|Francois Lesage, 1929-2011|
An illustrious career came to an end on December 1, 2011 with the death of M. Francois Lesage. Born into the world on haute couture it was only natural that he would devote his life's work to a passion that he had inherited from his forefathers. He once stated that he knew that there would only be one career in his life for he had been born amongst the embroidery threads and beads of the atelier.
The Lesage family can trace their association with the craft of embroidery back to the court of Napoleon III and perhaps earlier than that. Michonet et Lesage began as furnishers to the Emperor and his consort Eugenie, a great patron of the house of Worth. It was Michonet, who at this time, we can associate with the field of embroidery. Throughout the last half of the nineteenth century the family and firm appear to be connected to the developing couture business as embroiderers, textile merchants and modelistes.
In 1924, Albert Lesage and his wife, a modeliste for Vionnet, establish the Maison Lesage and begin to develop the patronage of designers Paul Poiret, Jeanne Paquin and most importantly Elsa Schiaparelli.
It was the Italian designer Schiaparelli who provide the firm with its most daring creations. Her association with the surrealist artists Jean Cocteau, Salvatore Dali and Leonor Fini, along with photographer Man Ray, influenced the designers collections throughout the late 1930's. Elsa organized her collections into themes such as, "Pagan 1937"; "Zodiac", "Paris" and "Circus" in 1938 and "Music" in 1939.
|detail, "Circus" 1938|
|Matching evening gloves|
|Evening Cape, 1938|
|Evening ensembles, 1937|
The evening ensembles consisting of embroidered jackets over plain skirts rely heavily on the techniques of the 18th century. Once again, Lesage and his client work together to infuse a contemporary feeling, thus avoiding the possibility of creating a "costume". Notice the buttons. Wider shoulders and interesting buttons are the characteristics of Elsa's work at this time.
From the late 1940's through the first half of the 1960's the demands on Maison Lesage would have been great. Many designers chose to work exclusively with textile mills and specialist ateliers. The demand for glamour, in an age that still dressed appropriately for the time of the day or social event, meant that post war production would resume at a level not seen since the 1920's. In the example below by Jacques Fath, a contemporary of Dior, tufts of mink have been appliqued along with gold bullion. The result, a bust line resembling the prow of a ship, becomes softened by the organic lines of the decoration.
|Jacques Fath, 1952|
A simple sheath of coral cotton lace, in the hands of Hubert De Givenchy and Lesage, becomes a show stopper in coral and coral-coloured beads. The gown literally becomes encrusted and is both severe in its line and yet ornate in its feeling.
|Detail of embroidery|
The mid 1980's will see a return to the heavy use of beading as surface embellishment. In the hands of designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, new and exciting interpretations will continue to challenge the workshops of Lesage and breathe new life into an old art form.
|Yves Saint Laurent "Crocodile" jacket, 1986|
|Detail of sequin placement|
|Chanel, by Karl Lagerfeld|
Lagerfelds love of embroidery will lead to his purchase of Maison Lesage in 2002. Under the auspices of the House of Chanel, his goal was to preserve and encourage the continuation of this art form. Contemporaries such as, Chado Ralph Rucci have continued to use these techniques in exciting and contemporary ways, thus reflecting the arts and modes of the day. Consequently, the designers and the craftspeople who so successfully interpret their visions, have continued to make the art of Maison Lesage relevant for the 21st century.
In 1992, Francois Lesage established a school of embroidery in Paris where the individual can learn to master these techniques. Whether for leisure or professional training, the art form that he loved so well and dedicated his life to, will continue.