2021/22 Métiers d’art show
CHANEL invited eight authors to celebrate the wealth and diversity of the Métiers d'art in residence at le19M. On entering this new space dedicated to fashion’s historic and unique savoir-faire, the writers Anne Berest, Lilia Hassaine, Nina Bouraoui, Salomé Kiner and Sarah Chiche, the author and composer Clara Ysé, the musician and writer Abd Al Malik as well as the artist MC Solaar discovered the magic of the Métiers d'art along with the ateliers, the gestures, the vocabulary and the history of these Houses. Eight texts emerged from their visits: intimate stories, micro-fiction, poems, a letter and the free association of memories, all pay tribute to this exceptional artisanal heritage, for which le19M provides an equally precious showcase.
STROLLING THROUGH le19M
Some places are communal houses, citadels, that protect and celebrate the idea of beauty as a movement and a state of being.
When I went to Porte d'Aubervilliers, in the 19th arrondissement, it was with the intention of writing a poem, but I was not yet aware of it myself. What I immediately felt in my flesh, however, was the intuitive lesson given by the architecturally complex building that opened up before me:
All art is science, and all sciences are related to one another as expressions of the same truth in different languages.
One by one, a turnstile that pivots, a glass door that slides, set the tone. The promise of an astounding panorama, once you have taken the elevator. But for the moment, downstairs, the visit to the House of Massaro fills me with a delicious vertigo. Each atelier visited, the smell of wood, cut leather, contemporary machines, ancestral gestures and traditional tools. We discover a marriage of passions. The union of virtuosity and time. The mastery of patience is the virtue that adorns le19M on all sides, all intelligences bow down, dazzled by this savoir-faire. And then, as I move forward, as I go up in the elevator, which opens onto this limitless strip of sky, at the threshold of the House of Lemarié and the Ateliers Lognon, thoughts and emotions overwhelm me as I glimpse these “goldsmiths” of all ages at work: feather workers, flower makers, pleat makers. le19M is a festival of creativity, a tournament of inventiveness. In this tour of dexterity and light, where the expert gesture and the sun dance beneath the Paris sky, the quality of the people is intimately linked to what they do. Quality is, therefore, the beginning and end of all things here, always opposed to the exercise of a purely mechanical activity. It is an art, a craft as an extension of the nature of these women and men who smile at me and then go back to work. The craft reflects on the being, and vice versa. The artisan is an artist, that's it! An Artifex, as our elders would say, who made no distinction between art and craft. Linking the two words to the notions of excellence and depth.
You don't leave le19M, you take it with you. We promise to preserve the heritage and cultivate the modern. We pledge to use beauty to fight against all forms of ugliness, the danger of all eras. This call for union that le19M launches at the gates of working-class neighbourhoods, I know intimately for its urgency and poetic grandeur. Like the lace and iron hymn chanted by Rudy Ricciotti, which I called a citadel earlier. This temple of Apollo - the god of all arts and who identifies with Plato's “geometric god” - where we learn that the most essential thing about the notion of tradition in art is the idea of handing down the means to help the women and men of our time to come ever closer to Beauty.
As you walk through the ateliers of the Maisons d'art, vibrant, intense words buzz around your ears, and a profound bliss, like the one generated by the prosody of the artisans’ language, inevitably takes hold of you, because these rare words, these almost forgotten expressions emanate such powerful emotions, and operate on the soul with the same alchemy as a scent that suddenly springs to mind, transporting you to a poetic elsewhere. Nothing is so captivating as the nomenclature of the crafts, these lexicons that recount all the skill, the sleight of hand and the virtuosity of a profession.
The art of language, the meticulous descriptions of a pictorial world — these words suggest the rhythm of work, the harmony of these ateliers where gestures are handed down from generation to generation.
Nothing stirs me so much as to hear, to meet, a word that, for me, was on the way to oblivion, because we all end up, little by little, erasing from our inner dictionary certain expressions, certain terms that are no longer part of our daily life.
When one of these words comes to my ear, I am grateful. Because words are the memories of people.
The day I visited the ateliers of Maison Michel — a beautiful hatmaker established in 1936 in Paris — the sewers, milliners and hatters were in the midst of preparing for Saint Catherine's Day. This feast has been a French tradition since the Middle Ages. Every November 25th, this day is dedicated to young women who are single after blowing out their twenty-five candles. The Catherinettes, as they are known, spend the day wearing extravagant hats in green and yellow, the colours of hope and family. This tradition is still alive in the world of couture: this year, the eighty “Catherinette” and “Nicolas” at CHANEL stepped out into the streets of Paris wearing hats custom-made according to their personality.
