Contrary to what you might see in our videos of Narelle Kheng attending the Chanel Fall/Winter 2018 show in Paris or Iman Fandi exploring the French luxury giant’s ateliers where its couture collections are made, it’s not always fun and glamour when a VIP personality joins us on one of our trips to Paris Fashion Week. Sometimes we put them to work. And in the case of model/influencer/aspiring pop star Fandi, who was our special guest during the Fall/Winter 2020 season earlier this year in March, we sent her to Ecole Lesage to craft from scratch, by hand her very own Chanel bracelet of sorts.
Lesage, you see, is of the 27 metiers d’art – or artisanal ateliers – owned by Chanel, tasked to create sumptuous, ever-innovative embroideries for the house as well as other luxury fashion brands. Its intricate beadwork is highlighted in Chanel’s annual Metiers d’Art collection and it’s behind the brand’s famous tweeds (yes, the material used to make nearly all of its signature jackets). And Ecole Lesage – located in a quaint, nondescript low-rise building in Paris’ ninth arrondisement – is where one goes to pick up its specialised, nearly-century-old craftsmanship.
While the bracelet that Iman created wasn’t quite like the ones Chanel are famous for (click here to learn about Coco Chanel’s influence on costume jewellery), the point of the exercise was to show how much meticulousness and skills are needed to embellish something like a slim leather band with beads and sequins at Lesage. “The resulting bracelet might seem so simple, but so much hard work, time and practice goes into every single detail,” says Iman.
Read on to find out more about Lesage and its role in Chanel’s Paris-31 Rue Cambon Metiers d’Art collection that’s in boutiques now.
In no small part due to how it’s responsible for the tweed that makes Chanel’s signature, timeless and highly covetable tweed jackets (like the ones you see here), Lesage is among the brand’s most well-known metiers d’art workshops. It does a lot more than just fancy tweeds though. Originally dubbed Michonet – a studio that dates back to 1858 – it officially got its start as Lesage 66 years later when husband-and-wife duo Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage took over in 1924.
Over the years, it continually found fame among fashion’s most influential couturiers including Cristobal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Elsa Schiaparelli for its inventive techniques such as straight-grain vermicelli beading, which creates an ombre effect. (Schiap reportedly commissioned Lesage exclusively to create all her embroideries.) So rich is its legacy that its archives are said to house 75,000 samples, making up the world’s biggest collection couture embroidery (sneak peek here when we brought musician/creative consultant Aarika Lee for an exclusive visit).
Today, it continues to be a favoured choice among high-end fashion houses and is involved in all six collections that Chanel produces annually. For an idea of how active this “little” artisanal workshop is: Every year, it creates about 100 new embroideries, using up to 30 kilos of beads and a whopping 100 million sequins.
The former is encrusted in crystals and little metal flowers and took a total of 90 hours to complete; the latter sports embroidery in the shape of ears of wheat – a symbol long loved by Mademoiselle Chanel – and took 70 man-hours
Zoom in and you’ll find chains, sequins and more motifs in the shape of ears of wheat embroidered all over collar, cuffs and pants pockets. Word is the embroidery on the jacket alone too 200 hours; that on the pants – 86.
Yep, that gilded, braid-like decorative detail running down the centre of the cardigan and matching pencil skirt is the work of Lesage
It might look like the brand’s trademark chain-and-leather combo popularly found on its accessories, but it’s actually embroidery made to look like the real thing and calling for a total of 88 and 60 hours of work for the jacket and pants respectively. This is what we call master trompe l’oeil.
What goes into it: 300,000 gold sequins, 10,000 glass tubes and 3,000 metres of gold thread
Videography Phyllicia Wang Editor Noelle Loh