Reading a history of the Arts & Crafts movement recently, I was reminded how much it has in common with our current passion for all things crafted.
The English movement was born out of a desire to return dignity to the work of craftsmen. It reacted against the anonymous mechanisation of the industrial age – although machines were used in production, it was stated that they should not dictate the craft.
We would approve of the movement’s focus on quality, of the time taken with work, and of the resurrection of old crafts. Although it led to a plethora of styles, from the whimsical to the downright plain, they all had this focus on craft and natural materials in common.
Arts & Crafts was also very nostalgic, as to a extent is our love of classic menswear. It was tied up with ideas of quiet beauty, of simplicity and honesty. Of chivalry or – as we might put it – elegance and gentlemanliness.
There was a joy in the beauty of everyday things. Not the high arts of painting and sculpture, but homewares and the decorative arts. It’s not too much of a stretch to see a connection to the beauty of a bespoke shoe, or a handmade suit, which are subtle and modest beauties compared to the grandness of other fashions.
Indeed, the philosophy of Arts & Crafts sounds like everything I want today’s sartorial fashion to become. Not flamboyant, not showy, not shallow and fleeting, but rooted in fundamental values of craft and integrity.
I will stop short of hoping it can change the world, which is what CR Ashbee, William Morris and others thought Arts & Crafts could do. But I do believe, with them, that there is power and pleasure in being surrounded by things that are fit for purpose, honest to their materials, and simple in form. To that extent we have a lot in common.