From Albania, for Tokyo, with love

We told them :”we have it dark blue”

They said “Lovely, but no thank you” and nodded.

So we said: “ah, we can do it in light blue”

They said “lovely, but no thank you”

So we said: “how would you like to be?”

They answered simply:

“take the red of that cushion,

the purple of the other one,

mix it together, that is how we would like it to be”

“I see…I’ll tell the weavers,

I’m sure they will do it nicely”

Then another one said:

“Take the purple from that cushion,

the green from the other,

and the red from that one up there,

mix them together!

That’s how I would like it to be”

“I see, we will tell the weavers,

we’ll see what they can do…”

Then they sang a song that sounded like “Mah Nà Mah Nà”

We all asked “Japanèse?”

“No, Italian!”

Apparently a song written by an italian for a swedish film.

You can check the story out here: http://www.procrastin.fr/blog/index.php?2006/08/31/107-muppet-chaud

If you are hanging around in Tokyo and urgently need a carpet for yoga or the Friday prayer, here’s the address where to find one:

MAHNA MAHNA CO.LTD
8F 5-7-17 Minami- Aoyama, Minato-ku,
Tokyo 107-0062 Japan
Enquiries at +81 3 3409 5423

If you feel Tokyo is a long trip away, just give a call or e-mail

Po! Paris, +33 1 4205 8008, paris@po-paris.com


teresa

America at last ! (part II)

continued  from America at last ! (part I)

There she was, Drande with her smile and blue eyes, the questions I could never understand, and her sharp sense of humour, next to Teresa, the mother, her strong fingers always in the wool, knotting, weaving, the traditional catholic scarf covering her head.
teresa
Then Leta, the daughter, who had leaped more than two generations ahead, responsible of the women community center of the area.
Sometimes Ana was there too, Leta’s friend and colleague working for the local Ngo dealing with gender orientated social issues.
No man in sight.

Our meetings always ended in a good laugh, drawings scribbled on a loose piece of paper between two piles of coloured wool. A Turkish coffee, and an innocent hand shake.
I would later find my driver smoking and smiling leaning on his BMW in front of Kafe Vivaldi.

This time it was different. The husband was home. We had to talk lead times for the American order.
I was offered a customary raki with the coffee. I couldn’t understand the details of the long story I was told, sitting on the couch in the kitchen.
It was about a man from Turkey who had been going around taking all the wool from the villages.
I tried to picture the man with a wicked smile and escaping carrying bags and bags of the wool that we needed for the American order.
Casually asking if the problem had been solved, Ana spoke of an alternative solution.
Negotiations were going on with a village in Serbia where a producer was to bring a load full of wool of top quality.
I finished the coffee. Ana grabbed the cup with her usual energy and checked the remaining content on the bottom. « It will be okay, she said » putting it back on the table.
With such solid evidence I emailed America to reassure everyone.

On Easter Monday, I am told the Serb never turned up.
The text message was short but precise : « cannot deliver on time ».
Albania, another one of those moments. One never gets used to it. I simply emailed America again dreading the consequences.
On this last trip Aida, from our office in Tirana, is with me. It is dark and late, an unusual time to pay a call to someone.
We push the gate open and notice the peculiar warm light from the house. Every room is full of piles of orange and red wool, cushions in each corner, four looms under the plum tree, ten ladies of all ages working actively.
And four holes in the ground. The foundations of the future workshop.

Leta comes and greets us. She is tired, anxious. Everybody has been working hard, little sleep. Her husband is there, for moral support. No one wants to be in the way. Cold soup and salad, no time to cook till the order is ready.
« I think we are going to make it for Tuesday », she tells me.
She also shows me the prototypes of the new bags, also developed with Nathalie Lété.S05NTL11-sacs-tapis

I remembered again why I kept on working with this amazing country. The people are just to good to be true. No life without passion. You got to give them that.
And they love Nathalie’s designs.

