The House of Lesage in Paris has been the go-to destination for couture embroidery for over 60 years. Whatever fantastic creation the designers could dream up, François Lesage could produce, even if some of the gowns took 1,000 hours to embroider. Born outside of Paris in 1929, Lesage was the son of Albert, an embroiderer, and Marie-Louise Favot, a fashion colorist. He liked to say that he was “born on a mound of pearls and glitter.” When he was a lad, his parents bought the embroidery studio of Albert Michonet, who had worked for Napoleon III as well as the founder of haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth.
At 19, Lesage was sent to Los Angeles to learn English and to establish an American branch of the firm. He worked with all the leading ladies of Hollywood, such as Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner, and Eva Gardner. His father died, so he returned to France to take over the business. Constant adaptation was necessary to keep the business viable. For instance, when ready-to-wear took a bite out of the French couture market, Lesage started to produce work for the couture collections of American designers such as Oscar de la Renta. Prices for Lesage embroidered gowns, like the spectacular Lanvin gown from 1957, are in the neighborhood of $100,000 and jackets are a mere $60,000.
Lesage was not just interested in the work that was being done currently in his own atelier. He was also about passing on the expertise of les petites mains (lay puhteet mahn) or “the little hands” of the embroiderers who do this exacting work. When his father took over the business from Michonet, there were about 10,000 highly-skilled embroiderers in France. By the end of the century, there were only about 200 left. So, in 1992, Lesage started the École Lesage in Montmartre near its headquarters. Students learn every technique essential to keep the couture business in sequins. If you’re not interested in being a professional embroiderer, you can take courses to learn the art for your own enjoyment. Six hours of instruction start at just 200 € and you leave with an embroidered pochette in hand.
The atelier was acquired by Chanel in 2002, which brought the fine arts of Lesage into even greater prominence. He was made an officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 2007. Just two weeks before his death in late 2011, Lesage was given the title Maître d’Art for his distinguished contributions to his craft.
- Watch: The Mesmerizing Making of Chanel’s Spring 2013 Couture Gowns (fashionologie.com)