~ Maison Desrues Paris: The folks who make the Costume Jewelry & Buttons for Chanel ~

May 30, 2007
Today is the first time I truly appreciate the beauty of Chanel's costume jewelry, thanks to NanamiRyu's mention about the Camelia Bouquet Line, and also WinteRose's posts of the look book for the S/S 2009 jewelry. :heart::heart:Looking at the photos from WinteRose, I noticed a note stating that the Camelia Bouquet line (and other line of jewelry) was made by Desrues. I became intrigued, and was wondering "Who is Desrues?" and do they make all their jewelry? So I Googled the name found their webpage. It turns out that they are THE costume jewelry maker and button maker for Chanel (but LV and other fashion houses use them too).

I thought they deserve their own thread, since there are a lot of you who really appreciate the art and craft of the Chanel costume jewelry and buttons. Mods: you might want to merge this thread with "History of Chanel" if having a separate thread is unnecessary:


I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I did, and check out the video (link posted below) which shows a snippet of their jewelry making. :heart:C



Although Desrues was born as a company in 1929, its story actually began several years earlier when its founder, Georges Desrues, began working for Mr. Chandelier, a craftsman producing costume jewellery and accessories, and who was working with the great Parisian couturiers of the time.
Convinced that fashion was his vocation, Georges Desrues developed the company, bringing in new ideas and skills (engraving, polishing and gilding) and turned Maison Chandelier into Madeleine Vionnet’s sole supplier.
In 1929, Mr. Chandelier retired. From his workshop in the rue Amelot, just a stone’s throw from the Cirque d'Hiver, Georges Desrues took over the running of the company, working with a number of the most prestigious designers of the time including Jeanne Lanvin, Christian Dior, Mademoiselle Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent.

The first collections of buttons for Mademoiselle Chanel were created in 1965, and Georges Desrues was soon to become her preferred supplier. In 1984, he transferred control of his business to Chanel in order to protect the vast know-how acquired over the years. Georges Desrues continued his work – his great passion – until his death in 1992.

The company’s development, driven by the remarkable success of Chanel, soon meant that the premises in the rue Amelot were too small, so Desrues moved its workshops to the North of Paris.

Desrues Today:

At Plailly, in the Oise region, with its large atrium windows overlooking the countryside, Desrues’ 200 highly skilled employees work on machines that are able to mould, sculpt, dye, gild, emboss, enamel and polish the most precious jewellery and buttons for Chanel, its biggest client, as well as for Louis Vuitton and many others.

Desrues has preserved a high level of know-how devoted to an exclusive niche market, a reminder of its special partnerships with the great French couturiers of its time (Chanel, Lanvin, Vionnet, Dior, Saint Laurent), but has also incorporated modern techniques in order to meet the needs of the luxury ready-to-wear market.

Every one of the glorious items of personal jewellery belonging to Mademoiselle Chanel, given to her by Grand Duke Dimitri Romanov or the Duke of Westminster, has been reinterpreted and reproduced to the delight of Chanel’s clientèle. Equally, Karl Lagerfeld has never once created a collection which did not include unique pieces of jewellery designed to satisfy the most unexpected desires of every generation: toe rings, “dos-main” bracelets, hair jewellery and anklets alongside Byzantine crosses, cuff bracelets encrusted with hard stones, cascading pearls, necklaces and curb chains. Thanks to the combined talents of man and machine, eight times a year a new collection of at least 100 pieces is offered to the public.

In the days leading up to the designers’ catwalk shows, the atmosphere within the company becomes feverish with activity. Each collection may require the creation of forty or so new buttons, plus a hundred new pieces of jewellery made from the most diverse materials with the most complex finishes. This makes each collection a real challenge for Desrues, which the firm handles brilliantly thanks to its skilled staff and a unique network of suppliers. Since it was founded, more than 80,000 products have left its workshops, a real treasure-trove covering 70 years of fashion.

“Nothing is impossible to a willing heart”, this quote could actually be the motto for the Desrues’ company, where imagination supports both tradition and innovation with the same creative flair.


Moulding and casting metals, glass enamelling, machining wood, remodelling resins, polishing, soldering, lacquering, varnishing, gilding, silver plating, working with lead glass and threading pearls: Desrues is home to a wide range of specialisations.

On either side of a long corridor punctuated by numerous doors, the company puts it skills to work. Each door opens onto a workshop, where meticulous hands work with copper, pewter, silver, mother-of-pearl, jet, wood, galalith, glass and even resin to produce outstanding buttons and pieces of jewellery.

Everything begins with a mock-up. From this prototype, which embodies the designer’s ideas, a metal or silicon mould is made; molten metal is cast, centrifuged, removed from the mould and deburred. It is then polished, using a buffer, ready to be gilded, silver plated or given its patina and varnished. For “organic” materials (animal horn, mother-of-pearl, etc.), templates are created using computer-aided drawing techniques and are then programmed into the automated laser cutting machines. The thousands of buttons created in this way then pass through quality control, the final manual operation in this fascinating creative process.

The nature of jewellery, however, requires that a certain hand-crafted element be retained. The heated glass rods which position beads are guided by hand, the links in chains and belts are assembled and crimped by hand, and the setting of pearls and cabochons is also a manual task.
In order to meet the needs of its clients, Desrues has successfully and subtly combined high-tech resources with the skills of its craftsmen.

Link to the video:


More photos from the website to come...


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May 30, 2007
From the New York Times (pg 2). Blurb about Desrues towards the end:


The Hands That Sew the Sequins

Published: January 19, 2006

To guarantee the future of at least some artisans, Chanel has bought six of the oldest workshops that no longer have heirs to run them: Lesage; Massaro; Lemarié, a designer of flowers and feathers; Michel, a milliner; Desrues, a button- and costume jewelry maker; and most recently, Goosens, a goldsmith and silversmith. For the last four years Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's designer, has paid tribute to the ateliers, which he dubbed the Chanel "satellites," by designing small clothing collections that showcase their handiwork. The most recent was shown in New York in December at the Chanel boutique on 57th Street.