Some wore a capeline, a wide-brimmed hat, usually made of straw, which protects the skin from the sun. It originates from the hoods of the past, which covered women's heads and shoulders with a light fabric in summer and wool in winter.
The sewing machine named Weismann, accomplishes a unique feat in the world, that of crafting a capeline from a single length of straw, by making it swirl on itself in the shape of the hat. This machine could have disappeared forever, if its last existing model had not been found and saved in extremis. Only two women know how to use it today, let's name them here, because their names are so pretty, Blanche and Noémie.
On the capelines, we have all seen the grosgrain ribbons. Grosgrain is that ribbed silk fabric, with no vertical border, used to flatter the line of a hat — or the waistband of a skirt. There is something irresistible about the expression grosgrain, firstly for its alliteration \gʁo.gʁɛ̃\ which sounds to the ear like the contented purring of a big cat. But also because, in the French language, it makes double reference to the lexical field of nature. We think of grains of wheat or coffee, but also of rain which, when preceded by a gust of wind, falls in a heavy shower. As heavy as gros [big] grain.
The Catherinettes presented the Fedoras, named after a theatrical character, made famous by the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, Pythia who appeared on stage in this role wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat.
These hats are named after things, creating a surreal poetry. Thus we talk about the cloche [bell] hat, referring to the brimless hats that were all the rage among the “garçonnes”, the androgynous women who dressed as men in 1920s Paris.
We talk about the boule or melon [bowler] hat — as worn by Charlie Chaplin. We also mention the bibi [fascinator] an onomatopoeia whose pronunciation sets the tone, as a sparkling head adornment. And not forgetting, of course, the canotier [boater], an oval straw hat with a flat top and brim.
But if on Saint Catherine's Day you go out with your head bare, then we say vous sortez en cheveux [you go out with your hair on]. This funny idiom refers to the fact that until after the war, going out without a hat was almost as unseemly as going out without trousers... in just your underwear. And then women became emancipated. They showed off their hair, a sex symbol, a sign of freedom and modernity. To the great displeasure of hat makers, who have almost all disappeared... except for Maison Michel, established in 1936 in Paris, and which became a CHANEL Métier d'art in 1997.
Chanel, Métiers d’art
It is midday. I enter the large building of le19M.
Long white lines and bay windows rise up to the sky.
I walk through the corridors, then take the exterior footbridge. First I visit the House of Goossens. Its director of heritage and savoir-faire, Patrick Goossens, is waiting for me.
I am surprised by the modernity of the rooms, laid out side by side, the windows, the machines, the people immersed in their work, when a first jewel catches my eye, then a second, a shard of crystal. I open a drawer and stones fly out like phosphorescent pebbles. Suddenly, I imagine myself as Little Thumbling in 25,500 m2 of metallic forest. Over hot coffee, surrounded by bronze corals and bracelets, lying there as if on the bottom of an ocean, Patrick Goossens explains how his father founded the workshop in 1950. He marked his era and the world of couture jewellery. He was soon making objects for Mademoiselle Chanel's personal collection. Together, they blurred the lines, moved away from fantasy and looked to Byzantine and Renaissance art. Patrick Goossens is ten years old. In the morning, he accompanies his father to the Louvre to look at a masterpiece in the museum. I imagine them in front of a wrought iron door. I wonder what secrets have been whispered. What lines have traversed a Quattrocento painting to take refuge in their eyes and to be reinvented in the curves of the chandelier I see swaying above our heads. I see a man in his thirties lighting a flame to weld the bronze. I am still in the big le19M building, being guided from office to atelier to understand how the objects are made.
And then everything escapes me. No matter how hard I try to understand the details, to note down the techniques, the names of the elements in my little red notebook like a diligent schoolgirl, I am thrown back years and I start to feel the weight and power of certain objects. I sense the magic they emanate, and that this magic comes from the time that passes through them. The different gazes, worlds and époques that come together around a neck, a wrist. I think of those pre-Columbian jewels that the indigenous Kogi claim back from the Colombian government to bury in the Amazonian forest, while they recover their healing power.
