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Alumna Stories: Flett Bertram, Lesage

03 May 2017 by Roger Tredre

Spring/summer 2016 Chanel ready-to-wear

One designer’s trip to Paris with Texprint in 2014 turned into a job opportunity at the legendary couture embroidery atelier of Lesage. Flett Bertram tells us how Paris became her home.

Designer Flett Bertram, from Cambridgeshire, is loving the experience of living in Paris and working for Lesage, the historic couture embroidery atelier.

She first heard about Lesage while studying at the Royal College of Art in London for a Master's degree in Mixed Media textiles. “Hubert Barrère, artistic director at Lesage, came to give a talk and I was fascinated. When I came to Première Vision in 2014 with Texprint, I asked Lesage if they would take a quick look at my stand. They did – and things developed from there.”

They certainly developed fast. Three years on, we interviewed Flett to learn more about her French experience.

Images of Flett's work for Chanel: left and right - spring/summer 2016 couture; centre - spring/summer 2017 resort

Where is the studio based, and how many designers are in the team from what kind of backgrounds? 

The studio is based on the outskirts of Paris, just next to the canal which is super in summertime for picnics.

There are about 70 people working at Lesage in total. That includes a large team of highly skilled embroiderers, a drawing team and a weaving team. Not forgetting everyone involved in quality control and production.

The design team is fairly small. Some of the girls (we're all quite young so I still consider us girls!) studied textiles to Masters level as I did. Other members of the team come from a Haute Couture background.

How is the experience of working and living in Paris?

I find life in Paris incredibly peaceful in comparison to my previous life in London. It's wonderful to be able to cycle home along the canal or take a stroll up to Montmartre after work. Paris is a city of observers: everyone loves to sit en terrace and watch the world go by. It's ideal for designers like me who are always searching for inspiration. People are rarely in a rush and they like to take their time to enjoy life's simple pleasures. I know it's a cliché, but they also really value the work/life balance much more than we do back in Britain. Leisure time is sacred. As is good wine.

As a student, I rarely stepped away from my desk. With hindsight, I realise how important it is to take time out just to do other stuff, and then to return the next day feeling refreshed, full of enthusiasm and with a new perspective on things. To come back with 'fresh eyes' is how I like to describe it.

Flett, out-and-about in Paris

You studied as a textiles designer at London College of Fashion and the Royal College of Art. What are the additional skill sets you need to design at Lesage?

At college I was very reflective and took a lot of time over every decision. In industry, you have to be far less attached to what you're doing. You have to make decisions faster and learn to view your work from the perspective of the client. There are no additional skill sets required – all you need is your creativity.

Has your own design aesthetic evolved since you left college?

My role at Lesage is to design and create exciting embroidery swatches that we then present to clients. Here at Lesage, we already have one of the largest archivesof embroidery swatches in the world, so it's imperative that each of my swatches brings something new and inventive. I find that my design aesthetic is constantly evolving as I search for new ideas and techniques.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Each day begins with un petit café when I arrive between 9-9.30am. If I skip this step, then all hell will be let loose. After that I go directly to my metier (that means embroidery frame) to get swatch-making! We usually work towards a theme that we will have each individually researched.

Once I get going with an idea, I know not to stop even if I'm not convinced it's going well. Often I'm pleasantly surprised by the end result! I usually manage to make one or two embroidery swatches a day. There's not too muchpressure, we all work at our own speed. Sometimes the inspiration is there, and sometimes it's not.

We usually finish at around 5.30 or 6pm. If it's the run up to a big catwalk show, then we'll end up staying later – it's all hands on deck to get everything prepared.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Colour, form, texture, technique, material – inspiration is everywhere. I use the internet a lot but that's mainly just a starting point to get the juices flowing. A lot of my inspiration comes when I'm already working on a swatch, so I like to keep a little notebook nearby to jot down my ideas.

What are your memories of Texprint?

I have great memories of our trip to Paris and of Première Vision. I remember that we were all extremely nervous when carrying out our first few sales but I think our confidence slowly improved... as did our sales banter! I also recall that the last day of Première Vision was my birthday, so it was great to be in Paris for that.

Flett, out-and-about in Paris

Flett, out-and-about in Paris

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