Last weekend, the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) group launched Les journées particulières (The Exclusive Days of LVMH) opened the doors of 25 historical sites belonging to the group ranging from the haute couture ateliers of Christian Dior in Paris to the champagne cellars of Moet et Chandon and Veuve Cliquot (located outside Paris in the Champagne region) to the Loewe boutique in Madrid or Emilio Puicci‘s family villa in Italy, these exceptional and free visits offer a look into how luxury is created. From clothes to perfume to shoes or champagne it is a chance to meet and ask questions one to one with heads of the workshops and observe the incredibly talented people at work behind LVMH.
To get the chance to access these visits, Parisians were queueing up in a chilly 10 degrees from 6am for ateliers like Givenchy or Dior, or all night for the chance to gain access to Louis Vuitton. There were a select few tickets available online a month earlier but were sold out in under 10 minutes.
Was waiting in the cold for 5 hours on a Saturday morning worth it? It certainly was.
With each visit of 30 minutes limited to a group of 15 people it was very intimate experience. Located in the golden triangle of couture in Paris in the 8th arrondissement, we entered the Givenchy atelier by an elegant marble staircase and walked through into a high ceiling – all white room where clients such as Queen Rania of Jordan are fitted. On display were 8 of the stunning gowns that featured in the Haute Couture A/W collection 2011. We were invited to watch a short film which traced the steps it took to create the gowns, from drawings to patterns, to sewing the pearls, stringing the beads, making the lace, to the final adjustments given to gowns.
Afterwards we were given an in depth explanation of how each dress was put together and what materials were used – from goose feathers that were moistened and shaped by hand to create intricate curls on one gown, to pure un worked cashmere attached to another dress with pearls embedded throughout to another gown which had tulle disks appliquéd to it, all hand cut.
Speaking to one of the directors of the workshop, she said the seamstress who sewed on the disks spent almost 200 hours working on the gown and at the end took the time to count the disks and that there 1889 in total. After the detailed descriptions we got the chance to watch face to face 4 specialist seamstresses at work. One who worked exclusively on the patterns, another for the beading (she created the waterfall beading for the gold and nude bird of paradise gown), the following specialised in sewing on the pearls through the tulle which is achieved in a figure of eight looping technique and the final worked exclusively on embroidery. This then concluded our visit and we were quickly ushered out and handed a book containing all of the 25 visits available. A quick trip around the corner lead to Dior, however by 1 0’clock they were already turning people away and the queue snaked down the block.
Sunday was a new day and this time the jeweller of the King and Queens of France, Chaumet was the chosen atelier. Established in 1780 and located Place Vendôme in the heart of the jewellery quarter, the hôtel particulier was also home to Chopin who passed away there. After another 5 hours of waiting (we were kindly served coffee this time) we entered one of the oldest and most luxurious salon’s in Paris. With Corinthian columns, gold leaf and mirrors on every wall to give the appearance of infinity, it was here that Chopin composed his last work and also where Napoleon or Empress Marie-Louise would have been received.
We were then directed into the first room which housed examples of the different types of tiaras for which Chaumet is famous. They have almost 500 000 different designs and on display here were the pre-worked collection in nickel or zinc and also several designs by René Lalique from the Belle Epoque. The level of intricacy and design was incredible – from nature motifs using leaves and flowers with emeralds and diamonds, to the Russian kokochnik halo style tiara with diamond feathers on the sides finished with a ruby in the center, or the aigrette style with a plume of real feathers in the center stemming from a large jewel with the band sitting low and hidden by the hair.
We were then ushered into a larger room with even more stunning examples of tiaras and crowns, from the ruby parure made for Empress Marie-Louise to the Belle Epoque Bourbon-Parma tiara to more modern versions like la ferronnière which is a thin chain worn on the forehead or slightly higher with a pendant style jewel in the centre which can often be worn as a bracelet or a necklace instead or the tiara worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady to the monarchs of today like Queen Silvia of Sweden.
Lastly we got to meet the head of the workshop, Pascal Bourdariat, who showed us from start to finish how a tiara is made. From taking a model to fit the head, to soldering and cutting the silver to fit the design, to the placement of the stones – all of which are unique as there is never two of the same in a tiara – to the polishing and the finishing touch, an inscription on the inside of the tiara from the person offering it. After the 45 minute tour and the blinding array of gem stones, we stumbled out into the cold dreaming of becoming a princess. With each tiara taking around 300-400 hours to make and costing around $100 000, we can only dream.
It was an amazing experience, one that I would do again in a heartbeat. Thanks LVMH.
Check out more photos from the Les journées particulières (the exclusive days) of LVMH in Paris on their official website.