I imagine the path of the stones laid in the rooms of le19M. I metamorphose into a deep-sea treasure hunter. The ocean pours into the space, I see the stones glistening in the water, the sounds come to me from afar, the office fills with ever-shifting plankton, with multicoloured fish, with ancient structures devoured by salt, with sunken palaces. I see the chandelier moving slowly, carried by the current. I smile. I remember that the bay windows look out onto the sky, but everything has disappeared. All I see is a chasm of wide-open sea. Objects dance around me. They diffuse their spell, amused by my daydreams that traverse them. I think of Patrick Goossens and his father. I see wood mixed with marble, bronze and white gold, resin and rose quartz. The man is talking, and the sea chasm disappears. I am sitting on the office chair, facing the coffee that’s gone cold: “There are no real or fake jewels. What matters is the gesture.” And I think about what we are composed of, us, as human beings. What makes us touchable. I say to myself that we look a bit like these jewels, that gold sits alongside resin, and that we are made up of that: of contradictions, of heterogeneous worlds that compete and forge our power, our extreme fragility and the irreverence of our beauty.
The five fingers of one hand
The 19th, in Paris is where le19M is found
Already the exostructure makes this architecture human
The long vertical wires waving at Ancient Lutetia.
It’s all in the balance... In the alphabet… the letter M.
A garden leads us into a journey through time
Meticulous hands preserve the knowledge of long ago.
At a time when everything is scrolled, at a time when I’m losing
Artists and artisans perpetuate the art of artisanship.
I saw the feathers, the faux flowers, the embroidery
the weavers. The paruriers, the milliners, the decorators
the pleaters. The glove makers, the embellishments, the precision
of the loom,
the alcohol lamps, the starch, the fire, the shoemakers.
ancient cutting tools, goldsmithery instruments and
iconic pieces, from the 19th century to the decade…Everything
made in France:
When the accessory is essential, it renders itself sublime in
Paris, le19M. Porte d’Aubervilliers. Even the
connoisseurs leave astounded. I remain
my eyes widen seeing how the five fingers of one hand
can create beauty.
It was after this visit to le19M that I think
I understood the meaning of the song Nos Coutures by
The welding leaves marks,
The stitching leaves scars
The sewing erases it all.
“The union of these crafts shapes sets of unique pieces.”
Chanel, letters of art
The surrealist poetry of corollas printed in three dimensions.
The odourless scent of immaculate camellias, rolled and embroidered,
awakening Proustian memories of flowers in love.
Each flower is a woman.
Each one with her own contours, swathed in flannel, lace or organza.
Dressed from stem to stamen.
From this palette of materials comes a mode of expression, a unique character, a singular personality.
No two flowers are alike.
Colette, a naturalist, would have stopped to ponder the boaters, the cloche hats made of banana fibres and the seamlessly woven straw, moulded on a block to give their shape. Blocks carved to measure, wood shavings falling like peach peel, a man caresses their smooth surface, their maternal curve.
The trees from which they come are immortal.
They bless the foreheads of those who bear their memory.
As for Balzac, he would have captured those hands that touch upon the accordion of silks. He would have observed the pleating machines. Their centuries-old workings. The new hands of a young woman in this museum of sensations.
And what she in turn will leave to other nimble fingers, in twenty,
a hundred years’ time.
And then there’s the ostrich feathers that transform into butterflies, and the butterflies that land on straw hats.
The underwater anemones, lionesses of the deep, that don't need water to blossom over satin gowns.
Oxymorons of colour, poetic surprises, all worthy of a Boris Vian text.
The artisans of the métiers d’art, these artists in wood, fabric, feathers or straw, give ideas to nature.
They create by her, and for her.
They inspire her.
(At the heart of the Montex Atelier)
I believe in the power of thought. I believe in its voodoo powers on the heart of the one we love and secretly long for. It is where all the joy and anger, the fear and rapture, the victories and defeats are organised and clash. Thought is a merry-go-round that never stops turning. Round and round it freely goes. Nothing can hinder it. Nothing should be able to change it. Thought is sacred. I know the grace of its light and I know the ravages of its shadows. It comes before speech, but is already a language, an internal and mysterious song.
