Displayed on the window-sills of the atelier in École Lesage are exquisite embroidery samples for students to reference as they work. The Autumn sunlight illuminates the beads, sequins and metallic threads, making them glitter and twinkle, enticing your eye to gaze longingly at the completed embroideries. They are like irresistible confections calling to you, and as you quietly get out of your seat to steal a closer look, the stitches are so intricate, tiny and precise it seems that they were made by fairy godmothers; impossible that they were created by human hands, let alone your own.
The designs have been inspired by the archives of Maison Lesage that house an astonishing 70,000 samples of embroidery art dating as far back as the 19th century. The compositions are organised into eight levels that progress through the decades of the 20th century, showcasing the changing styles in fashion from 1920s Art Deco to 1960s Flower Power. Each level introduces new skills, techniques and materials and takes between 30 - 40 hours of classes to complete.
The Specialisation in Haute Couture Training involves one large composition that takes 150 hours of class time to complete (not to mention the homework!). Before beginning the final piece, a sampler is completed to introduce the range of skills, techniques and materials such as needlework, lunéville hook, applying leather, jewellery, beads, sequins, vermicelli beads and sequins and so on…
I returned from the window-sill to my seat and opened the package of materials I had been given to complete the sampler. There were little bags of beads, sequins and jewels in transparent, white, champagne, gold, bronze, salmon and blue colours. Parcels of tissue with the softest cream and natural leather inside and a clear pocket with spools of thread in cotton, silk, rayon, chenille and metal. I unfolded the colourful paper pattern that showed narrow columns with neat rows of lines and shapes. The accompanying legend gave clues as to the different techniques and materials that would be explored over the following 10 - 12 classes. I carefully took out the organza pattern and began to stretch the fabric across the frame.