The unique winter atmosphere of the Salzkammergut can be enjoyed while cocooned in handcrafts. It warms one’s passion, quality and conscience to buy regionally.
The saying ‘the clothes make the person’ meets centuries-old knowledge and skill in the traditional handcraft workshops of the Salzkammergut. However, its meaning changes. Namely, here people make the clothes – traditionally functional indeed. Even hundreds of years ago foresters, hunters and milk maids as well as the nobility wore local, handmade textiles. Warmly and securely cloaked, they braved the weather conditions of the Salzkammergut. The art of working fabric, leather and natural materials is still a practiced and valued cultural asset in the region today. With their knowledge and ability, local handcraft business provide for comforting warmth and the preservation of traditional clothing. A foray through the landscape of handcraft leads to the shoemaker Sonja Grill in Pichl-Kainisch, to the millinery Leithner in Bad Aussee and the traditional clothing maker Lodenfrey in Bad Ischl. These three traditional businesses have been working for generations using the valuable experience of their ancestry and utilize their knowledge – peppered with new ideas – so that whether in the shoe or hat workshop, visitors recognize the uniqueness of each finished clothing item. A look into the world of traditional clothing and fashion at Lodenfrey brings to light the diversity of tried and tested textiles.
“Just like in the past.” This statement has no comparison. It is a truth that one feels when entering the workshop of master shoemaker Sonja Grill in Pichl-Kainisch in the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut. Rolls of leather in a variety of colours cover the walls. Sonja’s father, Josef Zaisenberger, lays a hand on a Haferl shoe. “The Haferl shoe is definitely one of the most sought-after models in our shop,” says Sonja Grill. In keeping with the motto, ‘cobbler, stick to your last’, she took over operations almost 30 years ago after pursuing an education in sales. Since then, she has been intensely committed to the handcraft as well as running the Zaisenberger shoe shop in Bad Aussee.
At Sonja Grill’s establishment, one type of shoe is especially remarkable – the ‘Ausseer Tatscher’. A loden shoe with elaborate leather trim and lined with warm lamb’s wool. “The workmanship here is really wide ranging,” Sonja Grill explains. There is a choice of colours like green, red or natural for the upper material (loden). The leather trim is also variable. “In fitting the shoe, we pay close attention to the top edge at the calf. It must fit perfectly,” she says. While she is presenting the shoe, clattering continues throughout the workshop. Josef Zaisenberger is sewing leather for a ‘Tatscher’ on an old Singer sewing machine. The 85 year old works extremely meticulously. Precision is his expertise. Over the last 30 years, he has passed this trait along to his daughter. While Sonja Grill explains the processing for creating a ‘Tatscher’ step by step and demonstrates the various tools of the trade, further understanding for the shoemaker’s saying ‘cobbler, stick to your last’ comes to light. Preserving time-honoured craftsmanship is an affair of the heart for this master shoemaker.
A person’s hat is a very individual matter. Alexander Reiter knows this well. For almost 20 years, he has directed the millinery Leithner in Bad Aussee in the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut. The motivation for buying a handmade hat can vary. Perhaps as a hat wearer, one knows that umbrellas can remain at home, glasses won’t get wet or that a hat provides sun protection for every occasion. To create the perfect personal touch, a hat must have the proper adornment. Hat decoration is an aspect that the wearer can individually influence. The ‘beard’ (tuft of hair) from a chamois, deer or badger or the tail feather of a black grouse are sought after decorations for a hat. An especially magnificent specimen of a so-called ‘long beard’ can cost up to 5000 euros.
A hat with history
An Ausseer hat is recognisable as a black hat with a green silk band. In this region, the hat is often adorned with a ‘wheel beard’. However, it isn’t only the people of Aussee who delight in the selection of hats. Every year on Good Friday, men from Bad Goisern in the holiday region Dachstein-Salzkammergut make the trip to purchase a hat at ‘Leithner in Aussee’. This is tradition. The master milliner Alexander Reiter knows the historical background. “The yearly visit goes back to the fact that most of the ‘Goiserer’ are protestant,” he explains. Therefore, Good Friday is a highly valued holiday. Traditionally, Protestants go to church and meet together afterwards in local taverns. Many years ago, one of the men came up with idea of going to Bad Aussee to purchase a new hat for this special occasion. Over time, this shopping experience became a social event. Today, sometimes up to 40 boys and men from Bad Goisern make the Good Friday trip to find new headwear and ‘hang around a bit’,” explains Reiter.
Heli is a passionate hat wearer. He is a well-known bedrock of Aussee society. He even says so himself. There is hardly a day when Heli leaves home without a hat. He generally buys his hats at Leithner. “I don’t feel properly dressed without a hat,” he says as he looks out of the workshop window lost in thought. The 77-year old Ausseer likes to visit the millinery. It’s warm and cosy. The oven sings a pleasant song, and people are busily working. And Heli knows one thing for sure. When he goes out into the snow, the cosy feeling from the 500-year old hat workshop will stay with him in the form of a warm hat atop his head. Feet and head are well cared for here. But what does one wear in the Salzkammergut to protect from the bitter cold, rain and snow? Loden, of course.
Georg Frey was a pioneer of loden and made this fabric socially acceptable. “He was the great-grandfather of my wife, Maria. In the course of the 1870 World’s Fair in Paris, he patented loden,” Armin Fischer explains. Together with Maria Fischer, he is responsible for the distribution of proper, attractive and functional fashion from loden in Bad Ischl. In the almost 1000-square metre Lodenfrey showroom next to the Bad Ischl Kurhauspark, one can find a large selection of traditional clothing and fashion made from elegant fabrics, wool – and naturally, loden.
For 170 years, loden has proven to be a high-quality and multi-functional textile. “The manufacture of loden is a matter of materials and quality,” Fischer states. Loden is felted wool and was originally used during hunts. “Since the fabric doesn’t rustle, it was chosen for hunting,” the businessman explains and demonstrates the high resilience of the natural fabric. By felting the wool, the material become water repellent. The quality and elegant appearance impressed even the nobility at the time. This led to the fabric becoming a sought-after material in urban centres.
Even today, cardigans and capes are still counted among the desired models. Those more daring reach for a duffel coat. The world of women’s fashion also recognises the advantages of a warm loden coat. Whether as a tailored piece or poncho, loden chases away the ice-cold fingers of Father Frost. “Today one is simply always well-dressed when wearing traditional clothing. In this region, loden is an important part of this style. No matter the event, traditional fashion is always appropriate,” Armin Fischer asserts.
In the Salzkammergut, the physical manifestation of time, patience and skill is tried and tested winter clothing. Enveloped in passion for traditional handcrafts, nothing stands in the way of a discovery tour on cold winter days. And as mentioned in the beginning, one is also swathed in good conscience: from head to toe in handmade regional tradition.