These cushions are changing things in the community. Families get together to achieve a common goal, put aside differences, men accept that their wives don’t serve dinner because their work is more important to the household than rules.
The foundations of the new studio are the proof that they believe things can change.
And Po Paris is glad to be part of it.

Po Paris

As we write we know the cushions are on their way to be delivered. Nathalie Leté’s cushions will be on sale in Anthropologie in the United States and the United Kingdom starting from June 2012.
Please enquire for any other retail stores carrying this item in Europe and Australia (yes, Australia)

tex001d

America at last ! (part I)

They came as group, as usual. Looking great, as usual, smiling the smile jet lag makes kind and generous. As usual.The buyers, a typical trade fair phenomenon. They bring fresh air with them, everybody is happy and good humoured when they come by.
He looked at our floor cushions. « Nathalie Lété ? You know we work with her. »

tex001d
I was happy. The right time to tell the whole story, develop a few details, serve everyone a coffee from our special espresso machine, relax a while, talk about old times…
One of the group, an efficient blonde, spoke before I could, mentioning lead time requirements, packing and labeling. The man added a quantity, distracting me from my line of thought.

« You were about to tell us about them » the other blonde with a shade of red said kindly.

Once the right momentum is lost, inspiration can disappear. « you can send us an email, we would like to communicate on that »
Standing there babbling, my mind was back in Albania at the time of our first trips to the North.

“It’s on the news everyday”. The driver had a gift for multitasking.

He could make a phone call, change gears and overtake a truck on a mountain road, racing at full speed. I was glad we engaged in a conversation, hoping he might slow down.
It seems like a long trip to the North. In our early days in Albania even our driver was uneasy to start the journey after sunset. Nothing better than a conversation to let time pass and relax.

He was from Tirana, proud to be a city boy of the capital of Albania, and very critical with regards to the customs of the people from the mountainous North.

“You don’t believe me do you. It can be dangerous, not much for you perhaps, because you are a foreigner…”
It sounded like a place plagued by clan warfare and revenge over trivial matters. A place where one is careful before speaking.
“Isolated episodes you say?” he wasn’t enjoying this. I could sense he was really trying to make me think “A month ago, a man shot a boy because he stole electricity, my father saw it on TvSh, and then there was that one they found in the ditch up in the mountains, they spoke about that even in Germany because he was a German national- an argument over a girl promised to someone else…”
Exaggeration. Typical of the city boys from Tirana. Something you learn here in Albania. There is truth in every sentence, but not always the relevant truth.
Outside the black night was enveloping the countryside. Lights from a roadside hotel approaching and disappearing in the rear mirror.

It was during our first trip to Shkodra that we had met Alketa on the metal bridge built by the Austrians in the 19th century. She mentioned the possibility of making hand knotted carpets in a certain sector of the city where her organization was starting something.

post-metal
The city of walls they call it, a « llagja » -neighbourhood in Albanian- sprouted from nothing, built by the families who had come down from the isolated villages in the mountains once they were free to move after the fall of the authoritarian communist regime in 1991.
My driver never enjoyed our trips there, because of the Kanun.
« it’s on the news everyday… »

The  Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit “, the traditional common law coded in the 15th century, regulated justice between clans and individuals in ancient Albania, amongst other things.
According to the Kanun, revenge through the use of violence  is a good and straightforward method to pay a moral debt.

The notion of « respect » is essential. You break the rules of respect, your are certain to pay a price. And there is no prescription period as the bill can be settled generations later.
Payment is usually asked to a man, as women play a limited role in the Kanun.
My driver explained that the Kanun had been liberally interpreted after the fall of communism.
In a suddenly fast moving society, modernity and change hit this displaced community very hard with plenty of collateral damage. With unemployment soaring, well organized criminal organizations from east and west made good business with prostitution, child trade and drug dealing. Ancient traditions were seen as the only possible solution to keep the community in one piece. In certain cases extreme measures of violence had been applied to trivial wrongdoings, some of which involving honour.
Each time we drove up to the north I was told in detail about those gruesome episodes, apparently happening at every hour of the day.

