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