Louis Vuitton is in town. This week, unveiling a new maison du luxe (three floors of unashamed high-end accessories, jewellery and clothing) on London's New Bond Street, the fashion retailer threw the mother of all parties. Cherie Blair mingled with Tracey Emin and Paloma Faith.
Everyone – from countess to commoner – seems to succumb to the Louis Vuitton juggernaut. But not quite. This week the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has just banned a series of print ads for Vuitton, ruling they mislead consumers into thinking its products are hand-made.
One of the two ads, by Ogilvy & Mather, features a photograph of a woman stitching the handle of a handbag, while a second ad shows a woman creating the folds of a wallet. The brand argue that the campaign is "a homage to the craftsmanship which was carried out every day by Louis Vuitton's artisans", while admitting that sewing machines are used for aspects of items. Not good enough ruled the ASA – who claimed Vuitton had failed to provide evidence that demonstrated the extent to which its products were made by hand. Interesting when a bespoke Vuitton bag can cost up to £24,000.
And also frustrating. Friends of mine – textile designers, jewellers, ceramists – struggle to make a living from their work. Each object that leaves their studio is a one-off, lovingly fashioned by hand and eye. They don't have a factory of "artisans" behind them. Or a whole host of "brand ambassadors" such as Daisy Lowe.
But according to Grant Gibson, editor of Crafts magazine, we shouldn't get too paranoid. It's a huge compliment that Vuitton wants to associate itself with craft. "It's just an example of brands seeing the zeitgeist and wanting to be part of it." He cites the latest Levi's campaign as another example of a company that has put a modern spin on its heritage by focusing on craftwork. Drawing on its history of dressing cowboys and lumberjacks, the brand has reinvented the idea of a "craftworker"; recruiting 18 craftsmen and craftswomen across arts, music and performance to represent the brand in press and outdoor ads.
Big blockbuster TV ads, accompanied by a chart-topping soundtrack, are passé, Gibson explains. We've realised it's a bad case of smoke and mirrors. In contrast craft, the art of the handmade, is cool. Gone is the image of blokes with long beards toiling in the countryside. The potter Edmund de Waal exhibits on Cork Street. Collect, the international art fair for contemporary objects, took over the Saatchi Gallery earlier this month. The catwalks are full of appliqué and embroidery detail. Craft is the new collectable. It is a rebellion against the high street, where everything looks the same. If you walk into London galleries such as Flow in Notting Hill or Contemporary Applied Arts on Charlotte Street, you'll see actors, film directors and ad gurus buying one-off furniture, lighting and textiles. And if you're dressing an actress for a premiere, the way to ensure no one wears the same jewellery is to buy a one-off piece.
We're seeing evidence of the handmade in the high-tech built environment. A younger generation of architects are looking to create quieter buildings that work with cities rather than attempting to impose a house style on them. Caruso St John's work has a profound sense of craft about it, for instance. Craft isn't just a sexy new add-on. It's an ideology (the movement was pioneered by social progressives such as William Morris). These days we want to know the provenance of the garment. How and where it was made, and in what conditions. I can't be the only one whose lust for an iPad rapidly deflated this morning at the news that yet another worker has committed suicide at the Chinese factory that produces them.
Frankly I don't care whether the stitching was done by hand or machine. But I do care that the merchants of pleasure employ workers who are happy and well paid, with decent holidays. Otherwise this scarf, that monogrammed wallet, is a guilty pleasure too far.