In the world of high fashion, details are everything. The way the fabric drapes off the shoulder, the difference between a waistline that hugs a curve and one that clings to it, or how a single button can punctuate the elegance of an entire composition—these details are more than afterthoughts or add-ons. They are precisely what puts the “haute” in haute couture.
Not that you need to remind Sylvain Peters of any of this. As the collection director at Maison Desrues, Peters has spent the past 31 years of his career sweating the details—the art, the craftsmanship, and the cultural heritage of buttons, accessories, and decorative ornaments for the world-renowned luxury house of CHANEL.
“It’s a balance between traditional know-how and modernity,” Peters says. “New technologies and innovation are at the forefront of our business. But we need to maintain our traditional skills on a daily basis.” In a larger sense, this effort reflects Peters’ ongoing efforts to honour and preserve the history of his craft (and of an entire industry) while ensuring its survival in an age of ever-growing competition and ever-thinner margins.
Since 1985, Desrues has been part of the CHANEL family, functioning as a so-called “satellite” atelier, orbiting around the better-known house. At first glance, this kind of vertical integration seems a little out of step with the outsourcing and offshoring that have dominated global business for the past several decades. But for CHANEL, the match makes perfect sense, strengthening the collaboration between customer and supplier and eliminating the separation between the visionaries who imagine new things and the craftspeople who bring those things to life.
“Bringing these maisons under the [corporate] umbrella multiplies the opportunities for creative synergies and collaborations,” Peters says. “It nourishes this artisan heritage and brings it into the future.”
In some ways, Desrues’ manufacturing is an echo of another age. In the world of high fashion, the process of making buttons and accessories is highly specialized, with each product bringing together upwards of 250 distinct artisans and crafts—including model building, foundry, gilding, glass blowing, lacquering, and colouring. Each piece in a given collection has a distinct style that represents not only the vision of the designer whose name goes on the label, but the exacting standards of every craftsperson who worked on it, along with the cultural traditions of the industry as a whole.
Then again, this is entirely the point. Matching this celebration of time-honoured traditions with a full complement of modern manufacturing tools—3D printers, laser-cut designs, extensive computer modelling, innovative new materials—is what enables Maison Desrues artisans to push the boundaries of their craft in ways never before possible.
“Each request is unique,” Peters says. “For each collection, we face new technical and creative challenges. It’s a blank page on which we put all our expertise as artisans, in the service of the creations of the Chanel Studio.” And because designs are crafted to align with the distinct look and “spirit” of Chanel creations, Desrues is in a constant state of exploration, imagination, and creativity. “Facing new creative challenges—this is our first mission, and part of our DNA.”
You can see this attention to detail come to life in Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Paris—31 rue Cambon 2019/20 collection. The intricate texture on a blouse button. The details on the clasp of an iconic CHANEL handbag. The way the colourful beads of a runway model’s long, elegant necklace are patterned and arranged just so. Each piece looks so deliberate in its execution and yet so natural in its artistry. Clearly, these are more than mere bijoux. Rather, they’re miniature works of art, full of tasteful, custom details that not only complement the fashion, but enhance it, amplifying the overall feeling of luxury.
Currently, over 95 percent of everything that Desrues makes is for Chanel. But the atelier has also worked closely with other fashion houses over the years—Vionnet, Givenchy, Lanvin, and others—in an effort to keep the studio’s in-house skills fresh and to build a broader appreciation of the artistry and purpose implicit in the craft.
“Thanks to our years of experience and exceptional skills, we can continue the tradition and push the limits of the possible,” he says.