As a child, I draw a thread to represent it, a thread that multiplies over the paper. Thoughts intermingle without going astray. They build a kingdom whose doors I have not yet opened. Through this drawing, without even knowing it, I prepare myself for my job as an embroiderer. Childhood is the stage in the little theatre of the future, where we play out our dreams and our greatest hopes.
I have been living in the arms of silence for so long, bent over my work, steering the needle and thread as I might steer a ship, with my eyes closed, so well do I know where I am going: my skilful hands make no mistake, embroidering blindly and from beneath, connected to the thread that will form the design, a thread inseparable from the thread of my thoughts, a thread that fixes the gold, the tassels, the beads, like the dreams, doubts and questions that fix to the mind; thread sometimes taken up with a crochet hook, traversing leather, tweed, organza, smooth or rough material, inert material that comes to life through my meticulous gesture, embroidering the smallest to the biggest, applying to my embroidery loom the laws that I apply to the loom of life: patience and a love of patience. The passing of time does not come undone, it builds, strengthens, founds, it is the loving architect and my ally.
By embroidering, I write my invisible story, repairing the snags of my heart, soothing the torments of my soul, my practice is that of a storyteller who would have traded ink and words for a needle and thread, instruments to stitch.
Every day I embroider my thoughts, classifying them, unclassifying them, until I reach the perfect balance, the guardian of harmony. Every day I embroider the flow and flutter of my being, mixing my life forces with the delicacy of the design that I am, stitch after stitch, like the storyteller follows one letter with another, inventing her tale. My hands and my mind are Siamese twins, the former obeying the orders of the latter, embroidery becomes the embroidery of my desires, yet no one knows it.
My body is riveted to the table, the thread could be that of the tightrope walker as it holds me — it’s impossible to fall into the void and the abyss, impossible to get lost or hurt, as to embroider is also to repair what one does not know, what one does not distinguish, what is not apparent, what exists in between the folds, like the flesh beneath the skin, red, nervous and burning. Repairing again and again, how the seamstress mother of Louise Bourgeois carried out her work, inspiring her daughter to create the figure of the spider, a weaver of silk, a monument — sculpture that rises up from Europe to the Americas.
Yes, I believe in the power of thought and its unifying virtues: if I think of placidity, perhaps placidity will emerge, if I think of love, perhaps love will overcome hate, this is how the mechanics of my mind work, I have learnt, over the years, to embroider placidity, I have learnt to pray for a better world and to believe — in spite of everything — in my miracle-seeking prayers.
Beneath the motifs of the capes, jackets, skirts, blouses, I recognise the motifs of my inner landscapes, the crossroads, enchanted forests and oceans that once held the tears of my fearless and sentimental youth, a place of learning and betrayals, which I do not deny as we become what we have been.
My intimate thoughts stretch over the fabric to merge with the creator's design. We are now linked, you who draws, you who looks, you who wears the garment, I who embroider the thread woven with that of my thoughts, linking us together in an intense celebration where with a gaze and a respect for each other the women and men of one world, of one earth, brothers and sisters united under the roof of heaven, work, together, to the triumph of tenderness.
A letter to Coco
I saw the hatter
bent over her work
her kneecaps planted in a carpet of foam
her two palms pressed against the wheat straw
on a lime wood block polished by the years
and I saw the stitcher,
a leather sole sat on her knees
the sound of her hammer hitting the upper
and the steaming coffee, hidden beneath the workbench
I am not manual,
language is my tool
but I can't say that about them:
they are petites mains
wherever women work,
I hear the lionesses roar
lurking in our kingdoms
adorned beneath the corollas
we watch over on our guarded hunts
Skanderbeg was a hero
the samurai wear camellias
Coco like you I entrust my work
to console my sorrows and dramas.
I imagine you at the Ritz
how many gestures separate
the croupe of a lambskin
from the bar of a grand hotel?
