Yesterday I was out of bed at 6am, to embark on a secret mission. My remit was to turn up at one of the largest designer fashion brand’s Glasgow store and hand out complimentary drinks and chocolates. A rather unusual task, I must confess, but I wanted to see how these luxury brands work from the inside; the people that they attract and the actual (undoubted) quality of their products. There is no better way to do this, than by offering your services for a day and becoming part of the furniture.
It’s an interesting world, the world of fashion. It’s not one that I pay particular attention to, unless I’m in professional work mode, and even then, I don’t care so much about the label of my attire, I care about the comfort; the style; the look and the price. Therefore, the idea that people can wholly commit to one particular fashion brand, and we’re talking about a massively exclusive Italian designer here, was an idea that was completely foreign to me. Or so I thought…
What I witnessed was a huge array of different customers with different needs.
There were the older demographic who had been buying from this house for decades. They loved the quality and the feel of the product but never bought anything with the trademarked logo emblazoned all over it. You could tell where it was from, but only of you knew the more subtle trademarks of the brand. (Whisky drinkers who drink a product, because of the flavour)
There were also the younger demographic who had clearly made a success of their lives, and come into some disposable income. These folks had also recognized the quality of the product but made sure that the trademark logo was emblazoned all over their product. If the brand had 3 trademark indicators, these people had at least 2 of the three tastefully displayed. (Whisky drinkers who like the flavour, but would order the older expression regardless of their opinions on taste between the two choices)
I also witnessed gentlemen in fashionable sportswear accessorized with designer baseball caps (no longer the tartan caps, this other designer has stolen the market here); designer trainers; designer scarves and designer belts with the biggest logos they could possibly fit on them. These gentlemen paid from designer wallets and almost inevitably they paid cash. (Drinkers who bought the oldest available and consumed it whether they liked it or not)
The day was indeed an interesting anthropological investigation, but the monotony of standing with a tray loaded with champagne for 8 hours, despite the variety in customers and their needs should have killed me with boredom, yet it did not. It nearly put my back out though!
The single reason I did not collapse, or fall asleep or storm out, was because of craftsmanship.
The reason I was in the store, was to serve people whilst their leather products were personalised by the designer’s embosser. Leonardo had been flown out from the factory in Florence to emboss products by hand, right in front of the client. An incredible craft to watch.
Armed with a heated wand, printing blocks, gold or silver leaf and an extremely steady hand, Leonardo would take thousands of pounds worth of handbag and emboss up to 5 characters into the leather to create a one of a kind fashion accessory.
It may have been the scents of leather, chocolate and tobacco (Leonardo smoked rollies), or the sheer quality of the live craftsmanship, but this experience got me thinking about whisky. A couple of brands in particular sprung to mind, but mainly it got me thinking about the people in the industry. The true craftsmen who make our national drink. And therefore I have decided to start a series of blogs commemorating these craftsmen and hopefully bringing to life the jobs that they so tirelessly do to ensure the quality of the product we are lucky enough to consume. The first of these blogs is the one you are currently reading, and I am going to have to dedicate it to Leonardo and the craftspeople in the fashion industry.
I suppose the thing that hit me most about Leonardo’s line of work, was the sheer difficulty of some of the requests he gets. He had to emboss everything from the inside of bags, to the outside of wallets and the underside of belts. Each product was worth a minimum £200, so any mistake is extremely costly.
He had to do everything by hand. Setting up the printer, ensuring every letter was the right way up and facing backwards, even making sure the print was parallel or perpendicular to the edges of the accessory. This is easy on a wallet, but when your client wants an embossing in the middle of their iPad cover, things get more difficult.
He also had at least 10 different leathers he would have to work with, each one throwing up a different challenge. For example, he could not emboss cracked pattern leather, unless it was with leaf, as the tan on tan would not show up well in the cracks.
The tools he had meant that there was a 5 letter maximum for each embossing, so when somebody decided that initials were too subtle, and they wanted to write their whole name, Leonardo would have to line up the second embossing exactly to ensure a smooth transition from one printing to the next.
Every single embossing was practised on some leather scraps he had with him to mimic the end result and show the client what it would look like, but even then, the final print would be a high pressure, one chance job where he could be handling thousands of pounds worth of merchandise and still he approached it with a steady hand.
It really was incredible to watch. However, the unseen, unsung part of Leonardo’s character (and this goes for most of the craftsmen I have met) is in his love and pride in his work. No matter what he was asked to emboss (one gentleman wanted his nickname embossed in his wallet, the same nickname he had on the back of his football shirt) Leonardo would approach the job with respect and professionalism. He handled every article with care, and gave a balanced and informed opinion on where something should be embossed for maximum effect, as well as relishing the challenges of embossing new areas of accessories he had never even thought of. Challenges that, once again could have cost thousands of pounds.
It was a brilliant day, delivering all of the data I needed on a professional level with the added bonus of seeing a true master at work. I will never forget when a woman in her eighties pulled out a vintage bag from the designer and handed it to Leonardo. His eyes lit up. This was the oldest piece he had ever been asked to work on, and he spent at least 20 minutes analysing it and explaining the product to the client before happily and tastefully printing her initials on the inside of the strap.
In my glass: The Macallan 25
year old, it had to be didn’t it?