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words and photography SHINI PARK guest of CHANEL & BARRIE
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In what I can only describe as fickle (AF. Excuse my French) and fundamentally confusing times that is managing to spur a notoriously apathetic generation and an ENTIRE GENDER to be hot and bothered, my visit to Barrie Knitwear in Hawick, Scotland comes as a balm.
There is an air of enduring timelessness to Barrie, suppliers of Chanel knitwear: a distinct lack of fuss or noise, save for the gentle whirring of machines and crisp snip-snaps from thread cutters sprinkled across a well-lit assembly hall. The main objective: the craft. It’s a no-brainer. It’s evident in the sculptural jumper worn by my guide (whom I end up awkwardly hugging/petting in the end, because CASHMEEEERE), in the knitted brows (see what I did there) of the men and women mounting the rib panel stitch-by-stitch, and the multiple quality control stations that punctuate the entire process.

It has been quite a journey to reach this point, my guide tells me, however. In 2012, Barrie’s holding company had hit a financial bind and was forced into administration, which is when Chanel’s subsidiary company Paraffection (meaning “for love”) had given a hand in the name of savoir-faire. This poignant purchase has since aided the mill in securing scores of jobs, serving the Hawick community, and resuming some 140-year heritage and expertise. In a sense, arguably it’d been a natural acquisition, given that Chanel had been working with Barrie for thirty years’ prior on producing twin-sets and the perennial two-tone cardigans that is still a staple of the brand. No stitch was to be dropped (aren’t I just full of puns today) in Barrie’s cause for highly finessed knitwear production.

Photos – Shini Park

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…filled with the cosmopolitan, high-rolling glitterati that famously adorned the Ritz.

Chanel’s Metiers D’Art returns to Paris for the brand’s sixth and final collection of 2016, right back to the hallowed lobby of the recently renovated Ritz, where Coco Chanel famously lived from 1937 throughout World War II, and died in 1971. While a centre-piece of French pastries and cookies needs no excuse, the show – served up in three sittings at lunch, tea and dinnertime, was filled with the cosmopolitan, high-rolling glitterati that would have visited the Ritz in its heydays.

Weaving in between the tables, dancing with the occasional ‘stranger’ (who turns out was a dance duro), the models wore midi-skirts with deep V-neck tops to match, bubble-capes and hair veils decorated with roses. As look number 42 sauntered by, I recognised the golden tunic that was merely a sketch and a swatch panel when I’d visited Barrie just two weeks past.

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Catwalk Photos: Chanel

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State-of-the-art knitting machines are used to achieve precise and complex designs

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A stitch-by-stitch pattern is constructed based on sketches from Paris.

While final design input is made by Chanel, Barrie’s technical know-how is trusted in composing the best creation method.

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An artisan scores a clean-cut button hole on a Chanel two-tone cardigan

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Below: Once knitted, the panels are washed and softened – but no chemical products are used (Only the water from Teviot river is to to praise!) This process is not operated by a timer, but by an experienced technician who determines the doneness with his hand.

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Rib panels are mounted onto the needles, stitchby stitch, which requires precision and experienced hands to ensure the quality of knit meets Chanel’s exacting demands.

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All Chanel knitwear is made in the ‘fully fashioned method’, which results in neater seams.

Above: a steady hand boldy shears through a cardigan in its final stages.

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In the design room, I make a bee-line to a wall tiled with Karl’s sketches (I tend to dart off the leash at Chanel factories…), feeling a little naughty as I glean hints of the upcoming Metiers D’Art collection. The nonchalant hand-written annotations by the Chanel design team illustrate how the production process is a well-versed collaboration between the two studios. These rough sketches are then used by Barrie technicians to construct the pattern, stitch-by-stitch, using a highly mathematical application that look like impossible pixel-art to me. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that there can be as many as four Chanel collections, in varying technical complexities, in development and production at any given time. I can’t even do my laundry while the water is boiling.

It’s a gruelling process. Assembling one piece can take up to 40 steps, involving state-of-the-art Shima Seiki machines from Japan, as well as some near-extinct industrial beasts from the 70’s. But the star of the process is the hands, and that’s ultimately what the Chanel customer pays for: the meticulous and rigorous care of highly-skilled artisans.