Courtesy of Chanel Massaro shods the feet that walk the runway for a minimum of $3,000 a pair, each pair representing 40 hours of handwork. Though Chanel subsidiaries, these ateliers can accept work from other houses and other clients. "Chanel bought us to preserve the knowledge and standard of what we do," said Tanguy de Belair, the chief operating officer of Michel. "They have the security of knowing they can get what they want from us, but they don't prevent us from working for others. We set our own prices. Lagerfeld tells us what to do for his show just as Marc Jacobs does for Louis Vuitton."

But not all designers are sanguine about the new ownership. Since Chanel bought Lesage in 2002, the American designer Ralph Rucci said, its work has at least quadrupled in cost, requiring him to be judicious in employing the venerable embroiderer and to branch out to other suppliers. At least one haute couture designer, Jean Paul Gaultier, has much of his handwork done in India.

On Rue Ste.-Anne, a street near the Palais-Royal once bustling with milliners, there is now only Michel, founded in 1936. The atelier employs 11 workers, who produce 4,000 hats annually. The process involves multiple steps: three seamstresses use a 19th-century sewing machine to stitch together strips of fine straw from Italy. Two hat makers add stiffeners to the straw and felt, blocking them with pins and strings on one of 3,000 wooden head forms. The hats are dried in a large oven to maintain their shape. Six milliners then assemble the brims and the crowns, garnishing them with ribbons, lace and tulle. And all of this starts from a mere sketch by a designer.

Overseeing the production is Nicole Todero, 54, who began in the trade at the urging of her father, a train conductor in Paris. He wanted his daughter, then 16, to work as a seamstress to help support the family of 11 children. In 1986, when the couture business was booming, Michel hired her and trained her in the techniques of haute mode.

Just as Michel is the last of a disappearing breed so, too, is Lemarié. Founded in 1880, the atelier is the sole remaining feather workshop on Rue du Faubourg St.-Denis, a street near the Gare du Nord once lined with similar establishments. The business was passed from generation to generation until André Lemarié (whose resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock has frequently been noted), retired in 2000.

The creative director, Eric Charles-Donatien, 33, was plucked from a job sewing men's wear for Hermès. "When I got here, the use of materials was very ladylike," he said. "I mixed the flowers and feathers together. I made the designs more abstract and concentrated on texture." "To make something more edgy I've ruched organza and shredded the edges to make them look like feathers, so you're not really sure what you're looking at."
Last fall, Kate Spade hired Lemarié to create fuchsia and black organza flowers when she introduced a small line of luxury bags and shoes called Collect, costing twice the price - $600 to $1,800 - of the regular Kate Spade line. "A lot of times you hear, 'No, this can't be done,' " she said. "But with Lemarié you hear what they can do. When they say, 'You can add this,' the work becomes a collaboration."

Having all of this expertise centralized in Paris allows designers to realize their creative dreams in ways unparalleled anywhere else in the world. For instance, it is common for Michel to send a hat to Lesage for embroidery and then to Lemarié for plumes and petals.

"It's like a laboratory," said Lars Nilsson, the designer for Nina Ricci in Paris, who uses the ateliers to add couture details to his ready-to-wear collection. "It's very Paris and quite unique because you have the connections and you can use two to three skills, like Lesage and Lemarié."
The demand for high fashion ready-to-wear in the last 15 years - made ever more deluxe by couture embellishments - has caused a business shift in many of the ateliers. At Lesage and Lemarié, for instance, 80 percent of the workmanship is done for ready-to-wear and 20 percent for haute couture. At Desrues, founded by Georges Desrues in 1929 in a workshop formerly at the edge of the Marais, the company has swelled from 20 employees in 1984 to 170 today. The original space could no longer accommodate the volume, so the workshop relocated in 1993 to an 86,000-square-foot, glass-and-steel, single-story factory in Plailly, an hour from Paris.

There, in addition to making costume jewelry for Louis Vuitton, Nina Ricci, Lanvin and Swarovski, Desrues produces a million buttons a year for Chanel alone, with only 3,000 used for haute couture.

Despite the volume the production process has not changed much. Artisans carve minutely detailed whimsical shapes like camellias, bows or miniature bottle caps into silicone prototypes, which are then cast into metal buttonmolds. A machine pours alloys into the molds. Once the material hardens, workers use rudimentary tools like tweezers to pry out the buttons. Each is then hand polished and smoothed before being plated in gold or silver.

"It is the same system, step by step for ready-to-wear and couture," said Mr. Lesage, who also supplies embroidery to ready-to-wear designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Celine and Balenciaga. "Couture requires more hours because there is always more embroidery done but for ready-to-wear, you have to be able to make 50 size 38's that are all exactly the same. The exactitude must be replicated by hand. The couture dress is unique and may never even be made to order. It's to attest to the quality of the house and to advertise for the brand. It is a dream of quality with no consideration of cost."

And what would happen to haute couture if the skills of all these specialists die out?

"There would be," Mr. Lagerfeld wrote in an e-mail message, "no haute couture any more."
May 30, 2007
I can imagine all the effort put into once piece of Chanel jewelry (I wonder if their workers get a lot of neck injuries there, from looking down so intently all the time??). No wonder their jewelry is so expensive!!

Watching the video made me think of the glass art work by Chihuly (his largest public work on display in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel, on the ceiling). :heart:


Oct 23, 2008
WOW! Thank you for posting! It definitely helps us to understand how a piece of Chanel jewelry is made!