Heir Looms

We don't look for clients," says Bernard Macaire, director of the French handwoven-silks manufacturer, Georges Le Manach. "They come to us as to a doctor."

And what do they find at the Loire Valley textile house, which was founded in 1829 and has been owned by the same family since 1860? Voluptuous silk damasks, brocades, lampas, velvets, brocatelles, and brocarts—fabulous museum-quality furnishing fabrics whose designs are woven, not printed, on 150-year-old wooden Jacquard looms that reproduce the techniques and use many of the tools found in Diderot and d'Alembert's 18th-century encyclopedia of the art of textiles.

Le Manach clients, like the Begum Aga Khan, who came with a rare carpet to be matched, can choose from 4,200 historic patterns that span nine centuries from the Haute Epoque through Art Deco. Some are named for the customer who made them popular, like the pocket-weave Lampas Victor Hugo, a tree-of-life design woven for the novelist's Guernsey Island retreat. "Le Manach is couture for the house," affirms New York hostess Susan Gutfreund, who was introduced to the manufacturer's marvels by her late, great decorator, Henri Samuel. "For example," she continues, "we ordered woven silks of a Louis XVI pattern used by Marie-Antoinette in special colors so I would never see my curtains in anyone else's house."

And if you don't find an archival motif that pleases—well, Le Manach will research and produce a completely exclusive design in the style and epoch of the interior or piece of furniture the fabric is destined for. When the Getty Museum came with a photo of just the skeleton of an extraordinary Louis XIV canapé, Le Manach matched the motif sculpted in the wood. Likewise any faded antique fragment can be analyzed, and its original weave and colors reproduced.

"Everything is possible," says French designer François-Joseph Graf, whose latest project is the Henry Kravis' Park Avenue triplex. "They do things no one does any longer." The only limit to Le Manach's virtuosity is your wallet. If it is possible to weave only 27 inches a day of a complex design (Genoese velvet), or six (the famous silks for the State bedrooms at Versailles), or just four (an Empire-blue satin brocade with motifs in gold and silver), it will be reflected in the price. On these ancient Jacquard looms, you may have 100 colors—industrial looms are limited to a few—but each one adds to the cost. A client may pay just for the exclusivity of a color or a pattern. Prices for figured silks start between $500 and $830 a yard, but swiftly soar into the stratosphere. A beautiful silk-and-cotton brocatelle in the palest yellow relief on an ivory satin ground was woven for the Château de Luxembourg at a staggering $1,300 per yard. The regal commission of almost 1,000 yards took two years to complete using six looms.

Production methods at the atelier, which employs from 20 to 30 workers, are distinctly ancien régime. Three floors house 88 ancient looms, as solid as medieval war machines; 100 more are available in storage. Each fabric is woven on a different loom set up for the particular weave according to the "recipe" for the number and colors of threads. "That," exclaims Macaire, "is the luxury."

Georges Le Manach, Showroom: 31 Rue du Quatre-Septembre, Paris 75002; 33-1-47-42-52-94; fax 33-1-47-42-02-04. Available in the United States from Brunschwig & Fils, Clarence House Fabrics Ltd., Christopher Norman Inc., and Rose Cummings Inc.