Tucks and folds: preserving fashion’s precious art of pleats

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The art of making pleats, while crucial in the world of haute couture — which holds six days of fashion shows in Paris next week — has become a rarity, with less than five “plisseurs” remaining in France.

Most of them practice their craft in the heart of Paris where four generations have moulded material into a mind-boggling array of pleats since Emilie Lognon opened the workshop in 1853, passing the craft onto three male descendants.

But last summer her great grandson Gerard-George retired and without an heir to take over, the workshop was bought by Chanel which has swept up a variety of traditional craft-houses to preserve their skills.

Embroiderers, feather workers, milliners, glovemakers and bootmakers have been grouped under the subsidiary Paraffection, but the specialist workshops remain independent.

In the Lognon workshop, located in central Paris, between the Opera and Place Vendome, three plisseurs are hard at work, surrounded by paper moulds.

The workshop is steeped in history from ceiling to its parquet flooring, which is listed from the period of Louis XIV and cannot be replaced.

Gerard-George Lognon often said he added a noble touch to fabric through pleating, an art much like origami, with each different fold creating different results.

“It is like sculpting clothing,” says Leopoldine Pataa, a 34-year-old pleat maker at the workshop.

One example is the sunburst pleat, perfect for flared skirts such as the famous white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the movie “The Seven Year Itch”.

Then the soft, drapey bias pleat, reminiscent of Grecian robes, box pleat — think cheerleader’s skirt — or the very narrow crystal pleat used on tuxedos.

Lognon invented a few of his own pleat styles, and the workshop has some 2,500 moulds used to make about 2,000 different kinds of pleats.

To make a sunburst pleat Pataa lays out one of the moulds on a large table, painstakingly sliding the material between the two cardboard layers — resembling a large, opened fan — before folding it once again.

The mould is then placed in a vapour oven for between two and five hours depending on the material. Once removed it needs to rest for several hours.

“For one piece, it can take a day,” explains Nadine Duffat from Lemarie, another craft house in Paris that belongs to Paraffection and one of the last feather-making houses.

Some can also be made by machine.

For the haute couture collections to be unveiled from Monday the pleat makers have worked on pieces for fashion giants Chanel, Dior and Venezuelan designer Oscar Carvallo. They have also worked on ready-to-wear collections for Chanel and Hermes.

“It is a unique know-how … a craft that is essential to haute couture and high-end ready-to-wear,” said Duffat.

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