NEW YORK — The art of textile manufacturing might not be what it used to be, but it’s still flourishing at Bucol, a fixture in France’s silk capital, Lyon.
The silk mill, part of Holding Textiles Hermès group, is a rare bird. In an industry flooded with consolidations and bankruptcies, Bucol has managed to transform itself from a manufacturer of classic silks exclusively for couture to a present-day leader in silk jacquards, satins and taffetas for the broader market.
Founded in 1924 by Charles Colcombet and Claude Buchet, the company went through several owners since it first went up for sale in 1990. Hermès’ purchase of the mill was finalized in 2001. The luxury giant’s roster of mills under its HTH group also includes Siegl — a print mill that in addition to printing 40 percent of Hermès silks and all of its towels and pareos, also landed the coveted Louis Vuitton Murakami job, thanks to its ability to print with up to 93 screens — and Ateliers AS, which is totally dedicated to printing Hermès scarves and ties. Also included are three home furnishing textile manufacturers: Metaphores, Verel de Belval and Le Crin, which specializes in high-end fabrics made of horse hair.
Bucol, which produces up to 20,000 meters of fabric a month, wears its heritage like a crown, represented by its extensive archives. Stored on the top floor of the company’s headquarters, the collection comprises more than 100,000 articles ranging from an Italian silk circa mid-16th century to the present day.
A virtual gold mine for the dozens of designers who visit every year, the archives include some impressive finds. Among them is an original silk brocade from the end of the 18th century used to trim the bed of Marie Antoinette at Versailles; a collection of Velours Jardinière — 18th-century home furnishing velvets made of a floral, raised pattern on a satin ground formed by cut and uncut loops — that can no longer be exactly duplicated because of lack of machinery, and a collection of Italian brocatelle, again from the 18th century, which includes mini brocades similar to damasks but with higher relief patterns.
Although a recent trend for American designers, scouring textile archives has been the norm at European houses for years. At Bucol, recent visitors included Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, Jean Paul Gaultier and Ralph Rucci, in addition to the design teams from Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Prada, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton.“We are very lucky to have such a tremendous amount of archives — they are an endless source of inspiration we love to share with our customers,” said Francois Damide, president of Solstiss/Bucol America. “In a way, it is the soul of Bucol.”
“What designers really like is to lose themselves in the archives,” added Laurent Dordet, general manager of HTH. “They’ll spend one or two days looking through them and just getting inspired.”
Dordet said each year, 200 to 300 new fabrics make their way into the archives. It’s not just apparel designers that get inspired — about 30 percent of Bucol’s own collection every year is adapted from the source. The mill does, however, alter the look to give it a “modern touch,” he added. The same holds true for apparel designers who tap the collection.
Gaultier’s visit just over two years ago was “very inspiring and interesting.” So much so, that he had the mill re-edit a feather jacquard design that found its way into his spring-summer 2002 haute couture collection. Gaultier does regret, however, that “using many of the specimens that Bucol conserves has become impossible because so many of the fabrics require savoir faire that has disappeared today.”
Rucci was mesmerized by his visit.
“It’s this extraordinary attic, kind of dusty and dark, with miles and miles of fabric,” he said. “You can actually breathe in the creativity of the past.”
For his spring collection, Rucci opened the show with a cotton and silk dress that featured a Rorschach-like print that was tweaked from an archive found at Bucol.
“The stimulation for the print occurred in that attic,” he added. “That’s what I go there for, not to find things I can use, but to be stimulated.”
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