“I think every artist today has to embrace technology as well as reject it,” says Bernard Maisner, master calligrapher and mentor to one of the winning student teams in The Art of Craftsmanship Revisited: New York competition (seen here in an exclusive clip from the project documentary, created by LVMH and produced by @Radical Media). It is this vital tension between tradition and innovation that Renaud Dutreil, chairman of LVMH North America, is charged with maintaining for the French luxury group. Dutreil, a key figure in the project with Parsons, spoke to NOWNESS about products with a soul.
With The Art of Craftsmanship Revisited project, LVMH has collaborated with artisanal businesses to promote niche crafts. Why is this project important to you?
The values of artisanship—durability, quality, the need to be highly trained and skilled—are synonymous with LVMH. Most of our brands have been built and created by artisans: Louis Vuitton and Alessandro Berluti [of Berluti shoes] were artisans, to name just a few.
For most artisans, patience and time is integral to their work. What is your opinion on slow design and sustainability?
Sustainability means coming back to the true values of luxury, coming back to products that have a soul. And soul is not a given in a product—it comes from creativity and passion within a designer, who gives a part of themselves in their work. You could juxtapose the ephemeral nature and speed of fashion today with the longstanding durability of the products, but really we need both. We need speed for a society that has different, ever-changing views on life, and we need traditions and roots that are able to transcend those ephemeral fashions.
Were there any standout moments when you witnessed the worlds of tradition and innovation collide during this LVMH-Parsons project?
It was very interesting to organize this meeting between the new (socially-networked and digital media-savvy) generation and the artisans, who do not reflect this culture but a much older one based on materials and tools, years of training and a transmission of skills and gestures from generation to generation. It was interesting to see how, beyond the differences of culture, the students and artisans were able to recognize themselves as part of the same world of creativity.
It’s not hard to see what the students gain from working with such skilled craftsmen—but what do the artisans gain?
It is in the DNA of an artisan to transmit to the next generation what he knows, so that these precious arts are not lost. This is something that is also very important to LVMH. For an artisan, it is a great pleasure to give back, because they themselves have been trained by other artisans. The artisans also gained from the experience because they can definitely be nourished by the energy and lessons coming from the new generation.
Why did LVMH choose Parsons as its partner for the project?
Parsons is one of the best design schools in the world—and we are very proud to have designers in our group such as Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs who are Parsons alumni.
The work of some of these artisans—such as the photogravurist and luthier— are no longer part of the vocabulary of the current generation. Why is it important to preserve them?
In the story of mankind the crafts economy was the main economy for centuries, but with the industrial revolution things were split into different tasks and craftsmen lost control. In the luxury industry we have the great privilege of being able to recreate not an economy of the past, but a modern economy, with the values of the artisan. The luxury industry is able to promote this because it has the means to invest in human heritage, which takes us back to the core of sustainability––back to what is important for humankind: creativity, expression and meaning in what we do.