The reassuring caress of London Grain leather; the ethereal gleam of pale gold; the polished glass cabinets becoming showcases for all manner of sky-coloured adornments; the tireless fruits of the devoted craftsman going about his industry. Stepping in from the fashionable Knightsbridge backstreet into the original atelier of Anya Hindmarch feels something like being transported into the Belgravian answer to Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop.
“I have long been obsessed with bespoke products,” says Hindmarch. “Pieces that are skilfully handmade to order and personalised.” The designer’s dedicated bespoke boutique solicits sentimental photographs, personal messages and handwriting samples to be conceived into travel pouches, passport holders, jewellery boxes and evening bags, finished with a lucky penny or St Christopher’s card, by hand, live in store.
Interior of the Anya Hindmarch Bespoke Store
From David to Goliath, across the block in a considerably larger showroom, past the Louis Vuitton monogramming station, Hindmarch’s craftsmanship booth features strongly, alongside those leather pop customisation stickers. Harrods is among an ever-growing force of trailblazers championing bespoke: from their Made With Love season where artisans from some of the most fêted names in luxury descend to personalise pieces across the department store’s floors, to its autumn Menswear Made-to-Measure weekend, when the finest Italian tailors from Gucci, Etro, Brioni et al are flown in for consultations in store. Along the strip, in a bespoke beauty takeover, eyelashes got a personalised makeover at Harvey Nichols courtesy of Eyeko’s lash editors who tailor each mascara to the individual before sealing it in a monogrammed box.
Gucci artisanal procedures presented to the public during displays in its global Artisan's Corner Initiative
A few too many fake Louis Vuittons. Sweat shops. A rumour mill surrounding marketing markups and the essence of luxury was lost. In a sea of replicas and poorly-copied logos the luxury houses united to showcase the artisanship from which they were formed. Since 2009 Gucci has been transporting the makers from its Florence atelier to retail destinations around the world to hammer and stitch its iconic leather handbags to audiences of awestruck flaneurs as part of its ‘Artisan Corner’ initiative, while Hermès has flown its craftspeople to galleries in Australia, São Paulo, London and beyond over the past five years as part of its ‘Festival de Metiers’ tour.
Award-winning ceramicist Laura Carlin at work at The New Craftsmen's Mayfair atelier
It is at once proof and also theatre – taking the time-tested practises of the lauded liverymen of the City; generations-old goldsmiths busying themselves behind the boutique of Asprey or creative cordwainers hammering away above the premises of Foster and Sons and showcasing them on the shop floor.
“Publish and be damned...” It’s dusk in a white arts and crafts building off Park Lane. Calligrapher Rosalind Wyatt is reading from the memoirs of Mayfair courtesan Harriette Wilson to an enlightened crowd as candlelight flickers off charcuterie plates and the clunking wooden portfolio drawers of some of the eighty or so designer-makers of The New Craftsmen. The highly acclaimed space matches shoppers with artisans who visit for bespoke consultations or to demonstrate their skills live in store. “It’s a pretty deep part of London’s existence,” says The New Craftsmen’s debonaire founder, Mark Henderson, who is also the Chairman of Gieves and Hawkes. Hindmarch concurs: “Personalised pieces are the only pieces that really deserve the overused label of ‘luxury’. These are the pieces that you cherish and hand down to your grandchildren and talk about for years to come.”
Alfred Dunhill Bourdon House
Today in London you can witness the craft of the dedicated leather cutter at Dunhill, the in-house milliner of Fortnum and Mason or commission a bespoke Miranda bag direct from Michael Kors. (Oh yes, and it’s hard to find a Mayfair horologist these days who doesn’t have an in-house watchmaker working on the shop floor). The business of bringing the craftsmanship of luxury to centre stage isn’t just here to stay, because it’s always been there, it’s simply returned to its source.
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