LVMH Luxury Houses Throw Open Their Doors

June 16th, 2013

Hannah Olivennes

At Dior’s headquarters in Paris, Marie-Mathilde Robert, 23, demonstrated her embroidery work for the French fashion label.

PARIS — On most Saturday mornings, shoppers are lined up to enter the Dior flagship store on the famous Avenue Montaigne. But this weekend, the visitors outside the French haute couture house were waiting patiently for entrance to the private salon above the shop, an area rarely open to the public.

The event was part of Les Journées Particulières, or Particular Days, an event organized by the French luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which owns 60 brands, including Dior, Berluti, Chaumet, Dom Pérignon and Guerlain. Last year, the first open days drew more than 100,000 participants.

Now in its second year, Les Journées opened workshops in six European countries to highlight the skills of the thousands of craftsmen employed by LVMH brands.

“I’m curious to see how these people work,” said Frederic Robert, a 42-year-old chemist. He had tried unsuccessfully to get a Dior ticket when online distribution began in May, and now the sign in front of him indicated a three-hour wait. But he said he was willing to be patient: “I have a passion for manual crafts, and sadly this just happens once a year.”

The salon, where Christian Dior presented his first collection in 1947, generally is used now when the house’s most important clients come for fittings. But for the event, the area was set up like a workshop with employees in white coats explaining or demonstrating various skills, including embroidery, jewelry making, crafting handbags and making children’s clothing for the Baby Dior line.

“The beauty of what we do, and the pleasure people take in looking at it, is what brings me joy,” said Raymond Schopfer, 60, who makes watches for the company.

Brigitte Geoffroy, who came from Quebec with three friends and colleagues especially for the occasion, said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to unveil all the jobs that are hidden within the fashion world.”

Marie-Mathilde Robert has one of those jobs. The 23-year-old does embroidery for Vermont, a small company based in Paris that was acquired by Dior last year. She smiled when she saw a group of visitors come toward her, saying, “I love the interaction with people who didn’t know my job still existed.”

Sitting next to her was Jean-Eudes Neton, 43, another Vermont empolyee, who said that events like Les Journées bolstered craftsmanship, especially in troubled economic times like those in Europe today. “Since the beginning of the crisis, people are looking for work, or new ways to make a living, and they are rediscovering all these rare jobs that are rooted in our history and they are opening their minds to our artistry,” he said.

In the city’s chic Eighth Arrondissement, a group of 12 people started their visit outside the Rue Marbeuf store of Berluti, the men’s shoe and accessory brand that expanded into men’s wear last year. They were taken across the street, into a building and up three floors to a workshop where shoemakers create custom-made footwear — some incised with initials or a drawing of the owner’s dog, some made of beaver’s tail — using techniques that haven’t changed in nearly a century. One pair takes six months to complete.

“Our craft is very old — people have no idea how complex it is,” said Anthony Delos, a bootmaker who won the honor of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or “best worker in France,” in a national competition.

Initially trained as a cobbler, Carlos Fernando, 45, has been with the company since 1995. “These open days don’t just show people what we do, they also shows them how we do it,” he said, stressing that Berluti does not use machinery for its custom orders.

And that is just what struck Charles Guillaumot, 18, an apprentice with Chanel, who usually works on handbags but came with his father to Berluti to see other kinds of leatherwork. “What shocked me was the fact that their job hasn’t changed in decades,” he said.

As he greeted another group of visitors, Anthony Delos, whose own bespoke footwear company was acquired by Berluti last year, said: “At the end of the day, whether we’re independent shoemakers or part of a huge group, we still work the same way. Our work is made of experience, perseverance and passion.”

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