Master Makers
Wallpaper|March 2019

Master makers The high craft and impossible detail of Chanel’s fashion collections is down to a series of unique métiers d’art workshops. We take a sew-and-tell tour

Amy Serafin

It was mid-December, a week after Chanel’s Egyptian-themed Métiers d’Art show in New York, and the artisan workshops were already back at full speed, preparing for the couture shows in January. In ateliers around Paris and beyond, people toiled in silent concentration, repeating the same gestures on feathers or buttons or fabrics or beads that their predecessors practised for generations, striving to create objects of wonder and surprise.

Paris once counted thousands of these workshops, crafting embroidery, hats, gloves, shoes, jewels and more by hand. Only a few have stood the test of time. Coco Chanel collaborated regularly with several of them, and when Karl Lagerfeld arrived at Chanel in 1983, he strengthened the connection.

Since then, the house has acquired 26 métiers d’art workshops, run by a subsidiary called Paraffection. Most are French, though they include a cashmere specialist in Scotland and a leather tannery in Spain. ‘Chanel would never have been what it is without them,’ says the house’s fashion president, Bruno Pavlovsky. ‘They are part of the DNA of the brand and one of our strongest assets.’ He explains that many of their acquisitions were financially sound, yet unsure about the future, especially those that lacked a succession plan. By picking up the workshops it considers indispensable, Chanel ensures their future and its own. Together, Pavlovsky says, they are building a ‘strong, supportive creative process’. So while other houses invest in crocodile farms, Chanel turns to Atelier Montex to create ‘python’ from embroidered paillettes that’s even more precious than the real thing.

To highlight the skills of these various artisans – or petites mains – Chanel presented its first Métiers d’Art collection in 2002. It is considered ready-to-wear, though many looks approach couture. Now one of the house’s fastest-growing collections, the Métiers d’Art show walks the runway in a different city every year.

The workshops are also growing, and actively hiring. And many of the artisans are under the age of 30. In order to keep up, Chanel is erecting a 26,000 sqm Métiers d’Art flagship on the periphery of Paris. Designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti with a delicate curtain of concrete threads, it is due to open in 2020.

To continue coming up with astonishing creations, the workshops are embracing new technologies and combining them with time honoured tools and methods – laser cutters alongside Lunéville hooks. Given the means to experiment, they are taking tweed to the next level with technical threads, and using lasers to modify the surface of silk.

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