Francois Lesage, the heir of the legendary Maison Lesage embroidery atelier which has long been embellishing Paris couture houses' most fantastic creations, died Thursday, the house said. He was 82 years old.
In a statement, the house said Lesage died "after a long battle against his illness," without providing any details.
Founded by Lesage's father, Maison Lesage worked for creme de la creme of early 20th-century designers, including Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli.
As the number of embroidery ateliers in the French capital dwindled throughout the century, the house of Lesage became the go-to spot for designers looking for exceptional work. Under Lesage's leadership, the house acquired such prestigious clients as Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix.
Luxury supernova Chanel bought out the atelier in 2002, as part of its bid to ensure the survival of the "petites mains," or artisans _ from embroiders to flower- button- and hat-makers _ the City of Light's top fashion labels rely on.
"Francois Lesage was an immense lover of couture who established embroidery as a true art form and was internationally renowned," the statement quoted Bruno Pavolvsky, president of fashion at Chanel and president of the Maison Lesage, as saying. Both houses "are committed to perpetuating the exceptional know-how that he bequeathed to his embroiders and thus will pay the greatest homage to his talent as an artisan."
The transmission of the craft was a major preoccupation for Lesage himself, and he founded an embroidery school housed inside the atelier _ a mazelike warren of rooms stacked with feathers, sequins, beads and silk in Paris' scruffy 12th district.
About a dozen women work in the atelier _ with reinforcements ahead of Paris fashion week. Simple jobs, like adding flash to a plunging neckline, generally take around 20 hours of work. More complicated pieces, like the iconic trompe-l'oeil leopard skin gown made for Jean Paul Gaultier in 1998, require upward of 500.
Born on March 31, 1929 into a family of embroiders, Lesage once commented that he "never had any doubt as to what I was to do in life, given I was born into a pile of beads and sequins," according to the statement.
After taking over the embroidery studio as a young man, he became an icon of Paris' fashion scene. A debonaire gentleman impeccably turned out in dark suits, Lesage was a frequent front-row guest at the fashion houses for which he worked.
An accomplished equestrian, Lesage was made a chevalier, or knight, in France's prestigious Legion d'Honneur honor society.