In the heart of Paris, precisely 11 rue François 1er, stands a building inside which a small number of people make magic happen. Unlike conventional magicians, these special people wield scissors and needles, going about their work gracefully. Similar to having a glimpse into the mind of a genius, FashionNetwork.com is invited to see what goes on in Christian Dior’s “atelier taileur”, a hallowed place where about 25 people are tasked with producing Dior’s Haute Couture collections. Without the work of these amazing peeps, which includes five apprentices, those Dior jackets, trousers, or skirts won’t be so posh. They’ve been mastering their craft since 1947!
“At collection time, the staff doubles, and we resort to part-time workers,” says Laurence Morel, second in command at the ‘atelier tailleur’, who joined Christian Dior in 1982. Three weeks after Christian Dior’s Autumn/Winter 2018-19 Haute Couture show, held on July 2 at the Rodin Museum in Paris, the first orders have been received and the tailors and seamstresses are busy working on skirts with vertiginous pleats. The customers’ identities are a well-guarded secret, and their names on the Stockman mannequins with the customers’ measurements are concealed from prying eyes. One thing is certain: Chinese customers are increasingly in love with Dior couture, and in September, Laurence Morel will fly to Beijing to make the last alterations directly with the customer.
Besides orders for the Haute Couture collection, the atelier also handles special orders, for example for bridal gowns. “We work on wedding dresses throughout the year, there isn’t a season for them,” smiles one of the seamstresses working in the ‘atelier flou’, or ‘soft workshop’, which works with softer garments, located one floor below and specialising in dresses.
Florence Chehet is in charge of Dior’s ‘atelier flou’. She has been working with the maison for 15 years and manages 32 full-time employees. “Each seamstress is responsible for a dress from A to Z. It’s the most straightforward way to proceed, even though sometimes extra help is necessary, because creating a dress can take from two to three months,” she explains. Florence Chehet passionately lists all the invisible stages which are involved in a dress’ creation, remembering how Monsieur Christian Dior wanted his dresses to be as sublime on the outside as they were on the inside. “Take a look around: no one is working on a sewing machine, because nearly everything is hand-sewn here.”
Sitting at their tables, seamstresses and tailors are indeed stitching away with great manual dexterity. “My hands are simply made for this job! And I work on women’s collections because there is much more creativity involved in them than in menswear,” enthuses a tailor working in the ‘atelier flou’, one of the rare men within it.
To protect their handiwork, the staff cover some of the items with white sheets, since “light, moonlight even, damages the colours.”
We asked whether a change in creative director is difficult to handle for the atelier staff, and Florence Chehet emphatically says, “No”.
“Everyone is different. With Maria Grazia Chiuri [creative director of Christian Dior’s women’s Haute Couture, ready-to-wear and accessories collections since July 2016], the sketches she shows us before a collection is ready are exactly the same as the silhouettes that will show on the catwalk. Sometimes, with other designers, the model changes during the course of the production process.”
The way in which creative directors work doesn’t really matter in the end, their designs come to life in the expert hands of the atelier’s tailors and seamstresses. Hands which benefit from increasingly advanced training. A seamstress from the tailoring atelier tells FashionNetwork.com that, 20 years ago, they joined a couture atelier straight after vocational training or with a technical school certificate, while the new generation gets a secondary school or an art school diploma, before undergoing further, Haute Couture-specific training.
For the LVMH group’s ‘Private Days’ initiative, scheduled on October 12 to 14 2018, it will be possible to book a visit to Christian Dior’s Haute Couture ateliers, and also to the venues of other labels belonging to the French luxury group.