Arts & Crafts, an impression of déjà-vu

Among international luxury houses, whether in the field of design or fashion, the current trend to underscore handcraft and the excellence of artisanal know-how evokes a slight sense of déjà-vu.
In 1888 in Great Britain, the Arts & Crafts movement – led by John Ruskin and William Morris – stood in defense of the artisan in the face of growing industrialization and the establishment of commercial hegemony within the British Empire.
William Morris was an artist and entrepreneur. Publisher and printer, true jack of all trades, he produced furniture and art objects that he himself designed. A fervent defender of the working class, he contributed to the dissemination of the work of poet-writer John Ruskin, fifteen years his elder and a supporter of popular education.
More than a century separates us from the ideas developed by these intellectuals who were troubled by the changes to work in their society, yet drawing a parallel with our contemporary system is tempting. At the time, the industrial revolution and the precepts of capitalism created a significant wealth to the detriment of existing social orders and the quality of the natural environment. The multiplication of factories and the concentration of the working class into London and other large industrial cities swallowed up at once notions of individuality and well-being.
In reaction to the organizing methods of emergent industrialism, for Arts & Crafts, individual independence and artisanal work are the keys to happiness. Pride and vitality for workers can only exist if the individual participates in each step of the fabrication of an object. How can we avoid making a comparison between the current spotlight on artisans and the small hands that originally undertook what have become the international luxury brands? The houses of LVMH Group open the doors to their ateliers once every year, the artisan leatherworkers at Hermès travel to the four corners of the globe to demonstrate their know-how, Chanel underlines their suppliers, and numerous online shops such as Folkdays and Lydali display the faces of the artisans of emergent countries.
Even if they did not yet use the term “social responsibility,” for Ruskin and Morris, “art is the expression for the human of the joy that is derived from work.” (1) The rehabilitation of artisan work and the safeguarding of traditional techniques were at the heart of the preoccupations of these two thinkers. Jointly, they initiation the founding of new schools that trained artisans in numerous techniques, notably in the field of textiles: carpet-weaving, embroidery, natural dyeing, woodblock printing, and loom weaving. Here again, the list of practices corresponds strangely well to the techniques that the fashion and textile world have been rediscovering and highlighting on runways and podiums in recent seasons – or equally well in terms of those who have similarly swindled the ethos of DIY (Do It Yourself) and creative leisure hobbies.
Finally, there are also the foundations of the idea of “sustainable development” to be found as well in the writings and reflections coming from the Arts & Crafts movement: “we cannot do good work, unless we live and work in a healthy and pleasant environment.” In this era, thanks to the development of the first railways lines, entire communities of artisans did not hesitate in fleeing from the cities where pollution from coal factories choked the sky with a nearly permanent smog in order to settle in the countryside. Does this remind you of anything?
(1) Art Under Plutocracy, William Morris, 1884?