Embroidery wizard Francois Lesage
December 1, 2011 after a serious, prolonged illness died famous embroiderer and owner of the famous Parisian Embroidery House Francois Lesage. His amazing work and contribution to the development of haute couture is immense. French Embroidery wizard Francois Lesage (March 31, 1929 – December 1, 2011) was a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. “I never forget that I am only an embroiderer, craftsman, and my imagination should be framed in a simple matter of fact materials – silk, sequins, stones. But they give birth to a firebird dream that I just want to catch on the tail. But the dream can not be caught – it is always in front, making our life more beautiful …” – François Lesage. Fashion without embroidery – the same as Bastille Day without fireworks!”- said Karl Lagerfeld, and added: “For me, this embroidery means Lesage”.
Twice a year, a week before the haute couture Fashion Paris does not sleep, tossing and turning in silk sheets and painful ponders: maybe we should have ordered Monsieur Lesage embroidery? Certainly, the Avenue Montaigne did so, and we are again … Monsieur Lesage at this time, looking at the night of his Paris studio, tasty lights a pipe and thinks about something else …
“Are you really from the Russian ELLE? Wow! “- Francois Lesage, the owner and the permanent head of the famous Parisian Houses embroidery, Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor and the man best known in the circle of Parisian haute couture, so surprised that he forgot about the pipe.
To get into the office to Lesage was impossible to anyone and for any reason. In his workshop were executed the orders of the most famous fashion designers in the strictest confidence. “Fashion – explains Monsieur Lesage, – No one needs to know before the next show. Just me and my mistress”. And now he himself finishes incredibly beautiful embroidery for … well, it does not even matter. The address: 13, rue de la Grange Bateliere, where in 1931 his studio appeared, know all the Parisian fashion houses. Vionnet, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dior, Givenchy, YSL, Lacroix, Hanae Mori, Scherrer … Maison Lesage associated with them by kilometers of silk threads and tons of sequins, pearls and rhinestones.
In fact, Lesage House has had its roots since 1858: then called Maison Michonet and embroiderer Michon possessed it, he did embroidery exclusively for aristocratic ladies. His most loyal admirers were the Empress Eugenie and the Countess de Greef-fyu. Since 1880 Michon become incredibly popular – it is believed that it was then high fashion finally consolidated its position. In any case, the Maison Michonet House became the most refined Parisian ladies, the most demanding of whom was Sarah Bernhardt.
After World War Michon, rather tired from a thread with a needle, has teamed up with the father of the current Monsieur Le Sage, Albert Lesage, and still with Marie-Louise Favo, a fashion model from Madeleine Vionnet – known to all Paris. She led a large clientele companions, and things went well. From 1924 the studio one by one gets orders for finishing dresses, underwear, gloves, hats, handbags for all secular Paris – embroidery was then in great honor. “Not now – sigh Monsieur Lesage. – You would not believe until quite recently, during the oil boom, the number of my regular clients included over four thousand. Today, there are only fifty. This is the wife of oil magnate, some of the stars, but …
Monsieur Lesage was the only and the last bastion of high fashion, and if it were not for his skill, it is unknown how it evolved. His embroidery regardless of designer fantasies cause a sigh of admiration for each Week Parisian haute couture, and Monsieur Lesage, smiling and democratic, pretends that it is so simple – to embroider.”
For each collection, coming out of the House of Lesage twice a year, he himself performs 100-120 embroideries. Each can be up to 50 000 stitches – 20-30 hours. These small works of art takes 300 kilograms of pearls and 100 million sequins a year. Thus is created shine haute couture collections and pret-a-porter de luxe from world famous Parisian fashion houses. Famous Lesage brand accessories – handbags, belts, scarves, ballroom shoes – can be found only in the most elegant shops in Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong. These handmade favors roads are unique and timeless elegance.
