Luxury the French way has long been a purveyor of dreams, and behind these dreams, in luxury’s anteroom, unseen craft workers are to be found all over France. A platoon of men and women pursuing traditional crafts who vouch for unique, precious skills, and can produce exceptional items. For all these reasons they enjoy close ties with luxury’s giants. Time to put the spotlight on these luxury craftworkers: costume jewellery and button makers, feather workers, milliners, embroiderers, shoemakers, silversmiths and jewellers, not to mention glovemakers and …
Skills that legends are made of
When the conversation turns to craftsmanship, heritage is never very far away… the skill that is passed down through the generations, and the sign of authenticity. In the leatherworking trades the hide is chosen by touch, the leather is cut, the pieces mounted, and the details refined until the finished article is a flawless handbag. This calls for hours of work that rely on time-honoured skills to produce a truly exceptional item.
An example of this is Hermès, the firm that specialized in leatherwork and saddlery when it opened its harness and saddle factory in 1837, prior to extending its activity to include small leather goods and bags and developing into a global brand.
At 14, Louis Vuitton, a joiner’s son, moved to Paris to start his apprenticeship making travel chests in a box-making, packing and trunk-making workshop. The luxury label revolutionized the trunk business by inventing the flat-topped trunk, which took off at breakneck speed until it became the No. 1 luxury brand.
The French craft trades landscape is mainly represented by small operations where real enthusiasts hand-produce their creations. Some create independent workshops, while other work on orders for the luxury labels. The main luxury houses also employ craft workers, like Chanel, which called on 19 craft jewellers to create its fine jewellery workshop in the place Vendôme in 2012.
When craftsmanship attracts the giants of luxury
Skill naturally attracts the major houses of luxury, because it is the pledge of excellence and know-how. So, in recent years, we have witnessed the buy-out of a number of Parisian and French workshops by the main groups and luxury firms. Hermès has as many as 38 workshops in France, LVMH has 18 and Chanel has 22 craft houses and factories.
The House of Chanel bought up its specialist leather crafts, embroidery and fine craft sub-contractors several years ago to preserve, or rather keep these very crafts going as they are representative of Made in France know-how. Chanel and the Métiers d’Art now include milliner Maison Michel, embroiderer Lesage, shoemaker Massaro, pleater Lognon, jewellery and ornament maker Desrues, silversmith and jeweller Goossens and feather worker Lemarié. The luxury house gives them pride of place every year by organizing the Métiers d’Art show and has done so for 17 years.
As for Made-in France, it offers the advantage of reassuring purchasers of luxury. This clientele is particularly finicky about the production methods used.
Thus, the giants of luxury leave no holds barred and spread the word about their work rooms and their craft workers – who are now synonymous with luxury and excellence. Production is also returning to French shores, as well as new workshops and leather goods shops.
It is also a way of returning the human being to the heart of their communication by asserting that a craftsperson is behind each and every creation. There is only one step from craftsmanship to excellence, and luxury the French way is hardly about to stop purveying dreams.