A Conversation on the Artisans of Fashion

June 18, 2015 | By French Culture

On Tuesday, June 16th, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books welcomed Hélène Farnault, France's leading authority on rare crafts at the heart of the arts and fashion industries. She took us on a tour of fashion's backstage, introducing us to the world of little known but extraordinary traditional artisans. Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, Bénédicte de Montlaur welcomed the audience with the following speech. 


Bonsoir! Good evening, buenas tardes. I’m not sure which language I should speak tonight.

Good evening everyone. As the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, I’m very happy to welcome Hélène Farnault, who will take us on a trip through the world of fashion. Everybody knows that France and fashion have a long history. But not many people take the time to go behind the scenes and look precisely at the nuances behind it, at all the actors who build these worlds, who create the fascinating clothes that we then admire during a fashion show – a defilé.

In France, Hélène is a leading authority on rare fashion crafts. And tonight, she will take us on a journey through the country of dentellier, plumassier, and plissier. All of these are names of crafts that I didn’t even know existed before — I learned about them by reading her book, which I found truly fascinating.

Hélène Farnault is a very accomplished person, she is not only a fashion specialist and an author, she is also has a degree in psychology and another one in literature and semiology. Her vast knowledge and insight have led her to publish two books on the artisans of fashion, and to curate many exhibitions on the same subject. For 13 years, she worked for the French Ministry of Culture, so she is also one of us.

I want to extend a warm welcome to Oscar Carvallo. I hear from my team that he’s been very kind and generous in supporting the organization of this event. I know that he traveled a long way to be with us tonight.

Oscar, I really admire your designs in this book. After this event, you should all take the time to look at the magnificent, sometimes surrealistic dresses that Oscar designs. I also want to congratulate you, Oscar, because I understand that you are opening your flagship store in Miami.

I also want to thank a great French brand, Zadig & Voltaire — one that I’ve always liked. They are one of our main partners tonight, so thank you to Pascaline Audren and Julie Hoepker. Thank you so much for collaborating with us, and for offering all our guests a 10% discount at Zadig & Voltaire boutiques. And thank you as well for setting up tonight’s raffle, with a very generous gift certificate as a prize.

I also want to thank my team, especially Miriam Bridenne, who has been instrumental in organizing this event. Miriam works at Albertine Books, which I hope you had time to go and visit. Albertine is our new bookstore, our own flagship for the promotion of French books, books written about France, and French books translated into English. We opened this bookstore last September, and it’s been a great success. It made a splash in the media, with articles everywhere, and it’s been a great success with the public as well. If you go and visit, you will see why: it’s magnificent, very well managed, and enjoyable. You can spend hours there and certainly enjoy the many books.

We are also opening French Corners in independent bookstores around the country, thanks to our central New York location, Albertine.

To conclude, New York and Paris share a great history with regards to fashion. New York is where French and American fashion meet. Some of French fashion’s great characters live here, like Catherine Malandrino and Garance Doré. And here, at the French Cultural Services, we do all that we can to support French fashion. This is why, during our Albertine festival last October, we had a conversation between Anne-Valérie Hash and Didier Grumbach.  This is also why we want to launch a project to support French design in 2016-2017.

Tonight we are here to celebrate Hélène’s newest book, Haute Couture Ateliers: the Artisans of Fashion. So I wish you all a wonderful evening on this trip that is a bit like Alice in Wonderland: you will go through the looking glass and enter the world of fashion.

Thank you.


Watch the conversation with Hélène Farnault and Oscar Carvalho here.


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