When Gabrielle Chanel first opened the door at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris she opened the door to a long, storied history of one of the most well-known brands in the world. She quickly became the darling of the Paris elite with her designs. That reputation continues today with Chanel’s Haute Couture, let’s have a look at how it’s made.
Combine one touch of Mademoiselle (as in Gabrielle Chanel) spirit, one stroke of Karl Lagerfeld’s genius, 130 hours of craftsmanship done to the watchful eye of Madame Jacqueline, head seamstress.
Chanel shares their haute couture secrets that they’ve whispered from generation to generation for more than 100 years. Once Karl Lagerfeld creates a sketch, the real process begins: measurements of the client are taken (no fewer than 30). From the measurements, the muslin model begins to take shape on the Stockman mannequin as the team works to construct the model in volumes indicated in the sketch. They work to create the exact silhouette eventually assembling the 18 pieces of the design and awaiting Lagerfeld’s approval. He’ll make some slight adjustments, choose the fabric and lining, and approve the trim and buttons that were created specifically for this design. Up next, work begins with the chosen fabric.
The grain of the fabric is marked with stitches, positioned and pinned to the 18 pieces of the muslin model. It is then outlined with white chalk and thread is sewn around each piece to highlight the shape. The piece is assembled meticulously. This assembly is done by hand, of course, because this keeps it true to the soul of haute couture.
Head seamstress Madame Jacqueline is charged with the task of the first fitting. She may travel to New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, or stay in Paris for the fitting, dependent upon the client’s needs. From the first fitting, alterations are made and detail work begins: the trim and buttons. As Coco Chanel says, “Never a button without a buttonhole.” Want to know a Chanel secret?
Secure the sleeves shape by slipping in a cigarette – a small band of fabric two centimeters long. Such little nothing, invisible yet perceptible, is the manifestation of singular tradition, expertise, and the excellence of craftsmanship.
Madame Jacqueline is once again called upon to transport the jacket to its next fitting with the client and again, she’ll travel if needed. Then final alterations and touches are made. The lining is added as well as one final touch which is another Chanel secret, the chain. A small chain is placed on the lower interior of the jacket to ensure that it will lay properly or, as they note, “just so” as it provides the ideal amount of weight to accomplish this task.
The final touches include a spare button in a pouch sewn onto the lining and also the addition of the Chanel Haute Couture label. This includes a number under it noting it’s authenticity that will match to a certificate that is included in the package for delivery. The package itself is exquisite – the jacket is wrapped in tissue including tissue in every fold, and it is packaged with some camellias thrown in, and sealed with ribbon for delivery.
Want to see some of the Chanel Haute Couture collection? This is a show from Fall 2017/18 that you don’t want to miss!
This process began with a simple sketch by Karl Lagerfeld and was completed with 130 hours of work by expert seamstresses under the watchful direction of Madame Jacqueline. As Mademoiselle Coco Chanel notes, “Elegance is being as beautiful inside as outside.”
Understanding the haute couture process fosters an appreciation for the finished product and the care, craftsmanship, and tradition that goes into each garment. Looking for an up-and-coming designer instead? Try our new designers to watch at Paris Fashion Week.