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At the heart of excellent craft there’s only one right way

February 16, 2013

The Alf Onnie curtain shop in East Ham, London, was on its uppers. Established in 1920, the family owned curtain company was one net curtain away from financial disaster. But then along came Alex Polizzi. Star of BBC television reality show The Fixer, Polizzi uses her business nous to rescue a company in each episode […]

The Alf Onnie curtain shop in East Ham, London, was on its uppers. Established in 1920, the family owned curtain company was one net curtain away from financial disaster. But then along came Alex Polizzi. Star of BBC television reality show The Fixer, Polizzi uses her business nous to rescue a company in each episode (filmed over four months). Daughter of hotelier Olga Polizzi, niece of Rocco Forte, granddaughter of Lord Forte, Polizzi is – in an unconventional but illustrative use of the legal phrase – a force majeure. Ignore her at your peril.

The three brothers who run Alf Onnie were in a pickle. The store was crammed with unrelated merchandise, the accounts were shipwrecked and the brothers were at odds. Most of Polizzi’s advice made sense, and without her expertise the shop was doomed. But on the subject of craft and skilled hand work your scribe sides with brother Jeremy. In 2008 Robert Hanks reviewed Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman. Hanks told a story about his decorator Peter. Hanks feels guilty because he can’t pay Peter enough to account for “his meticulousness and dedication”. One day Hanks finds Peter re-doing an area because irregularities had appeared. Hanks jokes about obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Peter responded with an agonised, reproachful look. ‘It’s not me’, he said. ‘It’s how it has to be.'”

“How it has to be” is at the heart of superlative craft. It is the bulwark against bodging. And it is at the heart of the rug companies who will exhibit superlative handmade rugs at COVER magazine’s Forza Tappeti: The Rug Revolution exhibition at Edit during Milan Design Week 2013.

Polizzi takes the brothers to five star Brown’s Hotel. They visit a guest room. Youngest brother Jeremy – “I am a perfectionist” – examines the room’s curtains. He doesn’t like what he finds. Polizzi calls him a “curtain nerd” and tells viewers he’s “all het up about some very minor details”. But the devil is in the details, and Jeremy has observed the curtains are unweighted at the hemline, a professional taboo. His hangdog expression says it all as he tells Polizzi, “I’ve never ever made a pair of made-to-measure curtains where I haven’t put weights in . . . I think that would be almost like cheapening myself.” Polizzi is unrelenting. But Jeremy is right. He is a consummate craftsman. He knows how it has to be. And for that your scribe salutes him. Here’s to the next ninety years of Alf Onnie, and “how it has to be”. DJ

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