TRADE SKILL MASTERS: French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay has bestowed the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters to six artisans from French luxury firms, in an annual tradition designed to highlight exceptional skills and encourage young people to follow in their footsteps.

The four women and two men all work for member houses of French luxury goods trade association Comité Colbert, which is behind the initiative.

They are Nathalie Blaise, model maker at Baccarat; Arnaud Davenne, silversmith at Puiforcat; Jacqueline Deverchère, head of the weaving and jacquard atelier at Yves Delorme; Josette Gonnot, expert weaver at Hermès; Eric Lebel, cellar master at Champagne Krug, and Céline Vergne, head of the hand-painting and glazing ateliers at Les Faïenceries de Gien.

“This is the 21st century, but you belong to an ancient tradition. Since thousands of years, mankind has tried to enhance itself through creation and the transformation of matter into beauty,” Azoulay said in her speech, held in the ministry’s gilded reception room overlooking the Palais-Royal courtyard.

“You have succeeded in elevating technique and know-how to the highest level of mastery. You also cultivate the art of precision, of perfection and of the detail that makes all the difference,” she added.

The ceremony drew luxury executives including Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president and chief executive officer of Comité Colbert; Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of the manufacturing division and equity investments at Hermès International; Sidney Toledano, president and ceo of Christian Dior Couture, and Nicolas Bos, ceo of Van Cleef & Arpels.

De Seynes, who is also chairman of Comité Colbert, said exceptional craftsmanship was at the heart of its 81 member houses.

“This ceremony is fundamentally important to our committee, to consecrate these talents but also to make young people want to join our professions, which can lead to extraordinary accomplishment,” the Hermès executive said in a speech. “This year, the group is remarkable due to the presence of women, but also because it reflects the richness of our territory.”

Toledano said France, despite having a guild system for craftsmen that dates back to the Middle Ages and has been enshrined by UNESCO, still does not sufficiently value manual workers.

“We need these skills at all costs. We put too much emphasis on higher education: lawyers, doctors and engineers,” he told WWD. “It’s good to have people with MBAs — we need them — but craftsmanship is something more rare.”

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