I know I’ve posted this before, but with a few edits since the last time, it may be fun to read it again. To all my dressmaker, couturier, and tailoring friends out there, enjoy!
Once upon a time there was a very rich man and his wife spending some quality time together on their private south pacific island. Even with its remoteness it had every modern convenience. Solar collection panels for electricity, fresh running water, and even the most reliable Internet service. Everything you could possibly need was on the island. Beautiful gardens and house, dock, yacht, boat house, air landing strip, and several guest cottages dotted along its beach.
He arrived there following several extensive business trips, with his wife who had at the same time indulged in luxury retail therapy during their stops in Paris, Milan, London, and Tokyo. There was nothing that the couple could not buy. His wife had just procured several lengths of the most elaborately hand-embroidered French silk, the most luxurious Italian silk velvet, the finest English worsted wool, and the softest Kashmir wool. The very best that could be made, very expensive and each piece quite unique.
Because this man was also a very generous man, he regularly invited friends and relatives to his island, and he also invited complete strangers from time to time to share in his good fortune. This time he was interested in and invited three young, and very promising, fashion designers to the island as a reward for their contribution to one of the many charities he supported.
Each of the three individuals viewed this opportunity differently. One was very ambitious and viewed each day as potential for new business and so brought along his iPhone, laptop, latest look-book, and a few new design ideas to present, just in case. The other saw this as a good time to get on with a project or two without distractions, and so managed to pack a traveling sewing machine, sewing kit (thread, pins and scissors), some new patterns, but decided to try experimenting with locally made materials that may be available on the island. The third accepted this opportunity, as a time to retreat and to not worry about the future, only to fully absorb, and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
While visiting on this south pacific island, which was very tiny indeed as it turned out, it also became apparent to the guests just how remote it was from civilization. The owners of the island were kind and very hospitable and made the time to visit with their guests, making sure that each one was settled and quite comfortable.
On the first night they invited their three young guests to dinner at the big house. Nothing but the finest was offered; fish caught earlier that day, organically gown vegetables from the gardens, the most exotic fruit flown in from the nearest islands, and the finest wine available from around the globe chosen from their impressive collection in the wine cellar.
The conversation that evening moved spiritedly from each guest in turn to the next, revealing what each of their hopes and aspirations were for the future. The first was confident that they would become world famous, and that one day everyone would want to own one of their designs. Having good connections, hiring the most talented people, using the newest technology from around the world, and with the best marketing strategies, this would certainly be possible and highly profitable.
The second was hopeful, that with more experience and attracting venture capital (said with a wink directed toward the hosts) they would be able to manufacture their seasonal collections that would become highly popular and sell around the world. Many people will be employed in the process, solid supply chains will need to be set up, they’d make sure that only ethical methods were being supported at every stage, and if profit margins are substantial, it would be a successful career and quite satisfactory.
The third agreed that those goals are valid, but confessed to wanting to have the freedom to express their creativity every day, to being secure and content, and to make other people happy by offering something they really wanted and needed, would be very fulfilling. Supporting suppliers, artisans and specialized craftspeople does sustain jobs locally, as well as globally, by keeping these special skills alive and well. To feel that what they are doing is a positive step in the right direction, trying to be responsible in protecting our earth and its limited resources, appreciating and treating people with dignity by paying them a living wage, that is what I want and am working toward.
The others quietly sniggered at this revelation, and privately thought, “admirable, but how narrow, utterly impractical and unrealistic those goals are”. Curiously, the rich man’s wife became intrigued and asked more questions about how this path could be a viable career choice. After all, doesn’t one need rather high monetary returns to be able to live well and be happy? “For instance, we have everything one could possibly want or need. A very good income, good health, access to the best of everything, we can buy anything we desire. All this doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, money and sacrifice of course”. No could disagree on these points, and all continued to enjoy a pleasant evening of good food and wine, with lively conversation and exchange of ideas.
