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Ethical Luxury: Could the Luxury Industry Be Headed Back to Its Roots?

Mar 04 2009

Craftsman 1 Jerome Dreyfuss Craftsman 2

Once upon a time, before the French luxury industry was dominated by big conglomerates and luxury brands were traded on the CAC 40, luxury products were the domain of l'artisan, the French term for "craftsman". Images of craftsmen painstakingly crafting their wares in cramped workshops filled from floor to ceiling with old-fashioned looking tools come to mind. In reality, the luxury industry has not worked like this for a very long time. For one thing, output for most luxury brands has increased considerably to meet growing demand and, perhaps most significantly, luxury products now have a seasonal turnover that conforms roughly to the fashion cycle. Yet, for at least one French designer, Jerome Dreyfuss, a return to the values and techniques represented by the quaint image described above is precisely what he has in mind.

Dreyfuss, who was once a darling of the French fashion press, had all but disappeared from the fashion scene in recent years. While he's left behind the manic world of pret-a-porter, he hasn't left the fashion world entirely. He now focuses his energy on his accessories line and a philosophy he calls "Agrocouture", a play on the word "agriculture" to suggest both a return to artisanal methods of craftsmanship and the use of more environmentally friendly techniques and materials. For now, Agrocouture refers to a line of handbags and small leather accessories all crafted in accordance with a strict set of ethical guidelines. At the core of his approach is the rejection of the superficial, trend-driven, ever-faster turnover of fashion that dictate that we buy a new handbag each season. For more information about Dreyfuss' point of view and his Agrocouture philosophy, please see a brief interview (in English) posted on Le Modalogue or Buzz2luxe.


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I am an ardent advocate of the artisan and the cratsmanship that is close to becoming a lost art. I am a young brand, only out and building my business for four years now, but my young, award winning collection of furnishings, jewelry and demi-couture are a reflection of the very values and beliefs stated above, and what I tell my clients, and what the clients are buying is that it is far better to have a superbly crafted artifact that is a unique refection of one's tase and style, than to try and validate one's place in society with a mass produced label item hanging on ones ear or arm.What have we come to that we are so afraid to be individual in our statement of self, rather than by having the same thing as everyone else to'fit' in, or prove our place in the staus quo? I celebrate the individual, the artisan and the evolution that is driving us away from mass production(destruction) to things of craft and quality that are investment pieces in every sense.

This is a very interesting article. As a designer with similar principles we have, despite upturns and downturns, survived because we continue to work on each garment individually for those who appreciate and understand the unique quality of our work. The title of 'designer collection' has been high-jacked by the commercial conglomerates and the true individual designers working in their 'cramped studios' are dismissed as being of no importance. It continues through to the magazines who promote the big brand names because they pay for advertising and the shops only carry those brands because of the support by the press. Fortunately the internet is allowing the true designers and artisans to sell their work to the wider public and are beginning to be able to challenge the mind-set of the press and shop keepers. We used to show at the exhibitions in Paris, London and Milan - but because of the way things were going we retreated from this method of marketing our work. When we thought it might be an idea to show again we were turned down - their excuse was that we were not a 'designer collection'. A number of years ago Vogue gave us 36 pages of editorial in one year - now they do not even know that we exist - but the few customers that we have still support our work and will go to great lengths to purchase something that is lovingly made and not widely available or copied and sold in every out of town shopping mall - discount designer collections. I wish this talented artist the best possible success - someone who understands that quality of life and sincere dedication to ones art and principles is more important than being a puppet of the commercial world.

Interesting analogy Randall.

Dare I say it? If there is indeed any upside to this dramatic downturn, I think we'll find it in the Darwinian influences on the luxury & fashion industries. Both industries have become bloated as a result of too much easy credit (both corporate and individual). We've been led to believe that more is necessarily better. What's the matter with buying only one, beautifully crafted handbag and keeping it for several years rather than a season or two as Jerome Dreyfuss suggests in his interview with Le Modalogue? What's the matter with purchasing only one or two pieces of statement jewelry and letting them become your signature? I find his approach immensely appealing. I sincerely hope it takes off.


I like this. It reminds me of the positive strides made by the Slow Food movement, those guardians of ethical food and culinary standards. Yes there should be a similar movement for fashion, could Agrocouture be it? The Slow Fashion movement exists, time to organize it. Anyone?

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The Luxe Chronicles is a collection of interviews, profiles and musings on various aspects of the luxury industry and occasionally, a rant on our celebrity obsessed culture and the dumbing down of our collective sense of style and esthetic.

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