Ecole Lesage School and Embroidery Workshop

Tuesday May 21, 2019, Paris, France

Thoughts Heading Into the Day

I was very excited about going to this appointment because we would be going to an actual school, not a museum, and we would not only be looking and listening, but we would be doing.  The workshop at the Fashion Museum in London was relaxing and rejuvenating, so I was hoping Ecole Lesage would be the same.  I was also extremely excited that we would doing embroidery.  I used to do a lot of embroidery and I have always wanted to get back into it.  Maybe this workshop will be the steppingstone I need.  

The School Presentation and Tour

The Ecole Lesage school was amazing!  There are SO many things I learned that I am not sure where to start.  I think this tour and workshop will reign as the most well organized, enlightening, and hands-on fun tour of the entire trip.    

First, we were shown a slide show and given a handout giving a short history of luxury fashion.  This was a good review of what I have been learning in my Dynamics of Clothing class. Just from the title I learned that, “Fashion and Craftsmanship are Two Inseparable Stories”, which I had never realized before.  

One of the reasons Paris was the capital of fashion in the 20thcentury is a result of the close proximity of Haute Couture and Art Craftsmanship, which allowed regular collaboration between the two.  I also learned that the masters of the craft, whether it be embroiders, shoemakers, hat makers, lace makers, or costume jewelers, existed long before fashion developed as a business.  The craftsman are, in fact, considered to be the “eyes and hands” of Haute Couture. 

Haute translates literally to “high” and Couture translates literally to “dressmaking,” but we now translate it as “high fashion.” Haute Couture garments are made by experienced professionals from high quality materials for specific individuals and are tailored to their body measurements. Consequently, they are quite expensive. 

Next we learned the history of Lesage.  There are only five embroiderers (companies) in France today, down from 50 at the beginning of the 20thcentury. Lesage is a family business as well as a school.  It began when François Lesage, the son of embroidery makers Marie-Louise and Albert, went to Hollywood at age 19 to persuade studios to use his father’s embroideries.  But his trip was cut short by his father’s death, when he returned to run the family business with his mother.  He worked for three years to gain the trust of new designers such as Dior, Balenciaga, and Balmain.  Since then, Lesage has become the leader in the embroidery industry and is known all over the world.  Being able to reinvent their embroideries for each new generation of designers has made them successful. François Lesage also stayed involved in the business until his death in December 2011.  His philosophy when dealing with designers was, “to suggest but to never to impose”, and this simple philosophy has made Lesage the trusted advisor to designers. 

Ecole Lesage was created in 1992. Since then 3000 students have come from all over the world to study. The students come from fashion and art schools or are just embroidery lovers.  Some universities include a Lesage master class in their curriculum. I wondered if BYU could do that for its Fashion Design students.  

After the lecture, we began the tour!  During this behind-the-scenes look at their samples and designs, we were also able to see workers in the process of designing.  It was amazing!  We were shown samples made for famous designers dating back to the 1800’s.  They now house over 70,000 samples!  I thought the 1940 Schiaparelli sample the most beautiful of the ones we were shown. The designing process, however, is what really caught my eye.  I had no idea how much sketching and layering of colors goes on behind the scenes of embroidery designs, and how many protypes are made firston paper.  Over 200 hours of work went into the one prototype we saw. 

I also loved seeing the women do the embroidery with beads and sequins.  I was fascinated to see how they used these tiny crochet hooks, called Lunéville hooks, to do this very intricate beading and embroidery.  They worked so fast and so effortlessly that I could never see the thread attaching the beads and sequins.             

We were not allowed to take pictures or video, or even talk to the workers, to protect Lesage’s designs. I did, however, find a video that will show the skill and some of the beautiful embroidery pieces housed at Ecole Lesage.  

The Embroidery Workshop

After the tour it was time for the workshop. The workshop was my favorite part of the day because we actually were taught how to do a beading and sequin sample of embroidery.  I LOVED it! The technique for doing these samples is so cool. It’s not hard, but it is time consuming.  The embroidery sample is printed on organza, which has been pulled taut on an embroidery frame.  I learned that organza is good for bead embroidery because it is lightweight, stiff, and transparent, allowing you to see your work easily.  

Six students sat at each frame where an instructor demonstrated the embroidery and assisted.  Surprisingly, there are no knots, except when threading the needle at the start of each thread.  Otherwise you stitch around the beads and secure the thread when you change beads. You secure the thread by going in and out of the organza three times where it cannot be seen.  I started off well, but later my thread kept knotting interfering with my stitching. Despite that, I still really enjoyed doing the embroidery.  I learned that beading and sequin embroidering takes a great deal of time and patience but is also very rewarding as you see your design come to life.  

Our instructor, Caroline, was amazing at her craft.  Sometimes I would stop working on my embroidery just to watch her. Her control of the needle and thread and placement of beads just worked in synchrony, and she was sofast. She seemed to do in minutes what took us hours.  I asked her if she made a lot of money doing embroidery.  She laughed.  She said, “No! This is not a job you do for money, but a job you do because you love it.” 

Takeaways From the Day

François Lesage was able to persuade designers to use his embroidery despite the odds being against him, and then keep their business.  The takeaway:  persistence pays and his simple philosophy “to suggest but never impose” worked.  He became a trusted advisor to designers instead of a salesman.  I wondered how he was able to only “suggest” without being imposing.  I think this a great philosophy for all of us when dealing with others because it allows for the individual to use their free agency and make independent decisions. 

Designing is tedious, painstaking, time-consuming work that requires enormous attention to detail and patience on every level.  But creating is its own reward.   

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