| Hero | Les petits mains

Les petits mains, or the ‘small hands’ are the quiet backbone of the haute couture industry. Their ‘small hands’ transform the a designer’s vision to something beyond reality.

The House of Lesage is a house of handwork, done by what the French call petit mains – little hands. They do it all.

(Soundbite of a sewing machine)

Ms. GINGUENE: The drawing, the sewing, the embroidery. It’s very precious hands.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Embroidering trimming for a long cream-colored gown by Dior, those little hands will hover their bead-baring needles over thin pieces of tissue-paper patterns, on which are sketched designs for just one small section of the dress.

Ms. GINGUENE: Eight different parts and eight different drawings for this top.

STAMBERG: To make only the bodice of upper portion of it.

Intricate. Delicate? If butterflies could sew, they would work for Lesage. There are some 50,000 samples in the Lesage archive, a museum of embroidery, really. Shelves there buckle with cardboard boxes marked Yves St. Laurent, Winter 1975, Chanel, Summer 2003 – inside the boxes, samples of the embroideries Lesage produced for that particular collection.

Angelique Ginguene names the various elements on a single, small vintage piece.

Ms. GINGUENE: You have cotton, you have…

STAMBERG: Gold cotton.

Ms. GINGUENE: …gold cotton. You have red thread, gold leather, gold pearl pailette sequins, brown thread. Everything, everything is possible to do.

STAMBERG: And it’s on this little, thin, flimsy piece of fabric.

Ms. GINGUENE: Yes, this is muslin.

STAMBERG: Muslin or chiffon. Chiffon, no?

Ms. GINGUENE: Chiffon, yes. Exactly.

STAMBERG: You can’t walk in off the street and buy a yard of Lesage embroidery. It is all custom work, commissioned especially for a particular couture, high-fashion collection. The embroidery is the product of an on-going artistic conversation between the designer and the embroiderer. Angelique says that conversation begins with the designer’s vision.

Transcript from NPR

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