Does 10 times the price = 10 times the quality?

Here’s a gem from last weekend’s Sunday Times Style magazine. From ‘Seasalt’ a stripy top £30 and from ‘Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane’ a Breton top £355.

Well, does it? Mmm, of course, it all depends. Now as somebody who works most days with textiles even I wouldn’t be able to tell by just looking at the two pictures in the photograph above.  Both are stripy, navy blue and cream, long-sleeved tops with a boat neck. With a little help from our friend Google I have more information. The £30 top is made from 100% organic cotton, and the £355 one, also 100% cotton,  appears to be a ‘designer’ piece described as a ‘Breton-stripe distressed cotton-jersey top’. I’m guessing that perhaps the cut and fit is tens times better when a garment is crafted (their word not mine) from distressed cotton.

Here is my traditional Breton top. It’s over 15 years old and I bought it secondhand from a charity shop. I think I paid a fiver for it. It’s made by Saint James a French company based in Normandy that has been making marine clothing since 1889. Currently, you can buy one of their long-lasting 100% cotton, heavyweight blue and cream stripy Breton shirts for £55. I’m sorry to report that it does not come in distressed cotton-jersey, which would appear to be the prerequisite along with a luxury, brand label to warrant a price tag of £355.

Of course, I’m being a little frivolous here as I know there is more than this to pricing goods. Somewhere far down the list of components that influence the final price of any work, is how much time has been spent in making it. Talking of which here is 25 minutes of my life reduced to 25 seconds.

Lowestoft – early blue and white museum pieces

Fennel-IndigoRecently I noticed a display of blue and white china in a local store and mused how we use the word ‘china’ interchangeably with ‘porcelain’. Of course ‘china’ was commonly used to mean from China when referring to dinnerware and tea sets as until the mid-eighteenth century porcelain only came from China.

However, during the 18th century experimentation saw the creation of the first European porcelain pieces, as shown in the photograph below. This roughly finished dish was made in Holland with the year 1739 painted into its design. Produced with a poor, pitted glaze finish it is clearly a lesser version of any similar contemporary Chinese porcelain.

Early attempt at porcelain manufacture from Holland imported into UK during the 18th century with ‘Great Yarmouth 1739’ painted in the centre.

Interestingly, one of the places in Europe where blue and white soft paste porcelain was successfully produced by the 1750s was Lowestoft, a fishing port on the Suffolk coast of East Anglia. The Lowestoft factory produced domestic items from 1757-1801.

blue and white soft paste tureen
Tureen and cover. 1760-64 Painted with a leaf border and floral decoration.

Their ceramic range included  teapots, teabowls and saucers, mugs, jugs and creamboats decorated with various blue underglaze patterns in a Chinese style.

Although the Lowestoft china business was small compared to Staffordshire or London, enough authentic pieces still survive to support a devoted group of mostly East Anglian collectors. A small saucer may be acquired for about £100, whereas the record price for a rare, 14 cm tall, flask is £24,000 achieved at Bonhams in 2010.

Lowestoft porcelain flask. £24,000

I certainly don’t have a spare £24,000 for this beautifully painted flask, but I do find the old Lowestoft factory’s  interpretation of the classic ‘blue and white’ aesthetic pleasingly inspirational.