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Chanel’s Couture Empire

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In Paris, supporting the survival of haute couture is not just about indulging extravagant tastes in fashion—it’s a matter of national pride. The artisans and ateliers that create embroidered flowers of organza and cellophane and white lace dotted with crystalline beads represent France’s centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship. Which is why when the seven remaining Parisian ateliers were faced with extinction in 2002, Chanel stepped in. Today the company owns the workshops of Lemarié (feathers), Lesage (embroidery), Guillet (flowers), Desrues (buttons), Goossens (costume jewelry), Massaro (shoes), and Michel (hats). Their handwork is available to other designers, but it’s Chanel that showcases their talents every year with a collection of exquisitely crafted pieces called Métiers d’Art, shown each December, and in U.S. boutiques now through January 2010. This year, designer Karl Lagerfeld’s inspiration came from Moscow (a city Coco Chanel visited often to rendezvous with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich). The ivory organza dress at left ($33,390), embellished with glazed shells and beads, required 150 hours of work by Lesage artisans. The white leather boots are Massaro, and the bracelets Desrues. Lemarié artists spent 200 hours applying 21 crushed-chiffon camellias to a black satin dress. The price in stores: $67,665. The work of the ateliers is evident throughout Chanel’s collections. The ruffled collars and cuffs on blouses in the fall ready-to-wear line were feathered, flowered, and frilled by Lemarié and embroidered by Lesage (from $6,180). For those inclined to try a do-it-yourself version at home, Lesage offers appointment-only embroidery courses—Karl Lagerfeld not included. For a class schedule, visit lesage-paris.com.

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