Thursday, December 01, 2011

Adieu Monsieur Lesage

Francois Lesage is one of the people that influenced my taste in fashion very much. When one hears the word "embroidery" it usually conjures images of  tacky wedding outfits or traditional household items our grandmothers made ages ago. On the other end of the style spectrum, it is one of the cornerstones of Haute Couture and its creativity.

Christy Turlington in YSL Braque hommage, 1988

The house Lesage (for not only fashion designers have "houses") was created by Lesage's father, when he bought the Michonet embroidery house in 1924, suppliers of the court of Napoleon III and the first couturier Charles Worth. It went on to become a cornerstone of Paris fashion making, having clients such as Madeleine Vionnet or Elsa Schiaparelli. Coco Chanel was herself avoiding them, mainly because her main opponent, Schiaparelli, was their client. Later on, with Monsieur Lagerfeld at the helm, that would change to the point that Chanel as a company acquired the Lesage firm to help it maintain the high standards of their craft and continue an almost lost art into the 21st century.

Christy Turlington in Chanel 1990

Francois Lesage was born in 1929 and he said, "never had any doubt as to what I was to do in life, given I was born into a pile of beads and sequins" . When he took over the atelier, he became one of the icons of the Parisian Couture pantheon. Always elegant in dark impeccably tailored suits, one could see him sitting at the front row of the fashion shows of esteemed couture houses he had worked for. He later was awarded the Chevalier D'Honneur distinction from the Legion D'Honneur.

Christy Turlington in Christian Lacroix 1990

During the 20th century, the number of experts in embroidery kept declining in Paris, but Lesage, with their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail kept on the forefront of couture. When Francois took over, he managed to lure clients such as Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Yves Saint-Laurent and Christian Lacroix. He did not just translate into embroidery the designs but helped the fashion designers find inspiration. Some just had to utter a word like "India" "peacock" or "Byzantium" to get Lesage to procure samples of intricate work for them to transform into ethereal creations. he was a creator like them indeed.

Linda Evangelista in Lanvin by Montana, 1993

The house keeps an incredible archive of the work they have done for fashion designers over the years. Monsieur Lesage was always worried about the continuation of the craft, of educating young people to keep the tradition alive and evolve it alongside haute couture, keeping the same high standards. Quite a difficult task, one which seems to have been secured with the Chanel take-over and the foundation of the Lesage Embroidery School inside the atelier in Paris' 12th arrondissement.

Schiaparelli,  1938

The atelier employees around a dozen people, with reinforcements added during overload periods such as the couture seasons. It can take from 20 hours up to 500 hours to painstakingly make the embroidery for a fashion outfit, depending on the design and the materials used. It is an art that speaks of a long lost era of hand-crafted beauty, elegance and flourish that tries to find its way into the modern era. Let us hope his demise does not signal the end of it all. 

YSL - the famous Van Gogh jackets, 1988

The book dedicate to Lesage by Editions Assouline

The famous embroidery imitation of a leopard skin, for Gaultier Couture, 1998

Schiaparelli, 1937

Katoucha wearing one of the Braque 1988 gowns, from the 2002 final YSL show

Elena Kountoura in YSL Van Gogh jacket, 1988

Detail of the YSL Van Gogh jacket

Francois Lesage in his atelier

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bernard Kesselring, designer of our memories

Bernard Kesselring was born in Auvernier (Neuchâtel) in 1934. He grew up in Switzerland and France and studied at the Agricultural School of Bordeaux, in France, leaving after graduation for a sojourn in Scandinavia, working as a lumberjack and miner. That surely does not fit with what he did next: he enrolled at the Zurich college of Applied Arts, where he studied graphic, industrial and interior design, getting a bachelor in design. He then launched into a career in design, working as a freelancer in Zurich, mostly around industrial and graphic design but also doing lots of exhibition design. He also did a bit of modelling, as his looks were a magnet for photographers and got cast in many ads.

From a photo session for an advertisement, Bernard Kesselring is the man standing at the back looking at us. Mad Men art director would have a field day with this photo!

From an advertising photo session.

Bernard as a drummer

In 1963 he arrived in Athens, working for various advertising agencies such as Kousentos and Delta Delta Dimou. He also dabbled in interior design, collaborating with architect George Vallatas. In 1967 he became Creative Director of the advertising department of detergent and soap manufacture F. Steinfels A.G., in Zurich. There he was responsible for new product development, its packaging design, everything that had to do with the marketing, advertising campaigns and television advertisement production for Steinfels products. He created Bio (from bio-degradable, bio-friendly), the little guy you see above (in b&w) and below (in 3D colour), to advertise their products, as well as Softy (Bio's wife and the face of a fabric softener), another cartoon character.

