First hand visit to the House of Lesage – Appreciating Craftmanship and Couture

Author: Maryanne Njeri Maina | An MBA student in Luxury Brand Management at HEC School of Management in Paris – Twitter: @njerimaina. E: laluxeuniverse@gmail.com

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This week, my luxury class was held at the Maison (House) of Lesage in Paris, the temple of embroidery for the greatest Houses of Couture. It was acquired by the Maison Chanel in 2002 and has worked with Yves Saint Laurent, Saint Laurent, Vionnet, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix and the list continues.

Embroidery is the art of applying any material on any fabric to make a design and pattern. In the beginning of the century, embroidery was religious, and then it became royal, military and bourgeois. Embroidery is used to organize people into hierarchy.

Luxury has skill, mastery and craftsmanship and Lesage is an excellent example.

Walking in to the tranquil workshop, watching the women attentively thread patterns and craft designs was an amazing feeling. Touching the patterns that have been used for haute couture by many designers especially the designer I admire and credit as the most creative; John Galliano when he was at Maison Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld, the man who has smartly combined business and creative for Chanel, Fendi, himself and his cat. This was a dream, so surreal. Touching the pearls on the materials, the feathers, sequins, beads and seeing the final product in a picture as worn by various people from members of royal families, presidents’ wives, to celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Naomi Campbell; the moment felt fantastic. We watched them prepare patterns for designers for the upcoming fashion shows.

This cuff is from a limited edition line produced by Lesage for Martha, Park Ave. Signed Lesage,Paris, No. 4 of the series. Microsequins in mustard gold overlaid over a base of silk floss and jet microsequins on gilt metal. Citrine strasses accents in round and marquise shapes are strewn over the cuff as well.

This cuff is from a limited edition line produced by Lesage for Martha, Park Ave. Signed Lesage,Paris, No. 4 of the series.
Microsequins in mustard gold overlaid over a base of silk floss and jet microsequins on gilt metal. Citrine strasses accents in round and marquise shapes are strewn over the cuff as well.

But later in the day I had a moment of humility and appreciation for craftsmen. The moment came when we (all my classmates) where each given a small piece of material, a needle, three types of beads of different sizes and sequins and we were instructed to follow the given pattern and stitch. It took us three hours to make our creations, which were small in comparison to the creations made by the women which often take thousands of hours to complete for an haute couture show. This was humbling. It led me to have an even higher appreciation for artisans in the universe of luxury. The individuals who stich and make creations that look like art in the form of a gown. Luxury has skill, mastery and craftsmanship and Lesage is an excellent example.

Haute couture without embroidery is non-existent,” said Karl Lagerfeld.

This handwork explains why an evening gown from Chanel or other designers can cost from $200,000 upwards. Making couture needs several hours because it requires much more embroidery than the ready-to-wear clothes. The accuracy and excellent quality must be replicated by hand. A couture gown is unique and evidence of the craftsmanship. François Lesage, the owner, was once quoted saying that “it is a dream of quality with no consideration of cost.” François Lesage, who for more than a half-century led the embroidery atelier that has served couture designers from Charles Frederick Worth through Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, died at the age of 82 in 2011 in Versailles, France.

Chrstian Lacroix

Christian Lacroix

A ballgown in bloom by John Galliano for Dior, with the Provence garden of fashion patron and co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, Pierre Bergé, in the background. Image: Clive Nichols/Design by Michael Semini and, inset, catwalking.com

A ballgown in bloom by John Galliano for Dior, with the Provence garden of fashion patron and co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, Pierre Bergé, in the background. Image: Clive Nichols/Design by Michael Semini and, inset, catwalking.com

This skill became a part of Haute Couture 130 years ago when it was established. To date, it has produced more than 45 000 samples for couture. This is inclusive of 60 tons of materials ranging from beads, sequins, threads as well as lace, with 6 drawers and 40 embroiders. It is collaboration of designers and craftsmen. This craft is done by hand and by a Lineville hook. It takes concentration and attention to detail. Chanel bought Lesage to ensure it safeguards the skills of the artisans. To preserve this knowledge, Lesage has a school of embroidery where they train young women on the skill near its headquarters in Montmartre.

Maison Lesage follows the rules of Haute Couture as stated by the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. This is the French Federation for the craftspeople and creators of Haute Couture and Ready to Wear.

The Federation defines Haute Couture as high sewing, done by a dressmaker (couturier) using his or her hand to stitch. The term haute couture is regulated by the French law. Fashion maisons in France are required to follow a strict set of rules to be allowed to use this term in their advertising. To be called a couture house and be granted the approval to use the term Haute Couture in its advertising and any other way, members of the Federation are required to follow the below rules, as stated the French chamber:

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time.
  • Must have twenty, full-time technical people in at least one workshop (atelier).
  • Every season, present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public, both day and evening garments, in January and July of each year.
  • To produce haute couture requires a lot of time and skill. For this kind of business, budget is not an issue for the client. The cost ranges from $20, 000 to $100, 000 and possibly higher than that.

The French Chamber of Couture has approved various couturiers and designers who include; Approved couturiers include Givenchy, Christian Dior, Balmain, Balenciaga, John Galliano among others. These are some of the designers whose works of art has been created by Lesage.

Beading and Embroidery Example Maison Lesage for Atelier Versace Spring Summer 2012

Beading and Embroidery Example Maison Lesage for Atelier Versace Spring Summer 2012

A model presents a creation by British designer John Galliano for Christian Dior during his Spring/Summer 2008 Haute Couture collection show in Paris, 21 January 2008. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT

A model presents a creation by British designer John Galliano for Christian Dior during his Spring/Summer 2008 Haute Couture collection show in Paris, 21 January 2008. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT

John Galliano for Christian Dior - spring/summer 2009 haute couture collection show in Paris.

John Galliano for Christian Dior – spring/summer 2009 haute couture collection show in Paris.

Haute Couture Spring Collection

Haute Couture Spring Collection

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