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Francois Lesage dies at 82; French embroidery king

Paris (France)Fashion ShowsEntertainmentObituariesFranceJean-Paul GaultierElsa Schiaparelli

Francois Lesage, the heir of the legendary Maison Lesage embroidery atelier that has long been embellishing Paris couture houses' most fantastic creations, died Thursday, the house said. He was 82.

In a statement from Paris, the house said Lesage died "after a long battle against his illness," without providing any details.

Founded by Lesage's father, Maison Lesage worked for the creme de la creme of early 20th century fashion designers, including Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli.

As the number of embroidery studios in the French capital dwindled, the house of Lesage became the go-to spot for designers looking for exceptional work. Under Lesage's leadership, the house acquired such prestigious clients as Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix.

Luxury supernova Chanel bought out the atelier in 2002, as part of its bid to ensure the survival of the "petites mains," or artisans — from embroiderers to flower-, button- and hat-makers — whom the City of Light's top fashion labels rely on.

The transmission of the craft was a major preoccupation for Lesage, and he founded an embroidery school housed inside the atelier — a mazelike warren of rooms stacked with feathers, sequins, beads and silk in Paris' scruffy 12th district.

About a dozen women work in the atelier — with reinforcements ahead of Paris fashion week. Simple jobs, like adding flash to a plunging neckline, generally take around 20 hours of work. More complicated pieces, like the trompe-l'oeil leopard-skin gown made for Jean Paul Gaultier in 1998, require upward of 500.

Born March 31, 1929, into a family of embroiders, Lesage once commented that he "never had any doubt as to what I was to do in life, given I was born into a pile of beads and sequins," according to the statement.

After taking over the embroidery studio as a young man, he became an icon of Paris' fashion scene. A debonair gentleman impeccably turned out in dark suits, Lesage was a frequent front-row guest at the fashion houses for which he worked.

An accomplished equestrian, Lesage was made a chevalier, or knight, in France's prestigious Legion d'Honneur society.

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