Recently I had the greatest pleasure of photographing one of the most beautiful, rare, masterpieces made by man- haute couture fashion. I knew it would be special, and it was, but in person it was breathtaking so much more than my preconceived notions had allowed my imagination to believe.
Now here we are in Paris and Chanel has invited me on a tour of where couture begins at their ateliers Lesage & Lemarié in Pantin, a suburb of Paris. These two famed workshops have been recused by Chanel to preserve their specialized embroidery, feather, millinery, flower & couture skills. From floor to ceiling archived boxes starting in the 1800s of pattern samples for precious embroidery for houses like Chanel, Valentino, and Dior, it goes without saying they are the best in the world. Thumbing through the archives I felt the free inhibitions of the designers, the almost child-like magic in design possibility as seen through color, texture, and pattern. This is not about what is popular for the masses, it is about an idea, it is about art, emotion, beauty and technical skill.
In a moment of humor, they had me try my hand at making a simple embroidery flower which then gave me an even greater appreciation for the skills and volume these artists work at. We looked through the archive of Chanel camellias, and then visited the room where every single flower is created by hand where at least 16 petals and one hour of work goes into creating one. Here at Lemarié they hand make all the CHANEL camellias, around 40,000 a year.
I was so moved by the attention to detail and just shear human energy put into one single piece making the value greater than anything created any other way. I see now why couture is so special which is far beyond material quality, but artisan skill and above all… time.