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Francois Lesage and Raymond Massaro


Embroidery can be a surprisingly interesting launch point for a haute couture collection, as evidenced by the stunning work of Francois Lesage and Raymond Massaro.  It was appropriate that the duo chose the Cinema Balzac for their show because theatrics were in full effect for the elaborately dressed crowd, which included big spenders like Ivana Trump.

Ivana Trump

Most of what Lesage and Massaro had to offer came in video form. I'd say they were feeling the effects of the recession, but with a generous sponsor like Cartier still willing to throw in a swooping and swirling art-deco diamond necklace that only a Trump or ex-Trump could afford, I don't worry. Besides, the intricately detailed corsets that formed the basis of the collection speak for their own worth.  A coin-encrusted number (yes, coins) somehow turned luxe army warrior. A black worsted wool piece had stitches so delicate they seemed finer that spider silk. The boning inside a cream-coloured corset created the perfect 18th century lines.

Toying with 1920s film noir, the designers screened a silent video with a bob-haired model visiting imaginary Parisian streets in her couture. (I imagine I would have laughed along with the audience if I understood French.) Things got a little meta, with the model and one of her male counterparts, both dressed in character, looking on front-row. So for about 15 minutes, the models, the designers and their audience watched a heavily eyelinered 20-something smash plates, bat her eyelashes and cower as long-clawed monsters invading her living room.

The audience reward Lesage and Massaro with a heartier round of applause than I've heard at any show previously (there were even a few shouts of "Ooh la!"). And the two deserved it. Lesage's 125-year-old-plus embroidery business uses some of the less than 200 French artisans of their type. There were 10,000 in the 1920s, according to the New York Times. Today, big names like YSL still use his textiles. Massaro, whose shoemakers spend a full 40 hours per pair, provides footwear for many of Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel shows. To say their work is truly special is an understatement.

After the film, I walked stage side to see a few pieces close up. One of my favourites was a golden corset, made only of thin wire that wrapped around the waistline and swirled up and around to make the shape of a heart across the chest. I also strangely liked an earthier piece that looked like a gape-mouthed face on a totem pole. I don't have to tell you where the two irises of the canvas eyes went. And finally, the model herself couldn't help but draw attention in an antique-lace wedding dress, which had a white mesh panel across the chest and thoughtfully placed lace appliqués to keep things decent. Even after all these years, Lesage and Massaro have a sense of playfulness that transcends language.

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Words by Jill Hilbrenner

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