After a stint as Creative Director with the Norman, Craig & Kummel Advertising Agency in Zurich, and some years as freelancer, he returned to Athens, first working as the Creative Director of Olympic-Euro advertising agency, then setting up his own company, Swissdesign and later Swissad. He designed some of the most memorable logos of my childhood, logos that we kept seeing everyday in front of us, either on household products or in print and TV advertisements: Ouzo 12 (which became an international Greek brand identity - the logo was used as he designed it for 30 years, but they recently changed the font, using a dreadful serif one), AVA dish-washing liquid, ELCO-Vagionis, Varanghis, Miss Pat, Balco/Orca, Molokotos yarns, ROLI detergent packaging and others. He also devised the ROL detergent slogan: "Greece loves white. Greece loves ROL" which was a mainstay of their ad campaigns for years, as was his other successful slogan, for PRODERM products: "tender care and Proderm" which still defines a generation in Greece and is used in Greek slang to denote tenderness either in earnest or in irony.

The AVA logo is still used as he designed it, ingenious idea to put the liquid drop at the middle of the letter V

In the early 80s he became associate Creative Director at Ikon/BBDO Advertising in Athens, then started working as a freelance designer. He later moved to Crete, where he still works as a designer, builds hand-made wooden furniture and renovates traditional stone-built houses. I consider myself really lucky to have as a friend his wonderful and very talented daughter Eva, who turned me on to this stuff and gave me the opportunity to present them to you. It made me relive part of my childhood - happy memories indeed. Thank you Mr. Kesselring.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Tribute to Loulou De La Falaise, one of the most elegant women in the world

What can one write about a woman christened with a bottle of Sciaparelli's Shocking perfume instead of holy water? An unconventional personality, always chic in her own, inimitable way, the personification of what French chic means to the world, Loulou De La Falaise was the eternal Yves Saint-Laurent muse, his good friend and collaborator. And one of my very favourite and loved women in fashion.

Loulou (full name: Louise Vava Lucia Henriette de Le Bailly de la Falaise) was born in 1948, into one of France's most artistic and bohemian families: daughter of Alain, Count Le Bailly De La Falaise, writer, translator and heir to the Henessy cognac fortune, and Maxime Birley, English beauty and model (Beaton said she was "the only true chic Englishwoman"), she had quite a formidable clan to inspire her. Her maternal grandfather was painter Sir Oswald Birley, her uncle Mark Birley (of Annabel's fame), a great uncle, director Henri De La Falaise (3rd husband of Gloria Swanson), brother Alexis, an interior designer, niece Lucie (a model and also muse for YSL) and nephew Daniel (a chef and model). She also married into art: her 2nd husband was artist Thadée Klossowski de Rola, a son of the famous French painter Balthus. They had a daughter, Anna. What a pack!

Expelled from three boarding schools, she went to New York, where Diana Vreeland put her into modelling. She hated the job and returned to London, where she worked as a fashion editor for Queens. In 1968, she met Yves Saint-Laurent. She started working with him in 1972 and stayed with him in YSL for thirty years, until he retired. She helped with jewellery and accessories design, also becoming his right hand at work. Her incredible sense of styling inspired him. She however disiked the "muse" label:  "I used to get very irritated by that term. For me, a muse is someone who looks glamorous but is quite passive, whereas I was very hard-working. I worked from 9am to sometimes 9pm, or even 2am. I certainly wasn't passive. I worked on jewellery and knitwear, on the in-between collections. Now that it's all over, I like to think there's a bit of my soul in the clothes that were designed when I was there because I was supposed to be a source of inspiration." After Saint-Laurent retired, she created her own brand of jewellery and accessories.

Loulou was the gupsy influence, the over the top look for Yves, while Betty Catroux was his inspiration for the more masculine styles. The formidable trio created a unique look and feel for the French label, cementing what for many is still considered the epitome of Parisian style. Her trademark style: pants most of the time - made of velvet, shantung or silk - paired with satin tops in bright colours, chiffon blouses, simple black sweaters, printed or brocade jackets. She loved combining different patterns, for example striped pants and a Madras blazer with a classic white shirt. And of course the jewellery: bracelets and necklaces, often multi-stranded and made of semiprecious stones, with a multi-ethnic vibe. It remained constant but never dated, throughout her life: "I never think much of my age, I just get dressed and wear things that suit me at the moment." 

She died on the 5th of November, after a long illness according to a press release by the Pierre Berge - Yves Saint-Laurent Foundation. She will always be an inspiration and influence.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Design tribute to Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)

As a tribute to Steve Jobs I decided, instead of writing one more thing among the many written about him, to just make a visual design tribute to him, through the things he was instrumental into bringing to the world, affecting many people, in the way they live their everyday lives but also their aesthetics.