was just so much money about but very little knowledge. I suggested that in the future, we would all learn discernment at a faster rate. And I don’t think you can unlearn discernment. You found that even during the financial crisis: people started buying things that were genuinely beautiful, not just logoed.

I think in terms of whether it’s here to stay: how designers think about things may be a little trend-led, but the key is to look at who are the people of real talent and substance, rather than those who – like in the luxury sector – use it simply as a label.

The only potential danger is; even though I completely believe in this, I also believe in the power of brands. What you need to do is balance love and respect. And the same applies not just to brands but to the makers themselves. Many of the makers and others in this space have become a bit worthy and serious and dull. That is one of the most important things for London Craft Week – not to be too worthy, but also to be fun and glamorous and enjoyable.

The greatest satisfaction for me so far has been seeing how individual makers have gone from strength to strength from a commercial point of view. They didn’t need any lessons from me or anyone else in terms of their raw abilities. But to see them calmer; less worried about paying the mortgage: that to me has been really satisfying.

The end goal after a number of years is that London Craft Week becomes a moment when the best international makers and the people who are interested in buying their work come together each year. So it’s not just about British craft, it’s international. The aim is for them both to sell more – but also to get more recognition and value for their work.’

The inaugural London Craft Week runs from 6-10 May 2015.