What Goes Into A Chanel Haute Couture Dress?
193 hours—and that's just to complete the embroidery of the bustier.
The Instagram It girls were out in full force at the Chanel haute couture spring/summer 2017 show in Paris’ Grand Palais. Lily-Rose Depp (2.5 million followers), the teen daughter of Hollywood star Johnny Depp and French model Vanessa Paradis, was the blushing Chanel bride clad in exuberant ruffles; Bella Hadid (10.6 million followers), younger sister of Gigi and recently spurned ex of pop’s bad boy The Weeknd, smouldered in a sleek black gown; and Kendall Jenner (74.2 million followers) of the Kardashian clan strutted her stuff in a silver number.
Social media cachet is by no means a frivolous asset in the world of high fashion. Many industry players now view a model’s Instagram following as a number that’s more important than her weight—any figure less than 10,000 may well constrain one’s chances of getting cast in a runway show or advertising campaign. Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, always alert to the necessity of staying relevant, has expertly wedded the contemporary glamour of these Internet darlings to the label’s renowned craftsmanship.
Even as the models on its runway have become virtuosos of the virtual world, the impeccable mastery of metiers d’art remains at the heart of Chanel’s creations. Consider this pink bubble dress above, for instance, and ponder these numbers—the organza for the bustier is embroidered with 3,000 beads, stones, rhinestones and tulle ribbons in cream, pink and silver tones, and the completion of this embroidery required 193 hours of work in the Montex ateliers. Founded in 1939, Montex is famed for its skills in embroidery, lacework and beading.
"Ponder these numbers: the bustier is embroidered with 3,000 beads and ribbons, and the embroidery required 193 hours of work."
The bubble skirt of the dress is made with white marabou feathers and dusty-pink ostrich feathers mixed with strips of tulle and organza, and required 70 hours of work in the Lemarié ateliers. Besides its expertise in featherwork, this legendary maison is also known for its skill in moulding camellias—a signature Chanel motif—using a wide variety of materials.
Other looks in this collection featured the work of the Lesage ateliers, which used the Luneville technique to hand-embroider one dress with 8,000 barrettes, 10,000 sequins and 500 facetted stones. That took 400 hours of work. Montex, Lemarié and Lesage are just three of the nine Métier’s d’Art Ateliers acquired by Chanel since 1985.
“We knew they would be key to the future of the brand, and that we had to preserve what they do,” Chanel’s president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky has said of these acquisitions. “Without great ateliers, you cannot make a good collection,” says Lagerfeld. The house even celebrates the artistry of these ateliers with an annual Métiers d’Art collection, which serves as its prefall show highlighting the intricate and lavish detailing these artisans excel in.
These ateliers work closely with Chanel’s own ateliers, which are housed in its rue Cambon headquarters in Paris. “About a month and half before the collection, I give the first sketches to the ateliers,” says Lagerfeld. “I love working with our ateliers. Each premiere d’atelier, or head seamstress, has her own speciality. Chanel studio director Virginie Viard and I know exactly who will be the best person to interpret each one of my sketches. There is always a creative dynamic between the studio and the expertise of the Chanel ateliers that work on my collections. Gradually as the silhouette evolves, the embroideries, the details and the finishes take on a new dimension.”
"Without great ateliers,
you cannot make a good collection,"
says Karl Lagerfeld.
For this pink feathery dress, for instance, the premiere d’atelier rendered Lagerfeld’s sketch three-dimensional by following his indications, to realise the exact silhouette he had in mind. A pattern was then created in off-white cotton toile, fitted on an in-house fitting model and subjected to the approval of Lagerfeld. Subsequently, the toile was reproduced in organza.
The embroidered bustier and feathery bubble skirt made respectively by Montex and Lemarié were then sent to the Chanel ateliers so that the seamstresses could start assembling the dress. During assembly, the dress was tried on a wooden mannequin to ensure that the proportions and the silhouette as imagined by Lagerfeld were respected. Then, the finishing touches were added, and belt loops sewn on. For the show, this outfit was accessorised with a metallic leather belt, a fantasy pearl ankle bracelet and a pair of high heels in mirror-effect silver leather.
Indeed, mirrors were everywhere at the haute couture spring/summer 2017 show, the models’ high-sheen accessories complementing the mirrored circular runway that nodded to the famous mirrored staircase at rue Cambon. Reflections of the models, It girls and all, bounced off each silvery surface; the intricate details of each look—the ethereal flutter of feathery poufs, the shining armour of beads and rhinestones—could be seen from every angle. Was the show riffing on the endless opportunities for basking in our likenesses in this social media-saturated modern age, or simply paying homage to the talented artisans behind the scenes who lavished their skills on these meticulous creations? It’s something to reflect on, even as we succumb to the show’s dreamy charms.
Atelier Special: Slip behind the scenes with us as we take you into the wonderful—and often private—world of ateliers. In Part Three of a series of four, we introduce you to the magical world of Chanel haute couture.