“Do you want to see how it’s done?” I do not believe my luck, and on the doorstep is already Mademoiselle Natalie – assistant and right hand of Monsieur Lesage. We are in the archive: here are stored embroidery designs of the last century, if not even earlier. Collection, started 120 years ago, has 60, 000 designs. One in every four, for a total of 15 000 pieces, created personally by Francois Lesage. “Every six months we update the collection of the House, and received a copy here. We have samples made for homes that no longer exist. It is regularly visited by fashion designers in search of subjects for new collections. They love to dig into Junk. For example, thirty years ago the story “Mademoiselle”, made sometime for Christian Dior, inspired Galliano – he went right here and chose something to represent his new collection in style of Wonder women. But Yves Saint Laurent always comes with his own ideas: these pineapples and flowers: we have significantly upgraded and made more interesting the old samples. They are almost ready. Incidentally, they took 700 hours!”
In the next room Natalie shows me exclusive order for the House of Chanel, made using the techniques of galuchat. This cute name embroidery owes to its creator, engineer Galuchat, who in 1762 invented an original method for processing leather, fish bones and scales – even then they were used to create intricate patterns on the fabric. Galuchat today – tiny pieces of bone of stingray irregular shape, which are hand-sewn onto the fabric. Polished to a shine, they are decorated with the most exquisite outfits.
In the next room Natalie shows the plot on Chagall. The artist makes a copy of the picture, making its interpretation: just changing the lines, sizes, shapes. After the drawing is fixed on the tracing paper, it is transferred to the fabric. Only after this manipulation starts the actual embroidery.
In the next room – only sequins – shiny, matte, round, square, oval, with a single hole in the middle. “This room weighs more than 60 tons – laughing Natalie. – Here you can find sequins over hundreds of colors and sizes. Each sewn individually, always with the wrong side, and the thread is pulled with a tiny hook. Until the end the embroiderer can not see the front of the product, working as blindly, and it requires great skill and imagination. Tightly stretched on wide hoop fabric (usually tulle) becomes a place of hard work of two or even three embroiderers for a few days or months. In this room are working ten masters.
To preserve the unique technique Francois Lesage decided to create a school of embroidery. Here can learn anybody, paying for an initial course 7000 francs (about a thousand dollars). Education, of course, is a little expensive, but still worthy. To become a decent embroiderer (men are more than women), is required to pass six levels plus three levels of specialization in embroidery on furniture – and you can feel free to send resumes in the House of haute couture. Education in Lesage ensures high-paid job. “We have come from everywhere: from America, Asia and even had students from Russia. Monsieur Lesage joked that after thirty hours of initial course he will teach the elephant to embroider.
After passing through the halls of the studio, we return to the office, from which windows are visible attic of Paris – a great source of inspiration. “I and have created the school for economic reasons. People want to create their own works of art – it costs them less. Today, few people have the money to buy that luxury that you have seen in shops. Economy and fashion – sisters rivals at all times, and about the decline of haute couture repeat more than one decade. But I’m sure it’s just a notorious spiral along which the history goes. In the twenties and forties, after the world wars, embroidery comes to the fore. People deprived of everything, and that’s why they wanted more beauty than ever.
The apartments of elegant ladies were full of tremendous amount of embroidered items from nightgown to furniture. Ladies were dressed almost every hour, though it’s funny to us today: morning dress, dress for shopping, cocktail, for dinner, for the evening, opera, restaurant or dance hall after – they all assumed change gloves, shoes and hats, and they were all stitched! Then in Paris at this army of fashionistas worked more numerous army of embroiderers – 50,000 skilled workers! And now I have 30 of them, and they cope with the work.
Fashion for “female teenager” in the twenties undermined our position: ladies dressed in costumes that we today would call unisex, and left us, embroiderers, only evening dresses. But the villain-fashion, to goad the economy, and this was not enough: in 1929, the Great Depression wiped out all of the word luxe fashion lexicon. Closed luxury fashion houses. Woman, dressed in the morning, did not change clothes until the evening – it was a failure!
In the early thirties it somewhat got better: the new wave of direct dresses from Chanel, Vionnet and Schiaparelli are refined with embroidery motifs prompted by Baroque – such embroidery came from Italian monasteries. But it did not last long, and soon orders stopped completely. My father, for example, was nearly to close the house. He was just kicked out of the building because we could not pay the rent. Fortunately, we were well-known people in our area, and in all of Paris, and the judge took pity. So we survived and kept the staff of skilled workers, it seems there were three. Since then I have made it a rule to keep all the revenue implications untouchable. And it helped me a lot in 1990-1991, when the crisis again took me by the throat. I regularly paid salary to my best embroiderers, although it was not easy. Haute couture, as shagreen, shrank, and its place captures the pret-a-porter that we are seeing today.