As a parent-company, Chanel endorses the pursuit for the ‘best’, and this resonates through Barrie as every trainee, technician, craftsman, work towards indisputable quality and quiet over-achievements. And this, especially in a landscape of dubious origins and sub-par quality products (and politicians), is something sure worth paying for.

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creative direction & production SHINI PARK photography assistance SIMON SCHMIDT supported by CHANEL & BARRIE

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Hop, skip and a world away

As we start to make somewhat of a dent in this brand new year (mine still in its original packaging – MINT! – as 2016 continues to die hard with a stubborn cold and badly time-manged deadlines I’d inherited from pre-holiday frenzy), I realise that I had unknowingly scratched off a bucket list item in the infamous year that will probably go down in history as this one word: Asshole. The funny part of this is though, I had no idea Scotland (and a nine-hour car drive) was even on my bucket list.

Now, this is in no way a passive dig at our Northerly neighbours or the tourism board’s general gallant efforts. If it helps to explain things, according to many of my well-informed Londoners (and non-Londoners alike), one of the best seafood joint in town is mere 3 minute around the corner from my flat. Eleven years on, I am yet to set foot in this establishment.

Some have cried that it’s basically a crime, especially should you love oysters (+ wine and soda bread) as passionately I do. “LATER!” is the battle cry. Now apply the same dawdle-logic to Scotland, and voila – the allegory works, right down to the oyster detail*.

Alas, I had an appointment to keep, Tuesday 29th, 11:30AM at the factory doorsteps of Chanel group’s renowned knitwear suppliers: Barrie. On Monday 28th, exactly 24hours prior, we loaded a car with three strapping men (more on this later) and a suitcase-load of Chanel/Barrie samples. We knew not what the road held in store for us – only snacks and wholehearted road-trip joshing – but once we crossed that border in Gretna Green, every hour it scratched at the new-fangled bucket-list item: Scotland.

*After having sampled fresh-picked rock oysters off Fort William after this very shoot, it transpires that indeed it was a crime to have lived without said Scottish jewel.

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full look CHANEL AW 2016 knitwear produced at BARRIE

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cashmere cardigan BARRIE skirt, boots, gloves and hat CHANEL AW16

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cashmere cardigan CHANEL

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Necklace – Chanel AW16 Costume Jewellery
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There is no better way to interpret Karl’s ‘Front Row Only’ Chanel AW16 collection at the helm of what is possibly Great Britain’s best scenery, silently but majestically unfolding atop our very windshield, and Barrie’s cream-cashmere in its own home ground. The setting is somewhat reminiscent of the immaculately cow-mowed rolling hills of Austria, save for the mob of sheep and mossy rocks, underneath one highly expressive heavens. FREEDOM! It seemed to cry (a la a certain M.Gibson), as we ambled about the glen (valley) on the look for backdrops. We were spoilt for choice. In a sense, within the medley of sepia, fir green and cloud greys, broken up only by a tuft of spruce forest with a wisp of fog in its hair, the landscape was that of nature’s best couture salon.

More on Barrie soon, I promise.

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Between the intrecciato: The Bottega Veneta atelier in Montebello Vicentino
words & photography Shini Park

Above: a rooftop sanctuary for employers

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Luxury is a point of view, that is more about what you hide than what you show
-Tomas Maier

Our arrival at Bottega Veneta’s atelier on the outskirts of Vicenza is veiled in perhaps the thickest morning fog I’d seen on that side of 2016. The Veneto region is reportedly a stickler for drama, this is undeniable, a certain pair of star-cross’d lovers can attest to this. Just the night before, I’d practically made love to a plate of ravioli over a glass of Pinot Grigio in our hotel villa atop a valley, which in its low-season stupor could as well have been my very own Castello. As we peel off the groggy rush-hour autostrade onto a private road that leads up to Montebello Vicentino, I realise we indeed are being treated to a saga of sorts.

