We recently had the pleasure of visiting one of the oldest embroidery houses, Lesage. Founded in 1924, Lesage has been creating lavish embroidery for Haute Couture, Ready-to-Wear and accessories for all the big names in luxury fashion such as Chanel, Dior, Valentino, and Elsa Schiaparelli. Lesage, along with twelve other maisons, belongs to Chanel’s Métiers d’art. This Paraffection, which translates as “for the love of,” was established by Chanel in 1997, to preserve the heritage and craft of fashion ateliers that were facing extinction. Dubbed the “savior of savoir-faire,” Chanel acquired ateliers with specializations in costume jewelry (Goossens), feather working (Lemarié), bootmaking (Massaro), fabric pleating (Gérard Lognon) and glovemaking (Gants Causse). These specialist workshops, alongside Lesage, are the last to stand in France and existed long before fashion started being developed as a business. These ateliers are nicknamed the “eyes and hands” of Haute Couture, with which designer’s dreams for couture come true. Chanel’s establishment of the Paraffection showcases the importance of honoring the craftsmanship that these partners bring to the house and ensuring the richness of French heritage remains.
|Attempting to master the craft
While still creating embroidery for Haute Couture as it has always done, Lesage now also creates embroidery for luxury ready-to-wear, evolving with every generation. Lesage, under Hubert Barrère, continues to perpetuate its long-standing heritage. To date, Lesage has 50,000 samples (some of which we got to see!) that represent the history of embroidery since the creation of Haute Couture. It’s seventy employees, fifty-five of which are creative by nature, can transcend the visions that designers have in mind. To make an embroidery it all begins with a theme, given by the designer of the fashion house Lesage is creating for. Lesage then makes a sample in accordance with the designer’s vision. If approved, Lesage can begin the process of drawing, needling, and sanding the embroidery. After hundreds of hours of hand-embroidered work, an exquisite creation is completed.
After our lesson, we were lucky enough
to tour the workshop and see the hand-embroidery being done on designer pieces
for upcoming collections. While we couldn’t take any photos here, you can only
imagine how stunning the pieces the embroiderers were working on were. One
embroiderer was working on a mesh pearl embellished sleeve, expertly weaving in
and out of the fabric with such precision and speed. To make matters more
difficult, the fabric is flipped upside down so the embroiderer cannot clearly
see how the piece is coming together right-side up. We were amazed at how she
made an intricate and complex process look easy – a true master of her craft. To
better understand the creative process of how embroiderers rework a designer’s
vision, we were taken to the room of archives, where we saw embroidered works
dating back to the 1920s, as timeless and relevant as if they had been crafted
today. When an embroiderer is working on a new creation, they can access the
archives and be inspired to create something unique and innovative. Below are a
few favorite archival embroideries from the houses of Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel.
|Elsa Schiaparelli embroidered
archives from the 1950s
Our Lesage visit concluded with an embroidery workshop. We were given gold embellishments, black tulle and a needle – our final lesson into the French know-how would be to try our own hand at embroidery. We broke out into groups of four and for the next three hours, would be working hard to replicate the techniques of the masters.
Our group had the most memorable experience at Lesage, with a keepsake to remind us of the level of craftsmanship, detail and time that goes into every piece of hand-embroidery. I’m sure all of us will never look at embroidery the same way when we see it grace the runway on creations from our favorite designers. While designers have a vision, the vision would not come to life without the leaders of hand-embroidery, Lesage. An incredible day of learning and immersion into the French know-how, we thank Lesage for its continued partnership with the ESSEC GMBA program!