your foot presses the pedal
your ankle keeps time
impatience clutches at your heart
the idle are impostors
or else they are winged
it is said that
you hate holidays
and every August 1st
you harass your suppliers
by placing many orders
socially you make yourself scarce
the arrhythmic heart of Paris
reminds you of your solitude
you caress the skins
to forget your polo player
in your world jumping obstacles
is not an equestrian discipline
and when you design shoes
these shoes are made for walking
Georgia O'Keeffe paints white irises
you imagine your two-tone shoe
and finish it with a square heel
more than half a century has passed
it stares at me from a shelf
with its satin tip
its supple strap
and its stately demeanour
I think of the legs that have worn it
vertical and slender
metaphors for the city
where your reign endures
in the park of shapes
I get lost
each name tells me a story
beneath the cobblestones it has trodden
beyond the windows of the building
apparently the Seine flows
and I hear the song of mermaids
pass by the Porte d'Aubervilliers
I imagine you at the Place Vendôme
your tawny eyes fixed on passers-by
one can get almost anything
by working hard enough
our hands are never small
when they weave our wills
in talaria or slingbacks
we run towards our destinies
they say we are extreme
they mean: extremely free
we are women
and we are artists
you compose manifestos
in the shape of a pump
I embroider the echoes of your work
in the seam of my sentences
The thread of life
There are some quite fantastic things happening in the archive boxes at the House of Lesage, he tells me. They are places full of promise, like books. You open a box, you discover a story, a host of sensations, madness, energy, and illusions. Because embroidery is an illusion. It can make you believe in the existence of a material with sequins, beads, or even oyster shells and candy paper. Look at this example, he continues, opening a box; there, on that sample, you can see a pocket in relief which replicates the softness of a lovely nest, it's for a bird-themed jacket. He nimbly closed the box and opened another. Here you see the detail of an evening coat inspired by Coromandel screens, embroidered entirely with sequins and golden beads. Here, the idea was to make embroideries with an impressionist theme, it is a painting, moreover you sometimes see that the sequins have been repainted, there are some forty components in this sample, giving it all its magnificence. We go from elements in textile to cellulose, or glass tubes, sumptuous, and typical of the 80s, the 90s, where we had an accumulation of materials, contrary to the 20s, where we may have had pearls, tubes or crystal, but it remained a very simple language. And now follow me.
Leaving the archive room of the largest collection of artistic embroidery in the world, where seventy-five thousand samples lie dormant like so many stories, I set off after him through a maze of corridors to a vast room framed with bay windows, where fifteen or so people were working, each at his or her own table. Suddenly I stopped in front of a table. The needle pierced the fabric, leaving in its wake an explosion of beads and sequins that had become flowers. With a rapid movement, the embroiderer moved it from the back of the fabric to the front, pulled on the thread, made a loop, and restitched the fabric. How long have you been here, I asked. Oh, about forty years, she replied, her eyes focused downwards on her work. It suddenly seemed to me that this frail body had gradually been reshaped over time, that devotion and fervour had finally curled it in on itself at the service of the tyrannical demand of a single gesture, just one, always the same. And does it ever hurt your back or your arm? Her eyes, still focused, wrinkled behind the lenses of her glasses. For a moment, her fingers became paralysed. Yes, sometimes it hurts, she answered with a quiet smile. She resumed her task. Once again I watched the hypnotic ballet of her fingers as they reproduced, second by second, minute by minute, a design whose patterns made my heart beat faster. Surging from a maelstrom of beads and sequins, untouched faces, even more untouched than when I was a child forty years ago and they pressed against my cheek, floated behind my eyes. The forward motion of the embroiderer's thread projected me into a time that I had thought, when I was young, would last forever, but which I had come to admit (never completely) would not return. And once again I saw all those women, all of them now gone, who, long ago, too long ago now, haunted my childhood with the brightness of their laughter, the milk of their tears, in houses that no longer exist. The one where, every morning, my paternal grandmother wrapped her sorrow with a weary and beautiful gesture in coral red flowered toga-dresses before lying down on a sofa to read to me; the one where, every evening, my mother hid her flaws in the magnificent simplicity of long dresses of gold or Prussian blue thread or in the flamboyance of sequinned mini-skirts and feather marquetry jackets, and then went off to chase a dream — or her illusion — on the arm of a man I knew nothing about, but whom I envied furiously. Perhaps, I thought, this is how the fabric of human beings is woven, the reverse side of their crying: because, just as the needle must never deviate from its trajectory, the child we once were, who in the depths of their being devoted their life to the service of a single gesture, will never fully forgive the adult we have become, even when that adult seems to have kept all their promises. A bright light flashed across the room. I saw them again. And their happy silhouettes passed before me and then moved away, like the needle on the loom of Time where, day after day, year after year, hanging on the thread of life, we too are sometimes thrown forward, sometimes held back, in the perpetual intertwining of night and light, of beauty and its ruin, of love and its shadow.
2021/22 Métiers d’art show