Fine crafts, drivers of attractiveness or mirrors of global cities’ persistent challenges?

Fine crafts, drivers of attractiveness or mirrors of global cities’ persistent challenges?

Cities of Craft

Lab engineers, designers, cabinetmakers, “we are fascinated by fine crafts, but there is an economic reality behind these jobs on which we must insist and that happens to be a difficult reality”. As underlined by Raphaëlle Le Baud, founder of the agency Métiers Rares, art craft is a growing driving force for economic development and cities’ attractiveness. However, it lies at the crossroads of the main challenges global cities still have to face. How can a skilled labour force meet a clear demand? How to attract global talents? In which way does art craft represent new opportunities for Greater Paris?

Around the Craft Cities round-table at the Global Cities Makers Forum, four experts – Raphaëlle Le Baud, Philippe Chomaz, executive scientific director of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Jean-Louis Fréchin, architect and designer at NoDesign, and Pascal Morand, executive president of the Haute Couture and Fashion Federation – drew a situational analysis and discussed their solutions on how to meet the increasing challenges of fine craft among global cities.

Art craftsmen, craftswomen and large groups: turning reputation into business

Long-forgotten link of the creation chain, craft has become “the epitome of production”, as it was highlighted by Jean-Louis Fréchin. Producing an industrial, scientific, or textile product requires technical skills and know-hows that are strongly sought by large industrial groups and luxury fashion houses. Nevertheless, the craftsman’s praised reputation is not sufficient to trigger profits. In fact, the meeting of supply and demand in this field is rather strenuous.

“We have to go beyond the state of the art.”

Philippe Chomaz
Executive scientific director of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA)

The first issue raised by this situation is the craftsmen’s training and qualification. In other words, crafts training programs suffer from a tenacious lack of consideration in the French educational system. Model making or methods offices remain little-known, even by those who aim to build careers in design, fashion or science industry. The numerous craftsmen and women that have been interviewed by Raphaëlle Le Baud have confirmed this fact: professional and technical trainings are often a default option in France.

Furthermore, for two parties to settle in a same city does not automatically mean for them to meet. Qualified craftsmen and large groups must be visible and recognisable by one another. Only craftsmen are having trouble existing and being noticed by recruiters. Conversely, large groups of luxury and fashion, whose needs in crafts workforce are substantial, admit that they lack exposure among fine crafts professionals.

How can digital tools help promoting tradition?

Linking craftsmen and large groups is exactly the challenge that Métiers Rares aims to take up.

The agency benefits from direct links with art craftsmen, which allows it to measure their skills and needs, and to help them promote their traditional craftsmanship to luxury houses. Digital tools play a key role in achieving this goal. The agency manages, records, and broadcasts interviews on digital platforms, hosting and promoting modern and mainly urban craftsmen. Although the agency, as a starting point, is a bridge between craftsmen and industries, the final goal is to build a direct and lasting dialogue between both parties.

Such disintermediation is widely enabled by social networks. Craftsmen can therefore communicate by themselves and for themselves, promoting their own work, an additional evidence of the growing trend that is bringing crafts to light after a long time spent in backstage.

“Being attractive means working with our own tools.”

Jean-Louis Fréchin
Architect and designer, founder of NoDesign

The same issue of self-promotion and visibility affects recruiters. Wide communication campaigns have been launched the past few years, such as “Savoir pour faire”. Brought to the fore by Pascal Morand, this campaign launched in 2019 was intended for craftsmen and led to the creation of a permanent digital platform. Its mission is to communicate, map and shed light upon the 10 000 crafts job openings that occur each year.

Far from replacing the hand’s genius, new technologies are thus a chance for large groups and craftsmen that both must seize.

Greater Paris attractiveness: becoming the world’s cluster for fine crafts

Innovating to invent tomorrow’s tradition, this challenge is long-standing and has always motivated art craftsmen. Still, the know-how cannot be separated from the place in which it is practiced. Arts and crafts are necessarily rooted in a territory, in a city that offers its workforce efficient and inspiring resources, and that benefits from their global recognition and fame in return. A given area provides their craftsmen with spaces, facilities, tools that are needed to foster innovation, whereas craftsmen contribute to making their place of work more attractive. What about Paris and its region?

“Greater Paris is a chance for fine crafts.”

Raphaëlle Le Baud
Founder of Métiers Rares

Paris benefits from a national and global outreach owing to the universal and diverse nature of activities located within the city. It is precisely in Paris that the leading decision centres are settled, as well as craftsmen’s biggest partners and clients (museums, luxury houses, scientific and industrial research centers). Recent efforts have even been initiated by local authorities to further encourage craft workshops to settle in Paris.

But in spite of these assets, Paris also happens to be a remarkably small city compared with other global cities, and is therefore strained by a major pressure on the real estate market.

This phenomenon has had two consequences. On the one hand, it has redefined the spaces of creation, creativity, and exchanges: coffee shops, bars have become working spaces where designers, illustrators, and other art craftsmen can meet.

On the other hand, most craftsmen have decided to move out from Paris, preferring the wider Greater Paris area. This general trend however did not lead to a geographical dispersion of craftsmen: in fact, it has helped larger clusterings of both resources and skills to form in wider spaces that fit with craftsmen’s daily economic reality. According to Raphaëlle Le Baud, “Greater Paris is a chance for art crafts”.

Pascal Morand
Executive president of the Haute Couture and Fashion Federation

For Greater Paris to become the world’s design, innovation, fine crafts cradle, it still has to face two major challenges. The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission focuses its assets on skills transfer and gathers in a single center all researchers, technicians and engineers. Following the example of this polarised production chain, local authorities and partners must encourage and increase the number of scientific, industrial and even textile clusters, which could allow craftsmen to enter the production process from its early scheme. “Being attractive means working with our own tools”, as Jean-Louis Fréchin claims it.

The second crucial challenge for these clusters is to be visible, understandable for domestic and foreign partners. On a global scale, the Greater Paris’ clusters benefit from a significantly lower outreach compared with global giants like the GAFA, although French clusters show similar levels of competence. Promoting its centers means creating urban spaces dedicated to innovative projects exhibitions, but also fostering and spreading a brand image among future foreign partners and customers. It is by focusing on communication and shedding light on cutting-edge projects of large groups, in which crafts would play a crucial role, that Greater Paris attractiveness can thrive.