Check out the article all about my adventures in Paris! This article was published in the Burlington Post on August 21, 2010 and written by Melanie Cummings. Follow this link to reach the original article http://www.insidehalton.com/community/burlington/article/864123
Mastering the art of embroidery, Paris style
Fashion artist Sarah Cownley has seen a part of the haute couture world that few ever see.
Over three months she’s been working inside the ateliers (fashion studios) of Paris learning a craft that is as precise as it is beautiful, and sadly, waning.
The 31-year-old grad of Sheridan College’s textile design, as well as fashion merchandising and design, signed herself up for a haute couture professional training course to learn embroidery at the prestigious House of Lesage.
“I wanted to get a chance to learn from the masters of the craft,” said Cownley who took the initiative to contact the atelier house, pay the $8,300 tuition and dedicate 150 hours to class time, and twice that in painstakingly precise homework, to learn the craft.
In the House of Lesage, 50 seamstresses hunch over wooden frames stitching hundreds of tiny cut glass beads, sequins and rhinestones onto gossamer cloth into wearable art.
Over one year these artisans hand sew 100 million sequins and 150 pounds of beads. Owned by Chanel, these skilled craftspeople are currently responsible for 85 per cent of all beading and embroidery that grace the world’s famous couture collections including Chanel, Christian Dior, and Lanvin.
“Each day, I attended Lesage for three hours to learn new stitches, then worked on my project back at my apartment for another five hours,” said the Burlington resident who left for Paris in September 2009.
The embroidery technique for beads and sequins hand sewn on the reverse of the fabric used by Lesage is called Luneville (named after the town in France that started it in the early 19th century).
Cownley considers the hefty tuition well worth the money as instruction was usually one-on-one, or sometimes two instructors per student, and even the school’s 80-year-old head and last remaining heir of the 150-year-old establishment, Francois Lesage, personally inspected.
“I was pretty nervous when the master of embroidery was looking at my work,” she said.
Cownly also got an up close look at vintage samples of embroidery and beadwork done for Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent. And she toured through the atelier bead room where there were drawers and boxes filled with more than 60 tons of beads, sequins, threads and 100-year-old jet (a highly polished black coal used for beading, jewelry or buttons).
“I am truly lucky to have been able get such an inside view of the couture fashion world,” said the eager student.
The award-winning jewelry maker is parlaying her newly honed embroidery skills into a new line of embroidered cuff bracelets with silver and gold threads, and collars drenched in beads and sparkling Swarovski crystals stitched into vintage silk fabrics.
Her time in Paris also opened other new doors to the fashion world. She is writing for fashion magazines and websites about Paris’ couture week (July 5 to 8) and reporting on the Paris street fashion scene in her blog www.glimpsecreations.blogspot.com, where she’s posted photographs of her with rapper Kanye West, actor Jessica Alba, designer Karl Lagerfeld and fashion reporter Jeanne Beker.
Cownley started her hand made, one-of-a-kind jewelry business, called Glimpse Creations, in 1999 and has sold her pieces, which are dripping with sterling silver, Swarovski crystal and semi-precious stones, in local galleries and retailers, including Artists Walk in Burlington, The Haberdashers in Oakville and Bijoux Star (www.bijouxstar.net) in Paris, as well as at local art and craft fairs.
She’s home now but plans to head back to Paris in January to stay for another year or longer and sign up for an apprenticeship at either 130-year-old artificial flower-making house Legeron, or feather and accessory designer Le Maison Lemarie, which was also established in 1880. Both working atelier houses create pieces for clients such as Dior, Chanel and Givenchy.
“When something has been handmade, it carries the soul of the artist with it. I strongly believe that the work done by these skilled craftspeople are works of art. We cannot allow these crafts to diminish due to lack of knowledge about the art of couture,” said Cownley.