What role does Authenticity play in defining Modern Luxury?
A growing appetite for authenticity elevates the perception of luxury. Honouring craftsmanship is to recognise the skill and pride embedded.
Ethics support a story of heritage and legacy and help us to understand the cultural journey of a piece. Honest communication – flaws and all, is ranking high among the purchase drivers as we seek to know more about the story behind the product. As citizen voice amplifies, so does the need for brand transparency. There will soon be nowhere to hide, because unlike five years ago – products and their supply chains can now be traced which has led to a heightened awareness and understanding amongst consumers. Faced with these challenging times of uncertainty, social injustice and climate change, we are searching for a better luxury.
Respect for The Makers
In order to celebrate an artisan touch it is important to appreciate the skill and pride, and the finesse that it brings to the final piece – but also the implications on scale and volume. India has a concentration of the world’s most highly skilled embroiderers, an age-old tradition that yields superior results for luxury brands. In Europe, this craft is said to cost ten times as much and out of reach for many. According to a recent Business of Fashion report Indian craftsmen are the secret link to transforming fabric into wearable art. This skill is available at less cost, and at scale. When Jenifer Lopez appeared on the Milan catwalk in Versace’s ‘re-issued’ jungle print dress, it was not general knowledge that its adornment was the specialist work of artisans in Mumbai. Versace would want to protect their Italian heritage.
Versace’s Jungle Print Dress, 2019
Dior’s Embroidered Saddlebag
Artisan embroiderers in Mumbai, India
Fashion’s problem with Cultural Appropriation
Recognition of craftsmanship is often missed due to a lack of representation, usually among marginalised communities, which leads to cultural appropriation and highlights Fashion’s top-down system where brands take inspiration from other cultures, with little or no acknowledgment. Sadly, this can diminish cultural heritage. Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution highlighted on her Instagram feed a recent case where a beautiful dress was in-fact a copy of a Mexican design, and later the brand apologised and withdrew it from sale – but at what cost? Landfill, incineration?
Carry points out ‘how much more beautiful would it be if it was made with honesty and respect for the people who created the design in the first place…explaining the design origin, and to have donated a percentage or all of the profits to a community project or to Covid-19 relief efforts in the Oaxaca region?' She underlines the three Cs; Consent, Credit and Compensation as the starting point.
Gigi Hadid in dreads for Marc Jacobs, Gucci models in Sikh-style turbans, Victoria's Secret angels in Native American headdresses
A great example of a Modern Luxury Brand
One of my favourite brands is Zazi Vintage founded by Jeanne de Kroon and built entirely around honesty. For me the brand is setting new standards for a better luxury that is far from the mass production and consumerist culture that has dominated.
From Zazi With Love embodies a social responsibility that the brand holds close. Through their collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative an organisation that connects brands with skilled artisan communities in war-torn regions such as Afghanistan, Zazi have built a story around female empowerment – providing dignified and meaningful work to improve the lives of women who are often marginalised. Their vibrant 60s & 70s inspired coats are one-offs and take you on a journey through Central Asia. They are crafted from antique Suzani textiles sourced from the Silk Road, a lush and intricate embroidery that is deeply rooted in Uzbekistan culture, passed from Mother to daughter. Central to the Zazi story are the women, the artisans who gather and with every stitch, allow their pride to surface. But they are particularly vulnerable in these times of lockdown so Zazi are finding creative ways to support them, by co-creating Summer dress designs and introducing made-to-order, keeping their ‘families’ busy at work, in the safety of their own homes. Social enterprise is a long-term commitment on the part of the brand, that helps to build social capital into communities. It has enabled these women to educate themselves and their children, have access to medical care and better sanitation – whilst keeping their tradition and hand skills alive. Zazi is proof that a fashion brand can be responsible with a positive impact on artisan communities, who are celebrated as part of the brand's DNA.
‘An essential part of the ZAZI story has always been about interwoven cultural connections. To share the beautiful stories behind our garments as these are the stories you wear. A narrative that connects and weaves cultures together through cloth, that works with women storytellers all over the world’.
Zazi Vintage Social Enterprise; Saheli women, and the artisan makers of Afghanistan