From the flamboyant designers to the ravishing models, the world of haute couture is full of larger-than-life characters. Yet couture’s real stars work far from the spotlight. Lesage the embroiderer, Lemarié the plumassier, Desrue the jewelery maker, Massaro the shoe designer and Michel the milliner are five of the most respected ateliers in Paris. Their highly-specialized knowledge, handed down through the generations, would have slowly disappeared had Chanel not purchased them. Since then, Chanel has paid tribute to their talents by staging a special collection showcasing their works of art. This year’s edition is titled Paris-Tokyo.

LESAGE THE EMBROIDERER
Even by haute couture’s lofty standards, embroidered dresses are expensive: a reflection of the hundreds of hours the ‘petites mains’ spend painstakingly creating the embroideries based on the designer’s sketches. Francois Lesage, who took over the family business in 1948, pays tribute to these unsung heroes of couture: “I am nothing without them. It’s like music: the composer gives me the score, the girls are interpreters, and I am the conductor”.

LEMARIE THE PLUMASSIER
Back in the 1900s, when no self-respecting woman would set foot outdoors without a hat, there were more than 300 plumassiers -feather specialists- in Paris. Today, Lemarié is the only one left. Making its feathery creations even more priceless is the fact that the exotic birds whose plumage is the most sought-after are now protected species. Some of these precious plumes appeared in the recent couture shows in the form of handcrafted feather camellias at Chanel and ostrich feather corsets at Dior.

DESRUE THE JEWELERY-MAKER
It’s here in the Ali Baba’s cave of the fashion world that Chanel’s signature buttons and jewelry see the light. 160 employees polish, gild and chisel to create 4000 buttons every day. And although the models imagined by Mlle Chanel never go out of style, 100 new ones are created every year. These items are dreamt up by designer Karl Lagerfeld, who’s renowned for imagining innovative, ultra-covetable jewelry. The delicate porcelain flower pieces for this season’s Chanel couture collection- carefully put together by hand by Desrues artisans- were showstoppers.

MICHEL THE MILLINER
Founded in 1936, this company is now led by Ludovick Kornetzky, a young, energetic art director. In synergy with his expert milliners and designer Karl Lagerfeld, he has strived to recreate the alchemy that made the CHANEL label modern yet timeless. Kornetzky vision comes to light in the fresh, pastel tweed hats sported by the models at Lagerfeld’s latest CHANEL couture show, inspired by the 18th century French court.

MASSARO THE SHOE DESIGNER
Raymond Massaro is the king of luxury shoes. The son and grandson of shoemakers, his beautiful custom made creations have graced the feet of celebrities including Marlene Dietrich and Mouna Ayoub. It was Massaro who created Chanel’s famous black and beige sandal. This tradition continues today in the fabulous, big-buckled Louis XV shoes that made a regal appearance at the season’s CHANEL couture show.