Sous Toutes Les Coutures

I’ve always wanted to see the step-by-step creation of a collection. This summer, a Chanel workshop opened its doors to me so that I could follow the creation of one of the dresses from the Haute Couture show. Rewind to five months before my first visit: Monsieur Lagerfeld launches the first inspirations of the collection, and then he draws the first sketches and talks to the studio director to select the materials. Afterwards, the head seamstress is in charge of interpreting the sketches as a canvas for first fittings.

I arrive at the Chanel workshops at the point when the creation of « the » dress begins! I discover the sketch* of the dress whereas a seamstress is working on a piece of navy silk chiffon, which doesn’t have much of a shape yet and I have no idea in which direction the collection is going. A few days later, when visiting Lemarié, master plumassier and embroiderer (FYI the house of Lemarié, is one of the seven Ateliers d’Art bought by Chanel in 97), I entered the magical world of Haute Couture. Despite the countdown and in an atmosphere of high concentration, the talented plumassiers with expert hands embroid, one by one, with detailed precision, the hundreds of feathers on the silk chiffon. I am blown away! Everyday, right before my eyes, the sheath dress with the feathers paving is getting more and more into shape. In the end, it looks like a cloud; delicate and complex because it is made up of 3m of organza, 15m of sunray pleated silk chiffon, 500hrs of feather embroidery, 200hrs of sewing and a good amount of passion. In total, ten or so people collaborated to create the dress fantasized by Monsieur Lagerfeld. Ultimately, Haute Couture is a dream within reach of (lots of collaborated) little hands.

*Sketch by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.

D- 20 (16th June)

Completion of the pattern…

D- 19 (17th June)

The seamstresses assemble the pattern, little by little. 

D-15 (20th June)

Moodboard to give the artistic instructions to the plumassiers. Before being worked, the feathers are placed one at a time to get their steam plume. Then, the plumassières twist and stick one by one the feathers as to make a wonderful lace.

D- 7 (29th June)

Back at the Chanel workshop, where the dress has been set up on a Stockman mannequin. 

D- 4 (2nd June)

The dress is validated by Monsieur Lagerfeld (and Mademoiselle Coco). 

D- Day (5th July)

Here I am, two hours before the show set to begin at 22h at the Grand Palais, in the backstage beauty section. I stare at all the models because I still don’t know who will have the honor of wearing the dress. The makeup and hairstyle is identical for every girl, so the mystery remains. For the occasion, the Grand Palais is transformed into Place Vendôme, in relief of stars and neon lights, Dan Flavin style.  Here at last, the dress, in the 46th appearance worn by Jacquelyn. Sublime emotion! 

Epilogue: The infamous dress is in good company in the Couture show-room. Whilst waiting for the privilege clients of the sur-mesure, perhaps a celebrity will wear it? Afterwards, it will be archived but will forever remain on the market, if you were ever tempted…