Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Hands that Sew the Sequins

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I am immensely inspired by haute couture fashion.


I find the embroidery, embellishment, and elaborate handwork worthy of my respect and study. You may not realize that this work is created by a handful of artisans -- artisans who labor to transform a designer dress into a walking work of breathtaking art.


It is handwork that defines haute couture dresses and one dress can cost as much as $150,000 (give or take a couple tens of thousands). Needless to say, the market for these dresses is dwindling in modern day, and as a result, so are the artisans.


In the 1920's, there were over 10,000 french embroiderers and today the numbers have shrunk to about 200. The House of Lesage, France's oldest embroiderer still provides services to famous haute couture design houses such as Lacroix, Dior and Chanel. There is a beautiful article titled, "The Hands that Sew the Sequins" from the New York Times in 2006 here.


Lesage has an embroidery school in Paris and it is my dream to go to school there one day. This is the cover of their school brochure and the pages are dog-eared from dreaming...


So, as you look at the creations that I present to you today from Christian Lacroix, pay close attention to how textures, threads, flowers, threads...are all placed and draped and styled just like an artist paints a painting.


There is a deliberateness about the choices that result in an overall final work of art that is compelling and beautiful and wondrous.


And isn't that what I am striving to do in my work? To manipulate fabric, beads and thread into the most beautiful expression of my spirit that I'm capable of?


My study is here. It's in the haute couture houses of fashion where designers such as Chanel and Dior are buying up ateliers that specialize in making the best shoes, millinery, buttons, lace, purses...to preserve it, to safeguard it...so it's not lost.


If you look at the big picture, the needlearts as they were practiced during Elizabethan times or in the days of Marie Antoinette are dying. The degree and the complexity of the work that is being created today, pales in comparison. No wonder Penelope Cruz chose to look back 60 years in choosing her gown for the Academy Awards.

There is good news still and that good news is that there IS beautiful work still being done -- and it's being done in the fashion industry. In a quote in the NYTimes article from Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of the Museum of Fashion Institute Technology, she says:

Fashion isn't necessarily about concept but about craftmanship. You need the people to make the best ribbon, the best lace, the best hats. This is essential to keeping French fashion prestigious and creative.

So perhaps the next time you look at a haute couture gown, you will pause and reflect on the artistry of the hands that used the irons to fashion fabric into flowers,


that spent the hundreds of hours beading sequins and glass onto lace with a tambour hoook,


that couched gold bullion over yards of silk...


And for my crazy quilt friends, isn't a haute couture dress the ultimate fancy quilt? Though not made with scraps, it is a unique combination of silks, chiffons, velvets, trims, buttons, millinery feathers and flowers, crystals, beads, sequins and yes, embroidery. Still made by hand.


It inspires me more than I can translate into words.


So this is the reason, my friends, you see so much "fashion" on a needlework blog.

All fashions shown here today are from Christian Lacroix Spring 2009 Haute Couture collection. You can see his full collection here and watch his fashion show here.

17 comments:

verobirdie said...

Thank you for this private Christian Lacroix show!
I too would love to attend Lesage courses...
Regarding keeping skills alive, Christian Lacroix does even more. It is the whole spirit of the Arlesian culture he is preserving and transmitting, as well as developping. He is so devoted to his town! He manages the impossible, mixing the past, the future and the present, and making art of that. Besides, he seems to be the nicest man, very respectfull of the people working with him (I did not say for him on purpose). He listens to them, learns from them as much as they do from him. I'd love to met him, although I would feel very humble and small, certainly not knowing what to say :-)
Anyway, thanks for this post!

Camilla La Mer-Art Dolls said...

I don't even have words for the beauty that you are sharing with us today!!! I am speechless! YOU should write a book on this!!! The dresses that you shared are like fine, delectable pastries that could be eaten with a spoon...Yum!

I never dreamed that such an embroidery school even existed...Sign me up too! (Far preferable to French cooking schools for me...)

Thanks for the eye-opening post and for elaborating on your passion for fashion!

xoxo Camilla

Denise said...