Later when asked by the three guests, the rich man’s wife was delighted to show them her exquisite fabric finds, knowing they would share in her excitement. As expected, all three were indeed thrilled. Also, as an almost automatic reaction, they offered to design for her something very special using these fabrics. “Oh, but, I wouldn’t just let anyone touch these precious fabrics, I could only trust someone with considerable knowledge and experience”. They asked whom she knew, that had such knowledge and experience. “Well regrettably, I don’t really know anyone to fit the description and I’m a quite hesitant about asking my friends for a referral – they do like to keep things like that a secret!”
The first young designer took that as a perfect opportunity to present her one of the most fashion-forward designs to date, and would start on it straight away. The second, began to research the latest trends and present the best for her choosing. Meanwhile, the third asked her questions about what she dreamed for herself, what her social obligations and requirements were for the coming year, and what type of things she loved to wear that made her feel happy. “Thank you for your offers, and it is all wonderful” she said, “but it still leaves the dilemma of who is capable to ‘make’ these amazing pieces for me without wasting or ruining the fabric?”
Not to worry, the first designer said, “I have some good people behind me who will quickly get it done right”. The second designer remarked, “I could do it myself, it won’t take long. I can usually run things up in a few hours, a couple of days at most!” The third’s reply was “I would love to make it for you, but it will take some time. I want to make sure everything fits you just right, and makes you look outstanding. Your fabrics will deserve the utmost care and attention, for the most part they will be hand-sewn”. The rich man’s wife considered all three offers.
Unfortunately, during their stay on the island, the sky became dark for three days and then a huge tropical storm followed causing much damage in its path. It knocked out the Internet service, the dock was smashed apart, and the air landing strip was littered with debris from broken tree branches. The generators and batteries were reserved for the barest of essentials such as pumping fresh water from their tanks, and supplying the kitchen with electricity. All lives were safe and secure, no one was harmed. Repairs on the island started immediately but would take some time.
The first designer conceded, “Well that pretty much finishes my plans, without the internet I can’t communicate with my team, my laptop battery is low and in need of recharging, and without the internet…”. The second designer lamented that without power the sewing machine was useless, and it was impossible without the right patterns. The third said, “No problem. Let’s get started”.
In wonderment, the rich man’s wife asked how this is possible without any equipment! “I have my hands, I never travel without my emergency sewing kit, and if you have a ball of string somewhere, that’s all I need.” And so, proceeded to take her measurements with the ball of string, sketched some ideas on paper for her approval, and drafted the patterns using old bed sheets that were soon headed for recycling. After assembling the mock-up designs, they were fitted exactly to her figure. Then used as the pattern to cut her prized fabrics.
During the days following, the rich man’s wife witnessed how the garments were being created piece by piece, all with the greatest care and attention to detail. Every pattern piece was skillfully cut, matched and hand sewn. The garments were fitted upon the rich man’s wife several times making sure they were comfortable and flattering to her figure. Then – one day the clothes were complete! “Oh my, I have never in my life seen so much care taken, such skilled craftsmanship, such beauty, but mostly I have not felt so incredibly comfortable in my clothes”, and she added, “and I feel so good about the way they make me look!” She noted, “I could see your joy as you worked, and now I understand why you love creating such wonderful things! How can I thank you enough for what you have done for me?”
The young couturier replied, “I must thank you, the opportunity you have given me has been priceless! If you are satisfied with the results, may I present you a detailed invoice of what you have received in exchange for my work.” The rich man’s wife read over the invoice very closely, while the couturier sat quietly trying to interpret her varying facial gestures.
Thinking that there may be objections to field, the couturier added that what she is paying for were the years of training and experience that were required to reach this level of expertise, the number of hours spent in carefully handling her fabric – that had also been hand crafted by others, and to put a fine point on it, she was the only person in the world who owned these pieces designed just for her.
“Goodness”, she said, “I’ve just come to realize what a treasure you are, and I certainly have no objection to the price!” She happily compensated the young couturier, and never again did she want what everyone else could buy! Would you?
Not the End -Just the Beginning
– by Jutta Holtkamp