“Creativity is about being in tune with your time,” said Hubert Barrère, the creative director of Paris-based Maison Lesage. The embroidery house, which has been synonymous with haute couture since its inception in the mid-1800s, is now meeting fashion’s future head on, with innovative design techniques and a determination to keep old world craftsmanship relevant for today’s designers.
The history of the house can be traced back to the Second Empire in France. Known as Michonet when it was founded in 1858, its embroidery designs were highly sought after by Paris’s fashion elite. In 1924 Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage purchased the company and created avant-garde embroidery that attracted designers such as Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli. And when Albert passed away in 1949, the couple’s son, Francois, took over the helm, continuing to forge close relationships with designers including Yves Saint Laurent.
Today, Maison Lesage is probably best known for its longstanding relationship with Chanel, which began when Karl Lagerfeld became creative director in 1983. The house’s classic tweed, which remains a strong part of the Chanel story, is made in Paris by Maison Lesage. But following in Mademoiselle Chanel’s footsteps - in the 1930s she began combining tweed with wools, silks, cottons and even cellophane – the fabric is continuously reimagined each season, and Maison Lesage have made tweeds in recent years with materials such as plastics and paper.
“Karl Lagerfeld says we should do things that are unimaginable,” said Hubert Barrère, who was appointed creative director after Francois Lesage passed away in 2011. And in an industry first, Chanel presented suits at its Autumn/Winter 2015 couture show that were made of material produced by a 3-D printer from sintered, or compressed, powder and then embellished with embroidery and braid by Maison Lesage.
The embroidery house is now one of Chanel’s métiers d’art houses, companies that have been acquired by its subsidiary Paraffection, which is dedicated to the preservation of craftsmanship; a commitment that will hopefully ensure the artistry of embroidery is kept alive for future generations. “Hand embroidery is something emotional,” says Hubert Barrère. “Above all else, it’s something that comes from the soul, it makes you feel something, without quite knowing why.”