That morning walking alone between the high walls in Mark Lulaj, my mind went back to those conversations.
In front of the tall metal gate I felt invisible eyes following me. I avoided turning around, just as I used to in my grand mother’s house’ dark corridor when I was told to go to bed after the evening film. I knocked smiling at my cowardice.
My driver  never came when I needed to go and pay a visit to the girls.
He had particularly insisted on the importance hospitality in the Kanun.
Hospitality is a man’s duty. A household without a man cannot welcome another man under it’s roof.
Till relatively recent times, if a family had lost all it’s men, a young girl voluntarily chose to take the masculine role, so that the family could take part in clan’s activities. She abandoned her femininity, took up swearing, smoking and spitting, wore trousers and become some kind of male creature so that the family could avoid isolation.
sworn-vergin1
I was working with women who work at home weaving.
A nice project.

To be continued: america-at-last (part II)

rubber

A pair of sandals and the Hermès legend

“Sandaletta? Po! Dakkort!”

This was good news. Not that we needed sandals, but energy is always a good sign.

Haxhi could have been another pessimist perhaps even sharing the core of Hysen’s Weltanschauung.

Evidence had  lately being piling up that Po! Paris’ development plan had vast hidden costs.

The general feeling now being that the leather bag project was going to set a new record to that pile’s size.

“Shikoni këtu” look here! said Haxhi genially pointing at the pile of rubber on the working table.

rubber

Being a cobbler in Albania brings no big money. And being an Albanian foot means your in for a hard life.

Only the wealthy foot wears new leather shoes, made in Italy of course, and spends most of it’s existence in a car. The ordinary foot lives a life of danger and peril on on muddy roads, in second hand shoes chosen from the gipsy markets. He wears leather only on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals or the surprisingly frequent death anniversaries.

Haxhi is a hard worker. He not only repairs shoes, but also makes them from scratch. Out of leather of course, but also out of tractor tyres.

Tractor tyres are known to be waterproof, thick and reinforced with textile instead of metal. The different layers of rubber and textile are separated by hand and used like leather.

haxhi

Slippers, “babouches” with soles made out of treads are well known in north Africa where truck tyres are also used to make buckets and large jars for water.

Albania is a proud European nation. Haxhi makes European style shoes. Not slippers.

His shoes have laces.

hadji-shoes

They look good.

There is room for improvement, but the ones made from tyres look like real shoes and are also waterproof.

babouches-hadji

Perfect for working in a field or milking a cow. Some might also think wearing a pair for their Saturday afternoon stroll at the Champs Elisées would be worth the pain.

Haxhi is obviously a genius in his field. We such craftsmanship, he will certainly be part of the leather bag project.

Before we go, we feel in the mood of dropping that generous kind of advise that costs nothing and sounds great, as any western European usually does in in “poorer” countries: “the village is tourist attraction? Western tourist? Summer? Cobbler? What you need is leather sandals! Typical leather sandals, simple and elegant, crossed or parallel lacing, Ancient Roman style…” The description was then interrupted by Haxhi’s full approval we mentioned earlier.

What we find the next day, entering the workshop on our way to the airport are “sandaletta”. Yes, indeed they are.

Size 37.

Sanadls-Hadji

Then follows a lively discussion about prices, marketing targets, internet strategy, all in Albanian as I try and find some space for my bag in the now crowded workshop searching for a diversion.

“Surely 10 Euros is a fair price”, I here someone say “or even 8…”

It was obvious that the leather project needed to be radically re-designed, the situation now being very different from what I had imagined, dreaming of saddle makers and ancient traditions revived with modern design brought from young Parisian designers.

Recent events called for a new strategy, defined by one simple catch-phrase, for example: “inspired by myth of luxury, made in Albania”“How about a bag?” I said hoping to stop the lively marketing think tank.

A couple of trips later, this is what is I find:

first-birkin-kelli

Perhaps one day Mrs Birkin will come by at Haxhi’s workshop and set the foundations another myth…

Po Paris