PARIS — France’s fragile lace industry has received a much-needed boost with Dentelle de Calais-Caudry — a registered trademark for lace manufactured on Leavers looms by lacemakers based in the towns of Calais and Caudry in France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region: The trademark was one of the three laureates of the Prix Liliane Bettencourt pour l’Intelligence de la Main awards, held at the Salle Wagram here on Thursday night.
Presided over by David Caméo, managing director of the Les Arts Décoratifs, members of this year’s jury included jeweler Lorenz Bäumer, pastry chef Pierre Hermé and Jennifer Flay, director of Paris-based contemporary art fair FIAC.
The Talent d’Exception award went to engraver Didier Mutel for his work R217A and the Dialogues award, dedicated to a collaboration marrying creativity and fine craftsmanship, went to Vitrail de 100 Visages, a new stained-glass window for the Saint Catherine chapel in Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame cathedral produced by artist Véronique Ellena together with master glassmaker Pierre-Alain Parot.
Olivier Brault, managing director of the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller, said the Dentelle de Calais-Caudry trademark, which scooped the Parcours prize, had also been selected for its collective dimension, as a trademark that represents 11 lacemakers who have “put aside competition to unite in a collective movement to defend their know-how and the specificity of their region in an ultra competitive market, with countries like China trying to do lace.”
“It’s a coastal region that recuperated Leavers machines from England [in the early 19th century] and that developed a trade and identity that has gained worldwide recognition. Kate Middleton got married in a veil made of Dentelle de Calais-Caudry,” added Brault. “It’s recognition of the technical prowess and exceptional know-how of these companies.”
On hand to collect the prize, Romain Lescroart, president of the French Lace and Embroidery Federation, which owns the trademark, said it was created a year ago as an evolution on the original Dentelle de Calais trademark created in 1958, which no longer reflected the market reality. Today the majority of the country’s last-remaining 11 lacemakers are based in Caudry, he said, explaining that the target markets for the respective towns are essentially the luxury ready-to-wear and haute couture market for Caudry and the lingerie and corsetry markets for Calais. Lacemakers specializing in the latter markets took a direct hit from the impact quotas on importations of Chinese goods in 2005 had on France’s lingerie market, he said. Among them Lucien Noyon last month filed for the French equivalent of Chapter 11.
The global turnover of the lace industry in France today represents around 75 million euros, or about $82.6 million at current exchange rates, versus around 100 million euros a decade ago, or $124.7 at average exchange rates for the period, Lescroart said. As such a number of French lace companies have changed hands this year, including Desseilles, which in March was acquired by the Chinese textile and apparel producer Hangzhou Yongsheng Group.
French lacemaker Sophie Hallette’s parent company Groupe Holesco, in which Chanel recently took a minor investment, in April won the bidding to acquire Codentel, an ailing industrial lacemaker that entered receivership in December 2015. Holesco went on to acquire 100 percent of fellow French firm Dentelles MC in August.
“There’s this situation where a Chinese company has bought a French lacemaker, which is very new, it’s never happened before, but at the same time, a luxury group has invested in one too, to protect it,” said Lescroart, who is also chief executive officer of Sophie Hallette. “We are fortunate in France to have some luxury groups who are looking at vertical integration because they recognize that their products have value if the materials they are using have value; where the whole chain is understood to be part of the added value of a luxury product.”
When asked if he was confident about the future of France’s lace industry, he replied: “I am confident about our product,” citing among the biggest challenges “the banalization of lace from the consumer’s point of view. This idea that there’s not much difference between the different [qualities of lace].”
Lescroart said Sophie Hallette has acquired a new factory in Caudry, measuring around 160,000 square feet, in which it will transfer all of the Leavers machines from the firm’s old Caudry plants. They have already closed three out of six old plants in the town, he said. “We will have over 150 machines inside a state-of-the-art building. In terms of industrial infrastructures, the lacemaking industry hasn’t seen anything like this for years,” added Lescroart. “It’s an exciting step for the future, combining industrial efficiency with these unique machines.”