A long summer letter
I write my Sunday letters on Sundays. My family have begged me to write them in advance as I demand to be undisturbed while I write. Not getting any bonus points on my ‘nice Mummy list’ there, but my brain is geared into action mode during the week and it just feels wrong. Right now though, I am rested, content and reflected. Thank you for reading my letters, I love writing them.
Today marks the end of a gloriously fun week and even if I’ve become a devoted disciple of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the old Catholic girl in me thinks my years of praying to the Virgin Mary must’ve paid off.ndeed, at 6pm last Tuesday, my wishes of golden sunlight, enchanting birdsongs, fragrant blooms and happy shiny people were all granted as the Ambassador of Portugal and I received our guests for a tiny tiny runway show at the Embassy's official residence in Oslo.
Greeting the Ambassador of Portugal last Tuesday, Marianne Jemtegård, Signe Schineller and lille meg :-)
It takes PhDs in Physics and Engineering to truly understand the extreme complexity of textile production. I have neither but, I have learnt a lot about what it takes to create luxury fabrics during my years at Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. As a Parisian and sensitive to the Beauty around me, I was always fascinated by History and learned to respect the legacy left by skilled Europeans over hundreds of years of manufacturing excellence.
I don’t need to tell you how sickened I was at the thought that the pursuit of higher margins in the 90s’ with mass production in low-cost Asian countries almost managed to divorce us from our ancestral social and emotional bonds created by craftsmen and women in our European communities.
I say almost because clusters of companies across Europe were determined to save their manufacturing knowhow and, thanks to a growing need from shoppers to know what things are made of, where they come from and whom made them, have succeeded in turning the situation around.
Much to the joy of regular quality-conscious people like you and me, and of people who say they're not hipsters but #eatdrinkreadlove Kinfolk and Wallpaper, local talent expressed in design, creativity and manufacturing are now in higher demand, giving birth to the carefully curated, ‘niche’, high-end offering that we, European consumers, deserve.
Whilst the French are once more enjoying the limelight of Haute Couture and fashion design brilliance, the Swedes and the Belgians are reviving their linen sectors with huge success, the Swiss and Austrians are serving the exquisite cotton clothing markets with renewed pride, and the Portuguese are now at the forefront of the home décor markets with only the highest quality cotton fabrics, not only in Europe but also in the US and Asia.
The Chinese and Korean growing middle-classes know better than anyone what their local production is made of and they don’t want any of it.
I’m not sure whether this situation of turned tables is ironic or cynical but in any event, it was about time things changed.
Like many other conscious shoppers around the world, affluent Korean women now choose quality, niche brands rather than mass-produced 'luxury goods' made in Asia.
And so, one fine Friday afternoon, I called the embassy of the Portuguese Republic to explain my ‘luxury bed linen at affordable prices for the whole of Scandinavia’ project. After a few rings, a lady answered, listened enthusiastically and despite it being late she took the opportunity to quickly remind me that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the unknown New World in the 1200s’ and that Portugal was one of the most powerful global empires for hundreds of years.
After all it was explorers like Vasco da Gama, Fernando Magellan and Bartolome Dias in the 1500s’ that discovered naval routes to India, around Africa and South America.
Portugal, competing with the Netherlands and Spain at that time established colonies all over the world. The French and the British started later. Parts of India, Africa and Brasil’s huge resources allowed Portugal to take the lead in many areas, amongst which cotton production.
Cantino planisphere showing Portuguese discoveries as at 1502
Centuries later The United Kingdom helped Portugal as it refused to surrender to Napoleon’s expansion plans. Once they the Brits had defeated the French General Slash Emperor, they expressed their continued friendship with Portugal by sending dozens of beautifully engineered spinning, weaving and finishing machines to Lisbon propelling the country as one of the biggest textile exporters in Europe right until the dreaded nineties.
La bataille de Somosierra by Louis-François, Baron Lejeune (1775–1848). Oil on canvas, 1810
The lady on the phone was apparently really grateful that I should turn to Portugal for the production of my bed linen. She asked me to write an email to their trade department who would identify Øko-tex certified textile companies for me to visit.
I told her that I would and asked: "Please what was your name? As I should like to congratulate the embassy on employing such knowledgeable and helpful people."
“Clara Nunes dos Santos” she answered. “I’m the Portuguese Ambassador”
Well, that put me in my place. I don’t know if she felt me blushing through the phone but she giggled a little.
Clara and I are now friends and I love to hear her talk very very fast about Portugal’s rich two thousand-year History.
A year later, I am so happy to have made the decision to work closely with the seamstresses of Guimaraes in the Northern part of Portugal. It’s only a few hours away, it’s beautiful, it’s nearly always sunny and the people are so warm and friendly. And yes, the multitude of palaces, mansions, and monasteries all sumptuously decorated are witness to those centuries of Portuguese prosperity.
Guimaraes is also a little spooky with so many shut-down factories, ivy growing in and out of shattered windows, skinny cats jumping off collapsing brick walls and Chinese clothing outlets in the town’s suburbs.
Back home, those mental pictures atoned by the hugely positive response I get from my happy customers fuel my ambition to be a small part of a European skills and craftsmanship Renaissance.
Cristina, one of our seamstresses in Guimaraes
Last Tuesday’s humble replica of an old-fashioned Haute Couture runway show presenting my Egyptian cotton bed linen and nightwear collections turned out to be a successful, happy and fun celebration of Parisian chic and Portuguese quality.
Bonne soirée mes chéris! And, don’t forget to think of your bedtime as if you were going on a date!
Christian Dior's first fashion show, Paris, 1947
Christina and Filippa presenting our 'Le Ritz' Bed Linen and Nightwear collections at the Portuguese Embassy's residence, 31st May 2016