I read a book about Worth, it was fiction based on reality and the jobs of the seamstress's were amazing. They worked so hard, their eyes strained and their environment was cramped. So when I look at these amazing creations, I always think of those that create them!
Thanks for the fashion show!
Cheers, Denise

Debra said...

Truly beautiful works of art!

Denise Felton said...

What a fantastic article. Thank you so much, Susan! I've just published a link to your post on my blog. I hope it brings you a few extra clicks.

Denise
http://needlework.craftgossip.com

Heather J. said...

I've never enjoyed fashion shows - I always wonder "who in the world would ever actually WEAR this stuff?!" But your post has challenged me to look at each dress as a work of art rather than just an outfit ... and I have a deeper appreciation for the designers already.

Mary Timme said...

This was interesting even if my bent is more toward wildlife. I tend to throw on whatever is clean and just washed. It is fun to see what makes other people tick.

Eva said...

the shrinking of embroiderers' numbers reminds me of old languages that are sadly dying out. in the photos you chose i can see embroidery and haute couture as such a language, precious, learnt through much work and practice and not nearly recognized enough. the work, the attention that went into the making of those breathtaking gowns is, just as you say, an expression of art. thank you for your beautiful post that made me rethink how i see haute couture.

coral-seas said...

You always bring us such interesting posts. I've never been a dedicated follower of fashion so your catwalk shows have been an eye opener for me. Loved the Oscar gowns, by the way. I click on the picture to see them close up, and saw things that I had not noticed at first, like the darling little purse that model in the embroidered and beaded jacket is holding. I want one!

I also want to go on the Lesage courses with you. Do you think they do group discounts?

CA

Marty52 said...

GREAT post, Susan! That white number with the carnations (pinks?) is gorgeous. I must confess I have never paid much attention to haute couture, you have opened my eyes!

Judy S. said...

Great post, Susan! I think you should have narrated the show. Maybe you can catch a class at the French school when you visit your niece in Brussels? Go for it!

Robin said...

This is a grand post, Susan!!! It's very odd... I'm not attracted to this type of fashion garment, yet deeply appreciate the skills of design and construction that go into making them. You wrote about being inspired by it, especially by work from the early 1900's while at the same time I was writing about work from the same period, equally fine quality, but vastly different in style/design. Did you see my post about historical beading? It's here. I'm in awe of all these "hands that sew sequins and beads"... totally awesome! Thanks for your beautiful post! Robin A.

Chris said...

I just love this post. Wouldn't it be a dream to own one of these lovely creations? The beaded bodice in the second to last photo is so beautiful and I love the white jacket with all of it's embroidery.

Lynn said...

Oh Susan thank you for this post! The fashions are divine. I miss Project Runway! The embroidery school would be a dream come true.

Allison Ann Aller said...

I DO hope you will realize your dream one day and study in Paris.

What totally grabbed me about these pictures was not the dresses so much (Lacroix's silhouettes are not my favorites, me being a more streamlined girl)...but those STOCKINGS! Perfectly on beyond wonderful...

Your enthusiasm is as lovely as the fashions, you know....

Vickie said...

Great Images! I studied at the House of Lesage and earned my Couture certification in embroidery at Ecole Lesage. Spent the day with Monsieur Lesage in his Atelier and photographed several hundred samples beginning with the House of Worth to his most recent collection. While teaching in France in following years, a vintage clothing collector graciously gave me couture samples of beading and embroidery. I too, love the couture techniques and became a huge fan of sequins and couching due to the three weeks I spentat Ecole Lesage. I placed a couple of Lesage photos in my first silk ribbon embroidery book and continue to present my Lesage lecture/slide presentation at various guilds .My time in Paris, turned me into a vintage bead addict. Keep spreading the word!

Vickie Brown
www.ribbonsmyth.com

Hélène H said...

I so love fashion and especially Christian Lacroix !!!

Did you know Lesage is now outsourcing, and relying largely on Indian embroiderers from Madras/Chennai ?

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