The Artisan Corner is a traveling showcase that has made pit stops in Lisbon, Paris, Milan and Osaka. Per atélier tradition, artisans sit at designated workbenches, demonstrating their craft to curious onlookers. Goldsmiths and watchmakers from the Florentine workshop in Italy were specially flown in for the 3-day event at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street in New York.
The Corner features their two most enduring motifs, horsebit and bamboo. For etymological enrichment, horsebit is literally what the horse bites on that is connected to the reins. Normally inconspicuous in the horse’s mouth, what was just a point of communication with the equestrian has now become synonymous with luxury.
At the gemology table, viewers can learn how they make their gold cocktail rings. It includes several meticulous steps, beginning with castings of multiple parts, attaching them, and finally, polishing. Precious stones such as topaz, quartz, amethyst and black diamond are sourced from Brazil and India, which are cut uniquely by Gucci. Choose a sparkler to suit your fancy and the gemsetter will fashion it into the gold armature.
I was invited to engrave my name on a souvenir ring. The artisan aligned the letter plates ‘J-e-n-n-i-f-e-r’ in penmanship cursive. With his assistance on the pedal and instruction to be light, I traced the node through every stroke. For a moment it felt like a matter of life and death, where I was the ingénue doctor operating a tiny suture robot. All eyes were on me as I made my quaking nervous debut. The machine had a large torque, because the first one failed! Not a problem, he tossed what I scrawled in a few minutes and etched another in lightning seconds. Admirable, considering how these are hands and not lasers!
The highlight of the evening was hearing an enthralling tale about the heritage of Gucci from the perspective of the master watchmaker. He began by describing how their design team would periodically revisit the vault to gather ins
piration. This preserves the legacy of the brand and at the same time, allows patterns and styles to be continually rehashed, reinvigorating it through a postmodern lens.
Gucci actually opened their Museo last September in the 14th Century Palazzo della Mercanzia during Milan Fashion week, making their archives accessible to the public. This is history in the making, cementing them as one of the leading luxury fashion and leather goods houses with an interest in the arts. The industry still awaits the opening of their rival’s, previously mentioned in this post.
I leaned in, hoping to be let in on more secrets. World War II caused a trade embargo, leading designers to become fixated with wartime cargo. In a moment of resourcefulness, they developed an austere aesthetic. Canvas became their most lasting material, which is still in use today. Favored for its durability and resilience, it embodies timelessness.
After the War ended, trade routes opened up, allowing commerce to flourish. To this day, the workshop in Italy still obtains their bamboo from China, of which only the root is used. The long and spindly sticks are first cut, then heated and bent into semicircles. In order to keep their shape, they are wedged into a template. With a handheld torch, he sears the surface, rubs on beeswax for shine, and buffs it with a natural lacquer. Once the pieces are done, they are all assembled by hand with Swiss watch movements in Italy.
I inquired about the leather hides hanging behind him. He replied that only the finest crease-free sections, away from areas such as the neck, are selected. After being backed with adhesive, they are punched out by water pressure, leaving a crisp cut. Laser cutting is not feasible as it would burn. The leather is then hand-stitched onto the face of their classic ‘1921’ Bangle Watch. (1921 is the year when Gucci was founded.) It was actually particularly surprising and delightful to hear how committed Gucci is to going green. Apart from using natural coatings, they also use farm-raised alligator bred in the States, instead of crocodile. The office plans to go entirely paperless and install water fountains instead of supplying bottled water, paving the way for corporate-wide sustainability.
Like the trust between rider and horse, craftsmanship events foster a deeper understanding by weaving a romantic narrative around material goods. The Hermès Festival des Métiers which took place in September mirrored this sentiment, where viewers similarly participated in the making of bags, scarves and jewelry. The appeal no longer lies in the physicality of the items themselves, but in the intangible dedication invested into every design, from its early conception to the very last stitch. The handmade production process is a return to humanism. It extols the virtues of simpler, pre-industrialist time, where intention and care took precedence.
The Global Radar series examines activity in New York, Singapore and around the globe. The writer is a student in Design and Management at Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan, NYC. She has a natural affinity for spotting trends and thoroughly appreciates diversity and internationalism.