In the mid-thirties, he said, the business went to prosperity again. “Our old friends – Schiaparelli, Vionnet, Balenciaga – ordered almost a hundred embroidered patterns. In the forties house Vionnet closed and Schiaparelli went to Spain, but my father and three embroiderers still made cocktail dresses. We also cleaned the house themselves, washed, cooked, painted, and at night worked on the orders. From this nightmare at my twenty years old I ran away to Hollywood, and was able to open my own studio of embroidery.
My first clients were the great stylists of MGM and Columbia studios Adrian and Edis Head. They were able to emphasize the advantages of the model where the others were just passing by. But then my father died and I had to go back. In Paris, I was waited by my house – my heritage, my profession and my life.”
In the forties Dior gave us back the era of elegance: showing off his collection, fashion models, who looked very attractive, but completely inaccessible, graced at the podium neatly combed, with careful makeup and men looking at them from the audience understood: to strip this beauty, it is necessary to work thoroughly.
“Then the women wore elegant underwear, bras and belts, and stockings. There needed imagination and mind .. What about today? Rip off her T-shirt and jeans – and, no intelligence is not required .. And the models themselves? Smeared with tar, how they can excite a man? Charm, chic, elegant – the spirit of the former great brands gone forever.”
– And what about the journalists and critics who write about fashion?
– That they have made fashion in the Olympic Games, their ratings are distributed space … But I am convinced that the art of embroidery will not die. No wonder it has perfected over the centuries. For thirty years, despite the fact that fashion is often radically changed the silhouettes, fabrics, lines, none of the great couturier starts a new collection without having to pay a visit to look at my new collection. They then used the collected samples or not, it does not matter – they were inspired by them. And all these thirty years I’m looking for unique style for every house. It works – I’m judging by the fact that they come back again and again, as the disciples. My task – to avoid kitsch.
– Can we then say that you define fashion of new season?
– You know, it’s like in the kitchen: something needs to be cooked for a long time before becoming a dish.
Much depends on the designer. I myself have passed through many personalities, tastes and ambitions, it’s hard to say whom I prefer. In the current fashion too much is constantly updated. Even Yves Saint Laurent, after forty years of continuous work in haute couture regularly comes to a moment of absolute inspiration. Negotiate with him or with Karl Lagerfeld are always very specific: each of them coming to me, already knows what he wants. But often it is necessary to push the young forward, generously pretending that this decision was made by them.
– How do you feel about young people?
– They please me! Because they are incorruptible and do not want any compromise. They only want to express themselves, they are not interested in millions of fees – that’s fascinates me. Today the fashion trend is not important, but attitude.
– You did the costumes for the new performance cabaret Moulin Rouge. What is different between these embroidery costumes and the toilets of haute couture?
– You see, for me the most elegant embroidery is one that is not evident. The theater is the opposite: it is necessary that the suit was catchy, bright, even shocking. It brought me back to the post-war Hollywood, where women loved to show off, and reminded how everything is related.
– Who are the young you enjoyed working with?
– First – Christian Lacroix. Now we are engaged in the subject of the Magi – maybe we will stop somewhere in Greece, and it is a sacrifice. Or go to the East, or in Africa: she had just got out of the sea, her feet in the water, splashing around, surprising play of bright emerald hues … I never forget that I am only an embroiderer, craftsman, and my imagination should be framed in a simple matter of fact materials – silk, sequins, stones. But they give rise to a dream, which you can not catch – it is always in front, and it makes our life more beautiful.
French embroidery designer Francois Lesage was born in Chaville, France, on March 31, 1929. He was awarded the Maître d’Art from the French Ministry of Culture in November 2011, just one week before his death. At the time, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand said, “I cannot imagine fashion without embroidery, embroidery without Monsieur Lesage.” Francois Lesage died at a Paris hospital on December 1, 2011, at the age of 82. He was survived by his wife and four children.
Embroidery wizard Francois Lesage
Translated from the article by Lydia Shamina in Magazine “ELLE” Russia (December 2001).