One of the few good things that now disgraced designer John Galliano has brought to the forefront is the importance of the petites mains, the people who physically create the clothes in an atelier. They are an integral, but usually hidden, part of the fashion presentations each season. When it was decided it was they rather than he who should take a bow at the end of his Fall 2011 presentation last week it may have marked the first time in fashion that this important group of people were applauded post-show.
This is important to note since it ties in with an an emergence of an era where the artisan (as in the person who makes the object) is just as important as the designer. It also ties with foodie culture, where there has been a similar shift. Educated consumers now want closer ties to their producer in almost all areas of production. This consumer wants to consume a more individualized, ethically source object. Constantly in fashion I see the following words repeated: artisan, artisan details, family-owned and produced, hand-made. The "hands" that produce the designs are now just as important as the person who conceptualizes the project.
Some designers following suit with this model are Osborn Design , Edith E. Miller t-shirts, and Suno Clothing. These designers, among other things, are emphasizing the hand-made, and making an attempt to connect with local economies through their design work. For example, at Osborn design their mission is "to do good with design". One way they accomplish that is by teaming with local artisans in Guatemala to manufacture their shoes. To quote their website "Each shoe is signed by its maker, as a testament to the sense of pride for the maker, as well as its wearer." Osborn is stating themselves that knowing who makes their objects is obviously should be a source of pride to their end consumer. Their business model also connects the consumer with the source of their product.
Also, there is Edith E. Miller t-shirts, who makes tees from a family-owned factory in Pennsylvania, and designer Logan Neitzal who proudly hand-stitches each of the leather pieces in eponymous line himself. The line Suno has been developing an atelier in a remote area of Kenya, and working with communities in India. The examples are countless, and they mark the next wave of ambitious young designers slated to influence fashion. I also see a correlation with the continued success of Etsy, the one of the first purveyors of "handmade goods". They were one of the originals who emphasized knowing who is producing the products you buy.
Each Osborn shoe is signed by its maker. Photo from thefeast.com, shopping.There is also a relationship with foodie culture. Here "artisanal" and "locally grown" have been used long before fashion began to catch on. It is a parallel movement. For proof of the connection look no further the burgeoning movement of young, small scale farmers setting up shop in Oregon. You can read more where this is chronicled in this NYTimes article. There it explains how for the first time in a generation young people picking up a hoe and choosing farming as an occupation. These people are rejecting the paradigms of factory farming and embracing the philosophies of punk-rock and Karl Marx instead. The new wave of farm production is now small scale and local, with an emphasis on knowing your producer. Farming and clothing production are not two disparate movements, but rather both enterprises emphasizing the importance of knowing your producer. It is the future of how we as Americans approach consumption.
Photo of Mary's Grange Hall, center of social life for young farmers in Oregon, picture Leah Nash for the NyTimes.
These businesses all serve as alternative models to large-scale production, and reflect the future of fashion. Who is going to replace Galliano? No one knows, but one can be sure it will continue to be the artisans in his atelier doing much of the work.