The driveway is of stone gravel – with an uncanny similarity that of pebble beaches of Dorset, I note mentally – that coils around a pristinely manicured stretch of grass. Ahead, an unassuming 18th Century villa, in an equally unobtrusive nougat-y texture and hue, posing as a canvas to the feathered shadows cast by the trees in the pearly sunlight. This is not the prologue that I had predicted from the brand’s economic victory and brand status with Tomas Maier at the helm. I wouldn’t be lying if I say I’d half expected a statue of Maier in a ring of perpetual fireworks. There is not a single decorative gargoyle, nor a gleaming logo on a plaque. In a sense, the grandeur is purely in Palladian nature: in the single impressive structure that greets us, strutting dominance in symmetry and organisation. As all great stories go, the good stuff is discreetly hidden in the seams.

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The cafeteria furniture is composed of 100% recycled plastic, where the tables transform into benches for conference needs.

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The company catchphrase “When Your Own Initials Are Enough” is printed on a wall, standing sentry at the reception of glass and Venetian terrazzo marble. PAUSE for a small confession – I’m usually quite intimidated at this point in the appointment, it’s sort of the same sensation you get when you try sneaking into a club’s VIP lounge you know you clearly don’t belong in. I can verify that each of the A Closer Look articles start off with a little bit of pee escaping me from nervous jitters. But here it’s different, there is a ‘no B-S’ air about the atelier, nothing but a steadfast dedication to the pursuit of fine-quality materials, extraordinary craftsmanship, contemporary functionality and innovative design – the four pillars instituted for the brand by Tomas Maier that consequently introduced a new era in luxury.

“Something simple is always more complicated,” Maier believes, and he is nothing if not an absolutist. His method of expression? Collaboration. There is an unusual and inspired bond between artisan and designer (300+ faculty members, 100 of which are highly-skilled artisans), between Maier and the atelier, and even between the atelier and the land. Little do I know that the atelier receives its juice via 12,900 sq ft of solar panels, an underground reservoir curbs water wastage by 40%, and restoration and construction had all been done with sustainable materials and local labour. To the untrained eye, the high-tech panel on the wall is a thermostat with pictures. To LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification board, the atelier is worthy of the Platinum grade, the first building in the fashion and luxury sector to ever receive. Alas, this is the very essence of Bottega Veneta under Tomas Maier: luxury rooted in responsibility and deliberate artistry.

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A series of labs experiment physical and chemical durability of the label’s signature leathers (after all, a bag must withstand the blustering cold of Siberia as well as humidity levels in Singapore).

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One large-sized Cabat is composed of approximately 100 “fettucce” (1.6m long), equivalent to 12 skins, and the combined effort of two skilled craftsmen over two working days.

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I always like making things simple. A sweater and shirt, a shirt and a pair of pants: this is what I like. It’s simple, but of course it’s incredibly sophisticated.
- Tomas Maier

The design process is equally thorough, and even to this untrained eye it is visible through the ‘vitrine’ that is the villa’s annexe (previously a barn), swathed in natural (glorious Italian of course) light, as we shuffle through the corridors. We’re treated to a collage of creativity and craftsmanship as we pan by stations where prototypes for new designs are magicked under practised hands of highly skilled artisans, as well as eternal classics such as the Lock bag and the unadorned, perennially popular Cabat bag. As a hobby knitter/crafter, it’s hard not to revel at the precisely engineered simplicity is carried out by a pair (or two, in the case of the Cabat) of hands.

In the heart of this all, is the Intrecciato, the leather weaving technique that has come to define the house, much like Rembrandt is remembered for signature use of light, and Manet for his colour sense. Everything is about the product, and the client. The brand marks its 50th anniversary in 2016, 15 years with Maier at the helm, now an apparent understanding that the two are firmly intertwined, like intrecciato. I’m reminded of the anniversary show in Milan just a week past – my first Bottega Veneta show – starring the inimitable Lauren Hutton that had ended in jubilation and a standing ovation (perhaps even tears shed) for Maier and his team.

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The ‘archive’ rooms, is a mini private museum filled with a collection of Knot bags and Cabats, that celebrate the brand’s artisanal proficiency.

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As I turn to take a last look of the villa it clicks, the impeccable yet impassive façade that greets guests and workers at Montebello Vicentino encompasses everything Maier is about. “Luxury is a point of view, that is more about what you hide than what you show”.

Park & Cube was a guest of Bottega Veneta.

Lauren Hutton (toting the very same BV clutch that she carried in American Gigolo), closes the show with Gigi Hadid

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