When I chose the embroidered silk upholstery fabric by Kravet and the Samuel & Sons pompom passementerie for this version of the Bruce Andrews Highland chair in our Collection Skye, I had yet to walk through the Manus x Machina exhibition at the MET to see that an entire section of the haute couture on view was dedicated to the fabrication of artificial flowers. Fashion designers say it with flowers, I thought as I moved from The House of Boué Soeurs to Prada and Yves St Laurent to Hussein Chalayan!
Say It with Flowers
Two of the most sumptuous gowns sprung from the brilliant mind of Karl Lagerfeld, who designed the wedding ensembles for the House of Chanel. The first one, which marked the entry to the exhibition, was from his autumn/winter 2014-15 haute couture collection. Its beaded train unfurled on a dais for a jaw-dropping expanse—the desire to bend down and examine it was absolutely irresistible.
Made of scuba knit, a synthetic material, the dress was hand-molded, machine sewn and hand-finished. Maison Desrues hand embroidered the buttons with gold, glass and crystals; and Atelier Montex hand embroidered the medallion with glass, crystals, paillettes, anthracite cannetilles, and gold leather leaf motifs—a process that is explained in the video below.
As someone who pays rapt attention to nuance when I’m designing the Bruce Andrews furniture lines, I was fascinated to read that Lagerfeld drew the pattern flowing along the train by hand and then had it digitally manipulated to give it the appearance of a randomized, pixelated baroque pattern.
It was then produced through a complex amalgam of hand- and machine-techniques, which inspired Lagerfeld to say, “Perhaps it used to matter if a dress was handmade or machine-made, at least in the haute couture, but now things are completely different. The digital revolution has changed the world.”
Lagerfeld said this nine years after the above gown, which is entirely handmade, wafted down the runway as the finale to his autumn/winter 2005-6 collection—a creation that he named “l’homme aux camélias” (the camellia man). Each flower on the dress took up to ninety minutes to make, and the assemblage of ostrich features, embedded sequins and twenty-five hundred white camellias took seven hundred hours to create. “It’s like a giant bouquet,” Lagerfeld quipped. “Quite funny, no? No one is working with flowers in this way.”
According to curators, one of the main points of the exhibition was how the gap between haute couture and ready-to-wear is narrowing. The parallels in the furniture industry have not served us so well given the disappearance of the handcrafted trade here in America, and I do wonder if there will be a similar disruption for the fashion industry if haute couture doesn’t stay, well, haute. My design sensibilities respond so keenly to the finest of details, such as the beautiful Giambattista Valli dress above (on the left), which is made of machine-sewn ivory silk tulle that was hand-embroidered with handmade pale pink “cherry blossom” florets of ostrich, rooster and goose feathers.
I have the deepest respect for the brave at heart who’ve refused to bend to convention, as this is exactly what we are trying to do in keeping our collections bespoke and Made in America. Like Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen was another fearless creative. The two dresses above, from the fashion house’s spring/summer 2009 prét-à-porter collection, are fitted with silver metal flower petals and white synthetic pearls.
Sarah Burton, creative director of McQueen, comments that there has always been a merging of couture and ready-to-wear practices within this fashion houses’ hallowed walls. “It’s difficult to differentiate one from the other,” she says. I suppose this is simply the modern way to look at production but at what cost I wonder. Displayed beside these two ensembles was another beautiful Lagerfeld creation in pink silk chiffon and charmeuse, its DNA so obviously born in the traditions of handmade haute couture. The cape was fitted with 1,300 hand-pieced pink satin camellias dotted with pink frosted crystals. Noting that Chanel was very discrete with the flower—ornamenting brooches and corsages with what came to be known as her emblem—Lagerfeld’s penchant for adorning some of his most auspicious creations with them seems quite capricious, doesn’t it?
The last dress I’ll highlight today evokes a similar tactile sophistication as our Highland chair in the Exotic Garden fabric, which has a beautiful hand to it thanks to the raised qualities of the embroidered silk. The May dress, which was designed by Dior himself, debuted in his spring/summer 1953 haute couture collection. It was first machine sewn and then hand-finished, the embroidered artificial flowers, clover and grass in green, pink and purple silk floss applied by hand.
We’re taking a trip to New York City in a few weeks to meet with our embroiderer about upcoming new designs we will be rolling out in the coming months so stay tuned for news about upcoming pieces in the Highland Collection and brand new lines we have on the drawing boards. I thought I’d leave you with a bit of fun today in the video below. Take a look at how many celebrities need help up the steps of the MET during the red carpet arrivals the evening this exhibition opened.
Quite a few of them strayed a bit far into the machine-age, don’t you think? The complex architecture of their gowns became quite unwieldy and it was all caught on tape, as they say! Which one do you think was the most awkward of the lot?
Oh, and take the time to watch the short film that features both Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld on the Chanel site. It’s remarkable to see the two icons moving around in the same video.
This post, Say It With Flowers, © Bruce Andrews Design, all rights reserved. Our furniture is now available through Nandina Home in Aiken, SC; Jalan Jalan in Miami, FL; Travis & Company in ADAC in Atlanta; and the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Dallas, TX. We will soon be showing in the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Houston and in the Michael-Cleary showroom in Chicago, IL.