Daily Archives: February 12, 2014


Time to put on the glad rags: fillips and frills dripping with pretty things, fitted out like a flapper or preppy, fit for tripping the light fantastic or frittering time away. The tedious togs of daily wear are basic like milk; this is a frappé. This is frippery.

But frippery is not just finery. We are not talking about the simple solid core of handsome apparel. Frippery flips and flaps and flops on the periphery. You can hear it in the word: the front of it is the fricative-liquid [frɪ] of frills, fringe, fricassee, frisky, frisson, fritter, frizzy, and frivolous, with a French flavour; it bounces off the pp in the middle, skipping, tripping, hopping happily like a peppy puppy; it ends with [əri] as in luxury, hosiery, millinery, periphery, and many others less related. The sound rebounds off the lips from liquid to liquid, flapping like a bit of lace or a nice tie.

Frippery is not always finery of the first rate; indeed, it can have a tawdry air, something meretricious. Consider how Robert Burns used it:

Dame Life, tho’ fiction out may trick her,
And in paste gems and frippery deck her

And Walter Scott:

I was born in the land of talisman and spell, and my childhood lulled by tales which you can only enjoy through the gauzy frippery of a French translation.

And Oliver Goldsmith, in She Stoops to Conquer:

By living a year or two in town, she is as fond of gauze and French frippery as the best of them.

Do we detect a pattern? There is something flippant here, perhaps a fillip to the top of the head. When we talk about frippery, we can never completely divest it of a derisive or deprecatory air. Frippery is like finery said with heavy lids, a raised eyebrow, a little uptick of the chin, a curl of a corner of the mouth. Which is only fair – its origin is Old French frepe ‘rag’, and that has carried through.

So glad rags indeed. Which is why I like frippery better than finery. What’s better than looking sharp? Looking sharp with a knowing smirk.


I take my special serrated knife and cut delicately across the grain of my loaf of artisan bread. I use a specially calibrated high-tensile-strength extra-thin wire cutter to delicately separate the slightest slices of artisanal cheese from a block of artisanal farm-raised cave-aged goodness. I take exactly three slices of artisan prosciutto, in transparent petals of sapid porcinity, and fold them in a specially considered origami of ham – orighami. I hand-assemble these perfect pieces in exacting order to make an artisan sandwich. An artisandwich. Oh, don’t forget the artisan butter, lovingly hand-churned from cream hand-separated through an artisan cream-rising process mediated by delicately handled artisan wooden ladles. On the side, a cup of coffee hand-brewed from freshly ground artisan beans.

And now to write. I could use my artisan pencil, freshly pointed from an artisanal pencil sharpener, but I prefer to use my artisan notebook computer, lovingly hand-assembled by specially trained craftspersons in dedicated villages in China. It is set on an artisan wooden table, hand-assembled from specially selected parts: a carefully crafted wooden top and four carefully spindled metal legs, joined with utmost care by hand-turned helices by artisanal me after acquisition at I Keep Everything Artisan (usually known by its initials). I am wearing an artisanal shirt, specially made by indigenous craftspeople contracted to the house of Thomas of Hilfiger, and pants made of serge de Nimes carefully stitched by artisans hand-selected by agents of C. Klein. Earlier today I was adding to this an artisanal tie specially spun by artisan silkworms and woven by artisan machines and hand printed with a screen pattern of hand-bound books in the library of Bodley, and tied in an exquisite Trinity knot by an artisan tie-knotter (me again).

Actually I’m still a bit peckish. Perhaps some artisanal taco chips? Hmm, how about a glass of artisanal wine?

Whaddya mean there’s no such thing as artisanal wine?! If there’s one thing in all of this that’s artisanal, it’s wine! So much personal handiwork involved in winemaking, so many fingers in the process. And yet no one calls it artisanal, unlike bread, bagels, cheese, chips, chocolate, crafts, tchotchkes, knick-knacks, geegaws, knives, scarves, spectacles, receptacles, wallets, watches, cufflinks, washcloths, fridge magnets, perhaps dentures, and for all I know SUVs as well. Well, wine is one thing that doesn’t need to say it’s artisanal. Frankly, by the time you’ve had half a glass, tell me if you still care how it was made.

But with most things we buy, we are buying not just a thing but an idea of a thing, and that idea of a thing helps us to build an idea of ourselves. We are good, noble people, extracted by the turns of time from our ancient forest home, emissaries to this hard urban land. We do not like the dark satanic mills of mass production. We wish to indulge in the quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, the handiwork of master craftsmen – and women, craftswomen too, perhaps we would do better to say craftspeople, no, um, how about artisans – carefully crafting something authentic and inspired, rich and redolent and the absolute opposite of the white Wonder Bread of the world. Unless it’s artisanal white bread and artisanal process cheese food slices, of course.

Because artisan is art. It is art that is made by a saint who trains under great strain. It is handiwork for those who are partisan to careful crafting and the lovely and charming things made to be accompanied by waify-voiced girls who sing with dreamy glides and fresh glottal stops, all accompanied by authentic (undoubtedly artisanal) ukulele strumming. Above all, it is exacting: artisanal art is anal retentive. But only in the grainiest, most wholesomely textured, hand-dyed way imaginable.

We see ourselves as going to market. Actually we are going to marketing.

Oh, I do care how the things I consume are made. It affects the world I live in, after all. And I am bothered if something is cheapened by sloppy mass handling; it weakens the flavour. It just happens that I extend this attitude to words. Such as artisan.

My wine glass is empty already. Again. Excuse me a moment while I refill it. Artisanally.