Behind the Seams: A Celebration of Savoir-Faire through Three Iconic Fashion Houses
For some, luxury is defined by its disproportionate price tag. For others, it’s a term that better indicates a product’s refusal to compromise on quality, whether through the fine details of a gorgeous brocade or beaded guipure laces, or anything demonstrating the overall employment of superior standards and materials.
For many, the very concept of luxury boils down to the attainment of savoir-faire. Through the lens of haute couture, savoir-faire entails a polished sureness that suggests a certain style, accomplishment, and refinement. Or, more literally, a certain know-how.
These are three of the historic fashion houses currently expressing savoir-faire at its best. Three enduring maisons that position their know-how at the forefront of their respective manufacturing processes, drawing on years of artisans honing their craft to ensure the perfect final product. Three exquisite brands proving, at its essence, a little bit of savoir-faire can go the longest way.
The Bar Jacket
Images provided by Christian Dior
For Dior, the namesake of designer Christian Dior and purveyor of some of the world’s most coveted luxury ready-to-wear fashion, craftsmanship isn’t just entrenched in its storied past. It is front and centre in how the brand trains its next generation of artisans, constantly rolling out creative apprenticeship programmes across its business, all in the hopes of attracting young talent and maintaining its savoir-faire.
The result? Iconic pieces that maintain the creative expertise established since Dior’s 1946 inception.
Equal parts virtuoso myth and stylistic House emblem, the Bar Jacket is one such icon. It’s long been hailed as an exaltation of Dior’s excellence of savoir-faire, recognizable for the extreme finesse of its cinched waist, soft shoulders, open neckline, and basques, which so effortlessly accentuate the shape of the hips.
First presented over 70 years ago at Dior’s debut fashion show, the Bar Jacket is nothing short of a bona fide feat of sartorial skill, where a painstaking series of steps encompassing pattern-making, cutting, and assembly all intersect to create an architectural work, not just a signature wardrobe mainstay.
Owing to its very structural approach, its construction is special in all facets. Not so much in how it is associated with a particular type of woman, but more in how it resembles an object of desire. How its shape is perpetually reimagined in the shape of its given maker, while ensuring that its elegance and instantly recognizable aesthetic are still a crucial part of present-day collections. It is a Dior code, after all.
The Bar Jacket wields its share of historical symbolism, too. Fashion, of course, is often a reflection of the times. And when it initially made its arrival, back when European countries were in recovery from World War II and the notion of returning prosperity was in its earliest stages, the Bar Jacket was immediately dubbed the “New Look.” Not just a moment for the record books, but also a gateway to a lasting legacy. A timestamp of how silhouettes changed after the war, and a style template calling to every Dior creative director to follow in the footsteps of the fabled House founder.
Fittingly, the piece has been frequently revisited by those various creative directors over the years, including the current holder of the vaunted post, Maria Grazia Chiuri. What’s more, it is marking its 73rd anniversary. And, much as the Bar Jacket was an instant sensation then, it remains a smash hit today, thanks to its ever-evolving range of colours, fabrics, and proportions.
The Artycapucines Bag
Images provided by Louis Vuitton
A collection of 70 or more distinguished Maisons rooted in six different sectors—with USD $59 billion in revenue last year, making it the world’s largest luxury goods seller—these days, the initials LVMH conjure up images of unparalleled opulence. Images that unapologetically span across leather goods, cosmetics, wines, and spirits.
It sometimes makes it easy to forget that, at its core, Louis Vuitton still creates products that embody unique savoir-faire, and deftly showcase both carefully preserved heritage and a dynamic engagement with modernity.
With métier-minded endeavours like the limited-edition Artycapucines Collection, you are quickly reminded of the brand’s sometimes-singular ability to cultivate artists to bring their ideas to life. How? By not only showcasing the creativity of those participating artists, as well as the craftsmanship of the Maison’s ateliers, but by combining its passion for constant innovation with its traditions of artisanal savoir-faire.
Yes, the Artycapucines Collection takes Louis Vuitton’s Capucines bag—a contemporary classic named after the Parisian street on which the fashion house opened its first store in 1854, and first launched in 2013—and offers up its distinctive design and silhouette as an ideal blank canvas for leading international artists to reinterpret.
This idiosyncratic combination of vision and expertise is now revealed in each new Artycapucines bag. Take Beatriz Milhazes’ kaleidoscopic design, and the exactitude of its leather and gold-leaf marquetry. Take the cutting-edge printing and traditional inlaid work on Henry Taylor’s Capucines, which reproduces both the colours and textures of the portrait of the late Black American artist Noah Davis.
Likewise, take Liu Wei’s dazzling Artycapucines. Based on Microworld, the multi-talented Chinese artist’s large-scale sculptural installation (originally shown at the 2019 Venice Biennale), it borrows that exhibit’s variously sized aluminium petals, then recreates them for the bag using five different types of silver-coloured leather, all meticulously thermo-moulded into the exact shapes and angles. Two of these petals are further inserted directly into the bag’s exterior while the other three are attached using Louis Vuitton-engraved rivets, evoking those used on the brand’s legendary trunks.
At the least, the Artycapucines initiative is firmly in the spirit of Louis Vuitton’s renowned collaborations with artists like Jeff Coons, Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Yayoi Kusama—an approach that honours LVMH’s long-term vision and shared values, each meant to personify the world of craftsmanship in its most noble and accomplished form.
The House of Desrues
Images provided by Chanel
From Coco to Karl, CHANEL has had its share of legendary designers (and larger-than-life personalities) at the artistic helm. The former, one of history’s most noteworthy fashion pioneers, built and maintained her empire for over seven decades. The latter is remembered as a sartorial tour de force who created more than 15 collections annually. But really, beyond hard-nosed business rationale, it is CHANEL’s commitment to its small-batch craftsmen and artists that continue to secure its future.
Consider the House of Desrues—the parurier d’art. Founded in 1929 and partners with CHANEL since 1965 (and also the inaugural métier d’art to be acquired by the brand back in 1985), the specialty maker crafts almost all the buttons, jewellery, belt buckles, and handbag clasps for CHANEL’s collections. What better way to preserve and develop its remarkable expertise?
With its ateliers based in Plailly, a commune in the Oise department in northern France, nearly 300 artisans comprise the Desrues workshops. They include colourists, designers, and model makers, as well as engravers, enamellers, stylists, and 3D developers. Their collective artisanal dimension? Present every step of the way with each piece they create, which demands at least six precise steps, each one entailing multiple operations. This means it might be dipped in copper or silver; engraved or enamelled; or painted before being retouched, polished, and verified by hand.
The aforementioned parurier d’art further unites technological inventiveness and ancestral savoir-faire with what CHANEL describes as a rare virtuosity. That’s because, despite archives boasting more than 20,000 designs, with every new collection, the House of Desrues keeps on pursuing innovation.
In other words, don’t expect to find even a single CHANEL design ever identically reproduced. For its Fall-Winter 2020/2021 ready-to-wear offerings, think cuff bracelets, belts, and chokers that reveal pastel nuances of pink and green, illuminating the two-tone and single coloured outfits. Think short necklaces punctuated by strass-hewn metal woven with leather or chains and beads wrapped around the waist or the neck.
On the surface, it obviously speaks to CHANEL’s famed attention to detail, not to mention its illustrious finishings. On a deeper level? Its capacity for conceiving looks that transcend a single season, and that echo the true brilliance of the brand.