Journey to Geoffrey Bawa’s land
I just returned from South India and Sri Lanka. Whilst there, I again realised that I have always been intrigued by handicraft and craft people. I have always associated craft with “time”, “luxury” and “uniqueness”. I have been fascinated by individuals who take the time to learn their craft and who are happy to share their passion, transmit their know-how. In her youth until she got married, my grandmother was a seamstress, what one calls a “petite main” at the Courrèges ateliers in Paris. She was a fabulous cook too. My grandfather was a keen angler and had learnt all that is to know about mushrooms, I remember going foraging with him in autumn. He was also crafting his own wooden pipes and later on we, his grandchildren would smell wafting scents of his Amsterdam tobacco around the house. He would never take his old DS to the garage, he would fix it himself.
I love to watch people using their hands, to create something practical or beautiful, or both. In South India and Sri Lanka I have come across a young woman weaving gorgeous brightly coloured cotton table cloths each day, ladies sitting at long wooden tables, chatting and laughing together, creating the most exquisite embroideries, born and bred jewellers at a moonstone mine, cutting, polishing… Women painting batik motifs that would take a month to complete, tea plantations workers plucking tea leaves and helping through the process of selecting, drying, smoking, hand rolling tea leaves. I will always remember this sweet lady sitting peacefully under a porch, painstakingly making lace using a set of sixteen large wooden needles. I had never seen this ancient technique; I was bewildered. Near Galle in South of Sri Lanka, on an isolated beach, I discovered a few stilt fishermen. Again a long lost tradition of fishing in this part of the world. It has even become a tourist attraction, where tourists pay fishermen to pose and it has now become a better income for them. When I heard that I felt a little sad. I won’t forget this man making coffee in his little shack on a street corner of Pondichery, creating long thin strings of milk to make the froth and pouring it in each cup, throwing sugar cubes into each cup from a meter’s distance without ever missing and the aroma of that coffee… And the queue outside, to taste his memorable coffee.
For quite some time I have been thinking about the pleasure I always feel in contact with makers, questioning my own concept of luxury as I am increasingly bored by the offer from retailers and by what fashion, lifestyles magazines dictate. I love to travel on my own terms, to visit small local markets, seek small dirty antique stores and discover genuine, handmade objects and wares with a past or/and a story.
Today I feel that everyone has everything. Low-cost manufacturing and competitively priced high-street and designer goods have given almost everyone the opportunity to own luxurious products in a way that would once have been unimaginable. So how will taste and refinement be displayed in our most democratic world?
Luxury has always meant “exclusivity”. But as high-street retailers and counterfeiters bring variations of luxury goods within reach of every pocket, the exclusiveness of luxury has now been lost. However, there is one aspect to exclusivity that manufactured goods can never attain – uniqueness. And this is why I feel craft skills and crafted products are going to become more and more important to our sense of what is luxurious. Unique, irreplaceable crafted products allow us to see that taste is more than just what money can buy. Craft will offer us a way to once again show our originality and our refinement.
This is not craft in the way that it is commonly used, but about an authentic, human relationship with the products we buy. Imagine a range of jewellery using recycled gold and natural stones that are handcarved by craftsmen: each piece of jewellery would be high quality, expensive (because of the years of accumulated skill that has gone into them), unique, and therefore luxurious. Such products would no longer be totems of soul-less consumerism, but authentic expressions of creativity.
This is another quality that crafted products have over high-street luxuries: they embody a relationship with the person who made them. I believe that this is also something that is going to become even more important. Like the relationship between a bespoke tailor and his clients, the more a craftsperson can create and “commercialise” a relationship with his/her customers, the more that relationship will authenticate his or her products as luxurious. At the moment, a consumer’s relationship with designer goods is, for the most part, established through branding and marketing. In a future in which craft and luxury become synonymous, the key relationship will be between the consumer and the craft person. The role of the product will change to become an emblem of a mutually appreciative relationship, just like the one between an artist and a connoisseur.
Craft for me is the future of luxury, both because the makers of luxury goods have to be able to distinguish themselves from the high-street and because consumers want to distinguish themselves from others as people of taste and style. But, fundamentally, craft products are attractive because their values – uniqueness, authenticity, sustainability and tactility – are rooted in the human. Another human being has energised and imbued them with human traits such as personality, knowledge and memory, and, as human beings, we value that creativity. I certainly do.
During these travels, I always feel a deep joy meeting craftspeople engaging with them and supporting them with my custom.
I returned from this trip, my suitcase filled with small bottles of pure flowers essential oils, hand embroidered cushion covers and throws, vintage Indian trays, antique silver bracelets, white hand rolled tea balls from small plantations, batik wall hangings.
Below a few places we have truly loved during our trip
Stay at Villa Helena, loved the tastefully decorated rooms, the peaceful courtyard and the lovely presence of Sudha
Laboratoires senteurs for perfumes, pure essential oils and eaux de cologne
The National Museum is a must visit, check their beautiful section of decorative arts
Cafe Kumbuk | Colombo, this was our favourite hang out
Spend an evening at Galle Fort, try Nana’s street food and watch the kids fly their kites | Colombo
Stay at Number 11, Geoffrey Bawa’s house, where you will experience true sri lankan sophistication
Botanic gardens | Kandy, breathtaking gardens, check the orchids house !
Temples | Dambulla
Fish market | Galle
Shop for antique Sri Lankan jewellery at Dutch Gallery
Spa Sandeshaya for the best reflexology massage
Lunuganga House for a magical stay on river Bentota at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home, the house and its gardens were his first muse and experimental laboratory for new ideas.