Marché dentelle

Photo: (from left) Courtesy of Sophie Hallette; Paul Hackett – WPA Pool/Getty Images

The lace on Catherine Middleton’s, now the Duchess of Cambridge’s, beautiful wedding dress was made in France. Sophie Hallette is a 120 year old family-owned lace making company located in the north of France in Caudry. They specialize in custom jobs and knew that they were making lace for Sarah Burton, the person who was rumored to be designing Catherine’s gown for Alexander McQueen. While they hoped they were creating lace for “the” gown, they didn’t know for sure until Middleton stepped out of the car in front of the cathedral.

The company has almost 400 employees and is run by the third generation of the family, Bruno and Romain Lescroart. The lace is made of many miles of fine cotton thread woven on British made Leavers looms that imitate the look of hand-knotted lace with 5,000 shuttles. After weaving, careful hand finishing ensures that each piece of lace is the finest quality.

The company routinely makes lace for such haute couture designers as Valentino, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and for the prêt-à-porter collections of Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera, Givenchy, not to mention all the top lingerie firms. They had to lay-off about 25% of their workforce after the financial crisis hit in 2008. Such lace is tremendously labor-intensive and expensive and many designers began to cut all trimings to save costs or to substitue Chinese lace that sells for 1/30th of the price. Since jobs are often passed through from one generation to the next, laying someone off is like a death in the family. Maybe the new poster-child for Sophie Hallette lace will help them reinvigorate the firm.

I love today’s expression almost as much as I am a fan of Catherine’s gown. A marché dentelle (marshay dahntell)  literally means a “lace deal” and figuratively means an open-ended deal with few fixed terms. There are as many holes in the agreement as in a piece of lace. This is also known as a contrat dentelle (contrah), obviously, a “lace contract.” I hope Sophie Hallette will get lots of very non-lace contracts for their lace and go from strength to strength for at least another three generations.

De la dentelle et des Hommes: The Lace-Makers of Calais

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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