A craftsperson who works with feathers is called a Plumassier. Their creations are used for millinery, fan-making, theatre and cabaret costumes as well as Haute Couture. In 1919 there were 425 feather ateliers in Paris and today there are four; Maison Lemarié, Maison Février, Marcy and Maison Legeron.Read More
The term Midinette first appeared during the Belle Époque era and it referred to the young women who worked in the luxury fashion houses of Paris. They had their lunch outside the home at midday, often bringing their packed lunches to the Tuileries Gardens or saving up their wages to dine in the surrounding restaurants.
The Midinettes were mostly from Montmartre and Belleville, the working class areas of Paris and they began their training at 12 or 13 years of age. According to a labour inspection survey in 1902 there were 172,000 needleworkers in Paris alone, the majority female. Surrounded by exquisite luxury fashions and materials all day, they were admired for their own stylish appearance using their savoir-faire to accentuate their outfits despite their limited means.
There were serious concerns for the Midinettes amongst the social reformers of the day. They were exposed to dangers in the workplace such as the temptations of luxurious items and lifestyles they could neither afford nor access. The most serious danger for the Midinettes was encountered in the restaurants they frequented due to their susceptibility to falling in love very quickly and their ambitions of marrying above their social class which left them exposed to moral temptation. And so social reformers made efforts to save the virtue of Parisienne Midinettes, Telephone Operators and Administration Employees by opening several female-only working-class restaurants in the area to ensure an affordable meal free of added temptations.
The Midinettes took St. Catherine as their patron saint and she is still celebrated in Haute Couture maisons and ateliers on the 25th of November. Single women who are 25 years old are given a hat decorated with green and yellow by their colleagues and sometimes gifts from their supervisors in the hopes of a prompt marriage. A statue of St. Catherine still stands watch in Sentier, the fashion district of Paris since the 19th century.
And between looking for a husband the Midinettes gave France the weekend! 20,000 Midinettes took to the streets of Paris, marching from the Champs-Élysées along the Grand Boulevard in 1917. Forced to work a half day on Saturdays, they were protesting for a 5 day week like the English model and it was promptly granted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture.
I had decided to join the ranks of the Midinettes, perhaps not in the search for a husband or labour rights, but definitely in working in the Haute Couture maisons and ateliers of Paris. I had previously asked the teachers at École Lesage what the best approach would be to find work and they mentioned several recruitment agencies for me to register with. I was amazed and encouraged that there were several recruitment agencies for Haute Couture embroiderers! I took one more shorter course at École Lesage that focused on working with tulle….
Les Midinettes Révolutionnaires, Anne-Marie Bouchard
Les midinettes parisiennes à la Belle Époque : bon goût ou mauvais genre?, Anaïs Albert
Les midinettes, avant-garde oubliée du prolétariat, Claude Didry
MAIS D’OÙ VIENNENT LES MIDINETTES?, Sarah Pons
Founding Father of Haute Couture: Charles Frederick Worth, Dressed the History of Fashion
Paraffection means for the love of and this is certainly a love story made in France! Let’s start at the beginning…
The heritage and tradition of Haute Couture is inextricably linked with Paris. As early as the 17th and 18th centuries the creations of Parisian dressmakers were distributed throughout the European Royal Courts on Pandora fashion dolls due to the desire amongst royalty, aristocrats and courtesans to emanate the French styles. By the 20th century Haute Couture had been elevated to an art form by designers such as Charles Fredrick Worth, Jacques Doucet, Lucile, the Callot Sisters and Emile Pingat. The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne was established to maintain the standards of excellence, with a daunting list of requirements for those who wished to enter a veritable ‘Hall of Fame’ alongside Paquin, Poiret, Vionnet, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Gres, Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Saint Laurent et al.
Observing a Haute Couture garment up close in a museum or gallery is likely to take your breath away. The genius of design, mastery of skills and perhaps most of all, the hours of time dedicated to the embellishments are awe-inspiring. The garments appear as if from a fairytale, made by fairy-godmothers and worn by illustrious princesses and queens. As your eyes pour over every last detail, devouring the sequins, beads, ribbons and lace, it seems impossible that it could be made for a real person. And yet they are made for real people and they are made by real people too. Sequestered in ateliers and studios are the most skilled and talented professionals of the couture industry, they were once known as les petites mains, but are now celebrated and revered as artisans and masters of their craft. The names of these ateliers and their specialties have become synonymous with Haute Couture such as Lesage and embroidery, Desrues and buttons, Maison Guillet and artificial flowers, Maison Lemarie and feathers, Anne Hoguet and fans.
Paraffection was established in the 1980’s when Chanel acquired eleven ateliers; Desrues, Michel, Lemarié, Lesage, Massaro, Goossens, Guillet, Montex, Causse, Barrie and Atelier Gérard Lognon. The Parisienne ateliers, several of whom had worked closely with Coco Chanel throughout her career, were struggling with changes in the market and difficulty finding young apprentices to the extent that the savoir-faire of their craftspeople and their treasured archives were in danger of being lost forever. Paraffection is an endeavour to preserve this heritage of craft, enabling the ateliers to continue to create magnificent works of art. Tribute is paid to these craftspeople at the annual Métiers d’Art fashion show, showcasing their astonishing skills and talents around the world. You can get a glimpse inside the ateliers at the Chanel website where they post beautiful videos such as the ones below. A very happy ending indeed!
From daydreaming in the library to anticipating the first day of class, the long journey towards studying haute couture embroidery at École Lesage, ParisRead More