All Photos: Susie Lau/stylebubble.co.uk
A week before the Chanel Metiers d’Art show in Rome, where thousands of hours of work was reduced to a fifteen minute whirlwind extravaganza, I visited the ateliers of Lesage and Lemarié, which since 2013 have been collectively housed in one place in Pantin, just outside of Paris. Seeing these two most well-known savoir-faire maisons of Chanel’s Paraffection umbrella has long been on my I-love-seeing-things-being-made wish list. Some people have man/woman crushes. I crush hard on craftsmanship in situ.
The mostly (female) and surprisingly young team of artisans may have been under the cosh to complete the last pieces of embroidered fabric and flower and feather adorned pattern pieces to send over to Chanel’s Paris atelier, in time for the show in Rome. “It’s always like this,” said the PR looking after Paraffection. “Everything is done in the immediate two weeks before the show.” Be that as it may, nobody is rushing. In fact, the working atmosphere is amazingly calm. Everyone knows exactly what they must do and they quietly get on with it. “Keep calm and love Chanel” reads one ha-ha motivation message on the walls.
Our first stop is in Lemarié. The house that deals with the feathers and flowers, which sounds airy-fairy but in fact they also have an expertise in creating intricate pleatwork, smocking and ruffles. As the need for real feathers in our modern day wardrobes has diminished, Lemarié has expanded their repertoire to create mimic flowers, feathers and other elements of the natural world movement out of every fabric possible. Coco Chanel created the original camellia with Andre Lemarie in the 1960s and it of course has become a house emblem so that today, Lemarié makes 40,000 camellias for all of Chanel’s stores, with everyone of them containing a minimum of fifteen petals. The more complex camellias, depending on the material, can take up to five hours just to make one. Bear in mind, that these golf-ball sized pieces that most might consider to be a inconsequential bit of decoration. I don’t know why in my head, I thought there was some quickfire camellia-churning machine and when I suggested the idea, the Chanel PR’s chortled. Of COURSE, every Chanel camellia is created using the old fashion process of stiffening the fabric and then cutting out petals with a metal template. Then the curves of each petal is created using specially made moulds. And then assembled together delicately with tweezers, with distressed edges and any other special finishing done by hand. All for one singular flower.