If you’ve ever marvelled at the exquisite embroidery and beadwork on a couture gown, chances are you can credit the late François Lesage, a French couture embroiderer, or one of the students of his craft.
The maestro passed away in 2001, but today, his legacy is being preserved and furthered by the house of Chanel, who bought his atelier, Maison Lesage in 2002.
"Embroidery is to haute couture what fireworks are to Bastille Day" was a maxim Lesage would often repeat.
He was respected worldwide in the art of embroidery and he collaborated with the largest fashion and haute couture houses, having close working relationships with designers such as Pierre Balmain, Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, John Galliano (for Dior), Marc Jacobs (at Louis Vuitton), Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and many more.
In fact, after they met in 1963, Yves Saint Laurent worked only with François Lesage, and their collaboration lasted 44 years.
Probably their most famous pieces are the jackets with Vincent Van Gogh's Irises and Sunflowers for Saint Laurent’s summer 1988 collection, each of which required 600 hours of work. The iris jacket was made with 250,000 sequins in 22 colors, 200,000 beads and 250 metres of ribbon.
Vincent Van Gogh's Irises and Sunflowers | Jackets and beading fromYves Saint Laurent’s Summer 1988 Collection
Last week I had the good fortune of being privately tutored in the basic use of the tambour needle, one of the tools of hand embroidery, by the sublimely skilled and infinitely patient Juliet Ferry, at Hand & Lock in London.
Juliet was trained in Paris, first in Fashion Design, and then afterwards in Hand Embroidery, where she found her passion. Now, in addition to teaching this craft, she creates exquisite custom hand embroidered pieces at the Hand & Lock studio.
The studio is a hive of activity where they supply all the threads, trimmings and tools for Hand Embroidery, and where they create custom embroidered pieces for the royal military, the theatre, and for fashion. And, one can view their extensive library of stitched samples on site. Hand & Lock also do several collaborations of their own, e.g., the one below with Aspinal of London, which I happened to spot in the window of Aspinal's St James store last week.
Embroidered samples from the studio at Hand & Lock, and the London Tote at Aspinal of London
The studio also undertakes restoration projects, and on the day that I visited, two of the artisans were restoring a heritage piece for one of the British Royal Palaces.
Tambour beading is not as easy at it's made to look by the experts, but, I’m now following Juliet’s advice and spending an hour or so practising every day. Things are slowly improving, and I hope to be able to show you some usable pieces very soon!
I also purchased this book by Jessica Jane Pile, which has some stunning examples of this gorgeous work, and some basic tambour beading instructions