London has a Fashion Week and a Design Festival, and now, there is a Craft Week, celebrating craftsmanship and creativity from all over the world.
I recently spoke with Guy Salter MVO OBE, Chairman of London Craft Week, to find out more about the crafts featured – there are over 230 different events; I wish I could attend everything!
- You have worked as an adviser, a manager and an investor – tell us a bit more about your background?
I began in fast fashion with the Arcadia Group – that was where I learnt my trade. From there, I gradually moved over into the luxury side, where I have done a variety of things such as managed Laurent-Perrier and Asprey. I spent 15 years assisting Walpole [a unique alliance of Britain’s finest luxury brands, including Harrods, Burberry, Rolls-Royce and many more] as Deputy Chairman.
I have been an investor for the last eight years – identifying fast-growing businesses and helping them to get to the next stage. It’s a great place to have ended up professionally, as I can use what I have learnt at every step of my career.
- Why create a craft week for London? Where did the idea come from?
London Craft Week grew out of my interest in the luxury sector as a whole and craftsmanship in particular. Ten to fifteen years ago, many luxury brands were in danger of forgetting where they came from; the excellence of making and quality of materials. During my time assisting Walpole, I saw consumers becoming more discerning, asking more questions about quality and provenance.
In response to this, I started Walpole’s ‘Crafted’ initiative, a mentorship scheme which connects luxury brands with exceptional craftspeople.
That led to a thought – we have London Fashion Week, and we have the London Design Festival, why is there not a similar moment to celebrate craftsmanship and creativity?
We wanted to create that moment, and do it in a way which would keep the luxury consumer engaged – showcasing the world beyond luxury. There is a growing interest in lesser known luxury names – we wanted to create something which incorporated these brands. London Craft Week does this, using the whole of London as a stage, integrating not only its famous buildings but backstreets, alleyways and lesser-known studios, showcasing a diverse range of incredible crafts from all over the world.
- What are some of the highlights of London Craft Week 2017?
I’m particularly excited about some of the international events happening this year, especially the exhibition showcasing the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Queen Sirikit of Thailand, the wife of the late king, has spent her life collecting textiles from across the country; championing a whole range of disciplines, from weaving to embroidery which celebrate Khon – one of Thailand’s oldest narrative dance forms. The Queen has collected an amazing archive, spanning 30 years, and created a Museum of textiles. I was so pleased when I was able to convince her to bring the Museum to London Craft Week. Alongside demonstrations that show the making of Khon costumes by skilled weavers, embroiderers, and mask-makers, performers will also create the intricate Royal Khon dance.
Another highlight is the Arumjigi by the Culture Keepers Foundation – I found them about five years ago in Korea – they were set up to preserve Korean traditions around food and the home. The exhibition explores the combination of traditional Korean culture with contemporary creativity and aims to convey a sustainable cultural heritage while using Korean tradition as a rich source of inspiration. It is the first time that these breathtaking objects have been outside of Korea.
Then, we have the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, a project of the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte set up by the Rupert family – an exhibition matching top Italian designers with master craftsman. Tasked with creating a unique, functional object, each pair have created something extraordinarily beautiful.
Another fantastic event, taking place at HomeHouse on Portman Square, involves a third generation Spanish guitar maker, Feilip Conde. I came across him 5 years ago in Madrid and it took three years to finally convince him to join London Craft Week – he will be doing a demonstration on how he is making these guitars while also featuring a flamenco guitarist. This event represents the perfect fusion of creativity and performance.
- Internationally speaking, what other events are there which promote craft?
There are a few events which take place in France and Italy that are more broadly spread and focus on individual makers, but to my surprise, we have discovered that there is nothing like London Craft Week – an intense period in a key capital city celebrating craftsmanship and creativity on the level that we are doing at London Craft Week.
We’ve had inquiries from China, the Middle East and USA. If we have the capacity to help, who knows, we may be setting up similar events elsewhere in the next few years.
- London Craft Week is a wonderful time to discover some of the lesser-known crafts; could you share some light on some interesting crafts that will be on display?
One of the most unusual of the crafts is the boat-building workshop that we are doing by The Boat Building Academy . It is, strictly speaking, kayak making, and this will be happening in the heart of London, at St James’s Market Pavilion, just off Piccadilly.
And then of course, something completely different – dry stone walling – I was really keen to have something a bit more rural and robust in the centre of London for a half-day workshop.
At the heart of artistic craft are ceramicists working in clay and porcelain. This is such an accessible art form – there is a whole group of people discovering and collecting some of the world’s greatest works, at the fraction of the cost of a piece of contemporary fine art.
- Which makers inspire you and why?
In terms of ceramics, Edmund de Waal, – who is going to be receiving the London Craft Week medal this year. He is, for me, an absolute master. Julian Stair, who has an event during London Craft Week and of course, Grayson Perry, who opened our first London Craft Week and is a remarkable talent.
I think if we move away from more traditional craft and talk about sheer talent, then Thomas Heatherwick remains a hero of mine.