"I just try to play a straight game" – the closing line to the Bill Cunningham documentary directed by Richard Press has been plaguing my mind ever since I saw it in cinema a few weeks ago (it's taken this long because of shit torrents, not being in New York at the right time and EXCEEDINGLY SLOW UK release). Cunningham adds that to be honest and straight in New York is like Don Quixote fighting the windmills. I'd add that New York isn't the only place where being straight and honest eludes us.
Steve and I came out of the cinema, questioning our own game tactics. How straight can we be in a fashion industry where intentions aren't always honourable, profit margins come number one and the noise of marketing and publicity hub-hub surrounding the actual clothes grows louder and louder by the second. More specifically, as fashion bloggers, whose money-making antics in general, are currently well-documented and critiqued by the media, where you're either damned if you do appear to "sell out" or damned if you don't do anything that is seen as "media-worthy", how do we adhere to this poker straight line?
Then I watched Hearts and Crafts: The People that Make Herm√®s, a documentary by Fr√©d√©ric Laffont and Isabelle Dupuy-Chavanat, luckily on a flight, which together with Cunningham's words and tenacity, collectively affirmed why I'm even bothered to type everyday. It's had a limited release on screen and I believe some people in the world can watch the stream on the Herm√®s site but I do urge you to seek it out if you can't see the stream.
The film may have been commissioned by Herm√®s themselves but from start to finish, the most remarkable thing is that the word Herm√®s is never uttered. There's hardly a logo in sight unless you count a beautiful horse seen in the stables at the beginning of the film and cantering about in the closing moments, as a reminder of the French house's insignia and its equestrian beginnings in the 19th century.
Instead, Laffont and Dupuy-Chavanat cleverly focus on the people working at Herm√®s' various ateliers, occupying roles such as leather polisher, silk dye colourist, leather craftsmen, glass makers, mould makers – running the gamut across all of Hermes products, not just the famous handbags. This isn't a sensationalist film nor does it rattle on about Hermes' achievements as a company. This is really a quiet celebration of craftsmanship and of men and women who have found their vocational calling and have a desire to fulfil it. Mixing up pigments for silk or massaging leather skins may seem very singular and specific but it's an important cog in the process of bringing Hermes products to life. As someone points out in the film "We're part of a line. It's a snowball effect."
The directors pick up on the quiet glances, the indirect eye contact and the knowing smiles of these craftsmen and women and their work is soundtracked by the lulling tones of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Scriabin. It becomes mesmerising to watch the action of a saddle stitch, of needle and thread going through leather, a cutting tool trimming away at a minuscule layer of leather and applying a pen to a fine drawing that takes. A leather polisher compares a piece of leather to being like your first lover. Apparently you pamper him, you take him in your arms and you massage him to make him look good. You could chortle at such a superlative statement but instead I found myself thinking how lucky you'd be just to feel THIS amount of passion in what you do as a job. I can just about relate as I've previously described the blog as a baby before and feeding it in order to keep it alive. The trick is therefore to maintain this feeling of wanting to lavish TLC on your baby.
What the film emphasises is that all eyes should be on the hands and their pride in producing the end-product that will bear the mark of the craftsmen (Herm√®s handbags are are marked with the year of manufacture and the craftsmen's stamp). When Cunningham accepted his Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2008, he said "Look at the clothes! The cut, the new cut, the lines, the colours – that's everything. It's the clothes, not the spectacle." and together with this Hermes documentary, I'm more convinced than ever that highlighting what's good, what's exciting and what I this is interesting creation or development in fashion, is more important than concerning myself with the nit-pickings of blogger/media politics, PR fluffing or just gleaming the surface of mass-consumption. Just to throw in another New York Times related documentary, re-watching Andrew Rossie's Page One: Inside the New York Times, also encouraged me that eking out a good story, whether you're a print journalist or a blogger shouldn't be all that different. Even a publication like NY Times can falter at times and we can't all can't live a life as straight as Bill's (to be fair, this is a man who doesn't see the need for a bathroom or a kitchen in his home). The best you can do is try to play as straight a game as you can and hope that you hap upon true moments of hearts and crafts along the way, just to uplift you in this commerce-filled industry.
I'll leave you with another Cunningham gem that's just good for general affirmation of this industry.
"The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity, that it should be done away in the face of social upheavals. The point is is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. I don't think you can do away with it."
In short, three documentaries that fire me up into doing something good and better for the blog – Bill Cunningham New York, Hearts and Crafts: The People that Make Herm√®s, Page One: Inside the New York Times.