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Since 2014, Chanel has been an important partner of the International Festival of Fashion and Photography held in Hyères. This year, its support has grown even further with the creation of the Art Crafts Prize. This rewards one of the 10 designers who have worked with one of the 10 houses belonging to the Chanel group, Métiers d’Art: Desrues, Ateliers de Verneuil-en-Halatte, Lemarié, Maison Michel, Massaro, Lesage, Goossens, Atelier Montex, Causse and Lognon.
The opportunity to take a tour of some of these famous houses.

Maison Lesage: Samples for the Chanel Métier d’Art (Art Craft) collection, inspired by Ancient Egypt © Chris Brooks

Chanel and the Art Crafts

Paris was home to hundreds of these workshops dedicated to the creation of handmade embroidery, hats, gloves, shoes, jewelry, etc. Only a small number survived. Coco Chanel collaborated regularly with them, and when Karl Lagerfeld arrived in 1983, he further strengthened this creative bond. Since then, 26 crafts workshops have been bought by Chanel. Most are French, with a few exceptions: a workshop specializing in cashmere in Scotland and a tanner in Spain. Bruno Pavlovsky (Fashion President – Chanel) says: Chanel wouldn’t be what it is without them. They are part of the DNA of Chanel and are one of our best assets.” By choosing to acquire these workshops, Chanel assured them a future while consolidating its own resources. Bruno Pavlovsky: “In this way we generate a solid creative process.” An example: while other houses are investing in crocodile farms, Chanel turns to Atelier Montex to create an imitation of this skin with a sequin embroidery that is much more precious than the original.

To promote the know-how of these craftsmen and women – or “Petites mains”, literally “small hands” or working hands – Chanel presented in 2002 its first Métiers d’Art (Art Crafts) collection. Although intended for ready-to-wear, many of these pieces are distinctly haute couture. Now one of the most prominent collections, the Métiers d´Art show is presented in a different city each year.

The workshops are growing and actively looking for workers: many “small hands” are under 30 years old. To cope with this increase, Chanel began the construction of a huge site (25,000 m2 over 5 floors) at Porte d’Aubervilliers, Paris. Designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, the building favors “the contribution of natural light as well as hygrothermal comfort via innovative techniques promoting energy efficiency”. The site is expected to open in 2020.
The workshops are always looking for new methods, combining cutting-edge technologies and traditional tools: how to combine laser blades with the Lunéville hook, for example.

Hubert Barrère is the artistic director of the venerable Lesage embroidery house, which has also opened up to the creation of sophisticated tweeds. “What is interesting is to create a new aesthetic by mixing what traditionally does not go together. New technologies help us to create new materials.” He thus gives the example of an embroidery piece from the 2015 collection, formed of small plastic squares printed in 3D and covered with lace. It is now part of the Lesage collection, the largest collection of haute couture embroidery in the world, with more than 75,000 pieces dating from the start of the House in 1858. “When you buy a haute couture item, you buy a dream , but also know-how. Without these artisans, there is nothing. ” – Hubert Barrère

Aska Yamashita, Artistic Director of Atelier Montex: “Our challenge is to stay relevant.” It was from this workshop that the spectacular necklace worn by Pharrell Williams during the Métiers d’Art New York show came out. In 2014, Lagerfeld thus tested the ability of Atelier Montex to work with different materials by asking that concrete be included in a haute couture collection. The workshop responded by mixing small concrete cubes with pieces of shiny leather and embroidered flowers in crystal and concrete.

The Maison Desrues (1936) manufactures buttons and jewelry, skillfully combining contemporary techniques and traditional knowledge. Craftsmen continue to learn methods considered “out of fashion”, just in case a designer asks them to (an example: being able to create glass cabochons of the type worn by Coco Chanel on her bracelets). Creating a button may require up to 10 different techniques. The workshop thus has sculptors, engravers and chasers in its team.

Maison Michel: On the left, one of the 4,000 forms of wood from the archives. On the right, a rabbit skin is placed in a steam oven to make it more malleable.

At Maison Michel, a milliner, only two women still know how to use the old Weissman machine to sew straw invisibly around a mold. Here we also know how to stretch a preheated rabbit skin so that it takes the exact shape of one of the wooden hat molds. Each season, Maison Michel invents new forms: a combination of old creations and new creations. The young artistic director, Priscilla Royer, informs us that the house’s extensive archive offers more than 4,000 wooden molds in all possible shapes and sizes: “This gives us a fantastic creative flexibility.”

Maison Lemarié: On the left, a pattern made of hand-painted feathers for the Métiers d’Art 2018-2019 collection. On the right, leather cutouts waiting to be assembled in camellias, Chanel’s emblematic flower.

Maison Lemarié, creator of feathers since 1880, is unique in that it combines three different skills under one roof: feathers (or plumasserie), flowers, sewing (ruffles, pleats). Its managing director, Nadine Dufat: “When we adorn a pleated fabric with feather work and flower petals, we are at the heart of our craft.” The workshop produces around 60,000 camellias each year, Chanel’s emblematic flower. A dress from the Métier d’Art 2018 Show, inspired by Ancient Egypt, required more than 1,000 hours of work, with each feather being hand painted and meticulously glued to form fabulous patterns.
Maison Massaro was founded in 1894. It was to them that Coco Chanel asked in 1957 to create a two-tone low-heeled shoe with a slingback. A legend was born, as well as a long collaboration. In the reserves are lined up more than 6,000 wooden shapes, which represent the feet of all the private customers of the House since its creation. The reason for the fragility of this workshop, as specified by its artistic director, Jean-Etienne Prach, is that it takes four people with complementary knowledge to make a pair of shoes, counting nearly 30 hours for a pair to women, and up to 50 hours for a pair for men. This explains why Massaro is today the only workshop that still operates in this way in the world. This does not prevent it from having a waiting list of 5 months for a fitting.

Maison Massaro: On the left, the archives of wooden shapes with the names of the clients. On the right, two recent versions of the famous two-tone sandal © Chris Brooks

Bruno Pavlovsky specifies that acquiring these workshops was not intended to monopolize their talents. Even though Chanel remains their number one customer, they are encouraged to work for other designers – which most do. “The more you work with diverse perspectives, the more flexible you are, the better you are.”

In the past, fashion houses prohibited workshops from publicizing their collaboration. One day, the founder of the Maison Lesage, François Lesage, entered the Maison Yves Saint Laurent through the main door. Pierre Bergé, from the top of the stairs, asked him to use the “supplier entrance”. Soon after, Lesage had the idea of writing a book, which he called Supplier Entrance, that highlighted the importance of artisans in Haute Couture.

This article is the result of combining these different sources: