Chanel’s Mademoiselle Prive exhibition showcases the work of two of its Metiers d’Art ateliers, Lesage and Lemarie. Since 1985, Chanel has been acquiring the artisan workshops* that supply the crucial ingredients for its Haute Couture, to preserve their skills and keep them close to the Chanel atelier. Housed today in a modern industrial complex in Pantin in the Paris suburbs, the artisans remain free to work with other clients but benefit from the investment, support and promotion that Chanel brings them.
Lesage was founded in 1924 when Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage bought a small embroidery workshop. They have worked with legendary couturiers: Vionnet, Worth, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix. Chanel had established an in-house team of embroiderers in 1921 to supply the Russian-inspired work for her collections at the time and, no doubt, to emulate Jeanne Lanvin, a fellow female couturier in Paris, renowned for the exquisite embroidery of her dresses (recently shown to magnificent effect by the Palais Galliera, read more here). It was Lesage’s association with Elsa Schiaparelli, however that also prevented Coco Chanel herself from working with them, such was the intensity of her rivalry with the Italian surrealist designer.
Today, Lesage collaborates closely with Karl Lagerfeld as he develops Chanel’s Haute Couture and Metiers d’Art collections. Given the theme for each collection, they produce sample swatches and then the chosen products, working on communal worktables. They draw inspiration from an archive boasting over 75,000 items of embroidery and since 1992, Lesage has operated an embroidery school to ensure a continuous feed of skilled workers to keep their art alive.
For a lucky few, Mademoiselle Prive offers the chance to experience a Lesage worker’s art by attending a workshop session. For those of us unlucky in the workshop lottery, there is still the wonder of experiencing examples of their extraordinary embroidery at close quarters and marvelling at the sheer skill and endurance required to produce this exceptional artistry.
See it at Mademoiselle Prive at London’s Saatchi Gallery before 1 November – see more online here. Next to come, Lemarie’s artistry of the camellia.
* The list includes: Desrues (buttons and costume jewellery, acquired 1985); Lemarie (feathers and flowers, acquired 1996); Maison Michel (hats, acquired 1996); Lesage (embroidery, acquired 2002); Massaro (shoes, acquired 2002); Goossens (fine jewellery, acquired 2005); Guillet (flowers, acquired 2006); Montex (embroidery, acquired 2011); Barrie (cashmere, acquired 2012).