Time appears to stand still in the Parisian workshop of pleat maker Gerard Lognon, where artisans have folded and creased material using the same delicate techniques since the 17th century. The art of making pleats, while crucial in the world of haute couture — which holds six days of fashion shows in Paris next week — has become a rarity, with less than five “plisseurs” remaining in France.
Most of them practice craft in Paris where four generations have moulded material into a mind-boggling array of pleats since Emilie Lognon opened the workshop in 1853, passing the craft onto three male descendants.
In the Lognon workshop, three plisseurs are hard at work, surrounded by paper moulds. Gerard-George Lognon often said he added a noble touch to fabric through pleating, an art much like origami, with each different fold creating different results.
“It is like sculpting clothing,” says Leopoldine Pataa, a 34-year-old pleat maker at the workshop. One example is the sunburst pleat, perfect for flared skirts such as the famous white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.
Then the soft, drapey bias pleat, reminiscent of Grecian robes, box pleat — think cheerleader’s skirt — used on tuxedos. The workshop has 2,500 moulds used to make about 2,000 types of pleats. To make a sunburst pleat Pataa lays out one of the moulds on a large table, painstakingly sliding the material between the two cardboard layers, resembling a large, opened fan, before folding it once again. The mould is then placed in a vapour oven for between two and five hours. Once removed it needs to rest for several hours. “For one piece, it can take a day,” explains Nadine Duffat from Lemarie, another craft house in Paris that belongs to Paraffection and one of the last feather-making houses. “It is a unique know-how ... a craft that is essential to haute couture and high-end ready-to-wear,” adds Duffat.