Tim Blanks: For all its speed, fashion is a lot kinder to legacy and heritage than any other business I've worked in. Definitely much kinder than movies and publishing. And it respects the voice of experience.
Jo-Ann Furniss: There's a weird kind of etiquette. It's actually a very formal etiquette. Who sends thank you notes anymore? The fashion industry!
I definitely had to chuckle at Jo-Ann Furniss' statement above when we had our round table discussion for Bon Magazine when on an average week, I myself receive maybe ten or so thank you notes in the post. The preservation of etiquette and sentiment in the fashion industry is nothing but endearing, especially when the thank you notes come on lovely crisp Smythson stationery. Weirdly, during one week I received nothing BUT thank you notes printed on Smythson stationery, which is perhaps symtomatic of the London fashion industry's loyalty to good old Smythson.
Some of you may know that I was featured in Smythson's A/W 11 Journal and have been contributing a few posts to the Smythson blog for the past few months so I've been getting properly acquainted with all of their wonderful leathery and papery goods. I vaguely remember having a conversation with a friend who felt embarrassed for admitting that her parents made her send Thank You notes to everyone who gave her gifts for Christmas. This in turn made me ashamed that my parents hadn't instilled the same polite set of values. Therefore, I'm trying to atone with my first set of Smythson correspondence cards and so I've fleshed out the post I did for Smythson, which tracked my journey from Smythson's stationery salon (yes, there is such a thing…) on Bond Street to their printing workshop in Wiltshire.
Smythson‚Äôs stationery salon is a quiet haven of rustling cards, tissue paper inlays and lovely die-stamped letters and a bulging catalogue of motifs for you to choose to head up your cards or stamp your envelopes with. I love the motion of going through ring binders stuffed with fonts and papers. I settled for a grey border, grey tissue lining and pink text and motif combination, which is sort of a reference to an old Style Bubble design colour scheme but in general, I just love the dullness of grey and the hotness of well… a hot pink.
I did resist the urge to go for a motif that was ultra literal and slightly cheesy‚Ä¶.
Instead, I chose a camera motif, which wasn‚Äôt actually in the catalogue but was a never-before used motif from the archive. Smythson did have very obvious 'fashion' motifs – a stiletto heel, a handbag – and they also had quite cute animal ones – foxes and owls and so forth (they're the fashionable animals – nobody wants a mole on their card which is a bit sad…). I'm not exactly sure why I went for a camera seeing as I'm err… clearly NOT a photographer but I guess I didn't want anything too literal either.
I was then lucky enough to visit Smythson‚Äôs factory in Wiltshire where decades-old machinery have been printing their stationery for years with the traditional methods of copperplate printing. I know, I know – another demonstration of in yer' face craft as a commodity. Still Smythson's methods are stubbornly manual, which is something to be commended considering half the machinery in the printing press can't actually be bought new.
A negative image is put through a copper plate etching machine to achieve the final plate that will be used in the printing press, a process that has thankfully been speeded up but would have taken hours to achieve just one plate, when done by hand in the past‚Ä¶
The plate is then loaded into the printing press and once the rollers are inked up, each piece of paper or envelope is individually placed there and stamped with the motif or text. It‚Äôs an eye bogglingly manual process, one that requires a knack of timing and an in-depth knowledge for how the machines are run. The stamp results in this raised de bossed effect which is amazing to touch – something that can't be conveyed in a picture alas. I think at this point, they also excitedly showed us a menu from Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, which Smythson were in charge of printing – no pics allowed but apparently the design was done by Kate and actually, I have to give a thumbs up to her. Very nice indeed.
We then moved on to the section where borders and gilding of card edges are done. It‚Äôs another highly skilled manual process that isn‚Äôt governed by science but by simply knowing by eye, how the paint or gold/silver leaf will hit the card.
The application of this gold leaf on to the edge of these cards was pretty stunning to watch. The cards have to be stacked and angled correctly to apply the gold leaf…
Then I watched my set of cards get their grey borders and was amazed at how evenly spaced the cards were in order to be sprayed with precision. He did this all by eye.
Even the envelopes were made up by hand with the all over tissue lining being something of a Smythson signature. I had a go at gluing together a few of them but I don‚Äôt think I got the full hang of it. Hopefully nobody actually receives my duff envelope in their stationery set‚Ä¶
I got a bit of Christmas panic when I saw these Smythson boxes piled high as they were gearing up for the Christmas card and gift rush… I've actually not even bought mine yet…
Smythson keeps all their plates archived and never throws them away. It was pretty special going through the ‚ÄòCelebrities‚Äô drawer stuffed full of luminaries‚Äô names‚Ä¶
Me thinks, Margaret Thatcher isn't going to be needing this plate anymore…
Et voila! The finished product…
I‚Äôve not yet sent one out yet but after the Christmas period, I‚Äôm sure these will be winging their way, complete with my childish scrawl, to some grateful recipients (hopefully!).