My life as an haute couture embroiderer in Paris
Rebecca Devaney moved from Ireland to Paris where she qualified as an haute couture embroiderer and now shares her passion through her guided tours and workshops in the city
After moving to Paris from Ireland in 2017 to study embroidery at École Lesage and qualifying as an haute couture embroiderer, Rebecca went on to work for fashion houses including Chanel, Dior and Givenchy. In 2019 she established Textile Tours of Paris, running guided tours of the haberdasheries and flea markets of Paris. She also hosts monthly embroidery evenings at Shakespeare & Company and runs embroidery classes and workshops at Maison Sajou, a charming and celebrated haberdashery in the historical fashion and textile district of Paris, where she will be hosting a new series of workshops this summer.
Why did you want to study embroidery in Paris?
I studied a joint degree in Art, Craft and Design Education and Textile Art at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and I spent many happy hours in the library pouring over the pictures of extravagant haute couture gowns made in France. I dreamed about learning the savoir-faire of the embroiderers who created these beautiful embroidered embellishments, les petites mains sequestered in the ateliers of Paris. I have been here three years now and it has been quite the adventure.
What was it like working for brands like Chanel and Dior?
I qualified as a professional haute couture embroiderer after six very intense months at École Lesage. Even though the course was challenging, working 12 to 14 hours a day, I absolutely loved the sumptuous materials, learning the meticulous techniques and marvelling at the beautiful effects. I was keen to continue developing my skills but my money had run out so the teachers recommended I register with haute couture recruitment agencies in Paris and see it as a paid apprenticeship. My first job was working for Chanel and I was incredulous, it felt like my dream had come true! I went on to work for Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi, Dior, Valentino, Givenchy, Thierry Mugler and Céline, creating embroidered embellishments for Paris Fashion Week and gowns worn at the Met Gala Ball and Cannes Film Festival by Catherine Deneuve, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, the Princess of Monaco, Kate Moss, Zoe Kravitz, Isabelle Hupert, Charlotte Gainsbourg and other celebrities. I worked alongside embroiderers with 30 to 40 years of experience and I would ask them endless questions and listen to their stories with delight. In France it is said with admiration that embroiderers have the fingers of fairies, les doigts de fée, and I understand why.
What do you offer with your tours and classes?
With Textile Tours of Paris I give guided walking tours through the historical luxury fashion and textile district, telling the history of haute couture fashion and visiting the hidden textile stores along the way. They have been a great success and I decided to launch flea market tours as well, visiting the oldest marché aux puces in Paris and the vintage textile and fashion specialists. I combine the tours with embroidery classes to encourage people to explore and express their creativity while learning new skills and making new friends. I wanted to create a space where expats, tourists and long-term residents could enjoy the experience of embroidering and chatting in a group. Threads of Connection got off to a great start in November 2019!
What will the new workshops and classes at Maison Sajou offer this summer?
They will encourage people to use the enjoyable craft of sewing to add cheer and beauty to their homes, gardens and balconies with handmade table linens, cushions and bunting. My colleague Elisabeth Rozec will be teaching beginner sewing techniques and I will be encouraging people to express their creativity while teaching the basics of creative design.
Has there been more interest in craft activities since the coronavirus lockdown?
As Paris has reopened many people are visiting Maison Sajou having discovered textile crafts such as embroidery, knitting and sewing during the confinement. They were amazed by how calming, meditative and enjoyable these crafts are and are eager to learn more. Personally, I was very grateful during the confinement to find solace in drawing, embroidery and textile crafts.
Do you think this will continue when life returns to something closer to normality?
We spent a lot of time on screens during the confinement and while it was wonderful to connect with people virtually, I hope that as life returns to something closer to normality people will be inspired to express their creativity, learn new crafts and enjoy the benefits, real-life connections and pleasures that these activities bring. I have been planning an exciting programme of embroidery workshops at Maison Sajou which will begin in September and hopefully they will encourage people to discover and continue the pleasure of creativity and textile arts.
What do you most enjoy about living and working in Paris?
I absolutely love living and working in Paris, being surrounded by art, culture, beautiful architecture and boulangeries on every corner! Since establishing the textile tours I have been enjoying the delights of the city even more, I just love sharing my passion for the heritage of French fashion, textiles and craftsmanship and I am thrilled every time a student discovers the exciting world of embroidery during my workshops.
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