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Brita Hirsch on 'Real Things'

Chris Roberts

Recently we caught up with Brita Hirsch from Hirsch Tailoring and wanted to find out what she'd been up to lately so we invited Brita to share her thoughts... 

"My work day involves many hours of hand-making, allowing the mind to wander and, inspired by the brilliant exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, “What Is Luxury?", I am currently exploring the notion of luxury representing an investment in time, applying not only to the making of an object but also to the process of perfecting skills.

Having trained as a bespoke tailor in my native Germany, I was fortunate to be based in a socio-economic environment with an inherent, deeply engrained appreciation for crafting professions. With that comes an understanding of the abundance of time needed to reach the level of skill that enables the young craftsperson to eventually take on their own commissions - seven years in my case.

Today I am sometimes asked “what is the point of handcraft when pretty much everything can be produced using industrial, efficient methods with the same result?”

Really? Think about this: when people are asked to name their favourite things or ‘essentials’, as recently shown here by the WithLoveProject, they rarely choose objects that have been produced on a mass scale. They appear to favour things manufactured in ways that aren’t geared up to maximum efficiency, often made from natural materials. Let’s say this again: people feel drawn to things that have been ‘made’, rather than ‘produced’ - I call them ‘real things’. Why this attachment to objects that seem to stem from a past era of ‘making’? In our modern world, which is driven by one overriding objective - to save time, in pretty much all areas of life - this seems paradoxical.

But handcraft is NOT about saving time, it is about SPENDING time, in a purposeful way. If done well, both creator and customer will enjoy the generosity of time invested in an object. A maker who is passionate about their craft does not notice the hours passing by; they will immerse themselves in every moment of their creating something spectacular. The customer, on the other hand, finds enjoyment in the knowledge of having acquired a unique object, crafted without time constraints and coming with a personal history attached. Efficiency does not come into this relationship; in fact, it would prohibit both of these notions.

Is to be able to throw efficiency out of the proverbial window true luxury? I believe so but the term takes on a more essential meaning than its classic definition as a scarce good only a fortunate few have access to. Leaving the need for efficiency behind allows all of us to become grounded again in a world of breathtaking but often incomprehensible and all-encompassing change. The ‘real things’ have a way of bestowing a sense of calm, of reason, that, some say, is a powerful antidote to consumption overload.

I firmly believe that handcraft, like art, will always have a place in our lives. The next generation growing up finds itself, more than ever before, in need of an escape from the imposed frantic pace of their lives. As a society, we should acknowledge that handcraft can contribute much more to our wellbeing than just beautiful objects and must create the learning opportunities for those willing to invest their time generously.

With this thought in mind, I was delighted to have recently been invited to pass on my skills to the next generation of tailors. I look forward to teaching master classes, beginning next July, at the Irish National Tailoring Academy, the only institution offering accredited CPD Diploma courses in this sector in the British Isles."