Deeply connected to the world of fashion, embroidery is an integral part of French heritage, despite its Swiss origins. Led by a unique craftsmanship and longstanding expertise, the five generations of the Potencier family at the company’s helm have conquered the world of lingerie to boot. Interview with Corentin Potencier .
Have you noticed a change in the demand for embroidery?
Corentin Potencier / Certainly ten years ago, the embroidery on the lingerie market was quite heavy and rich, very visual and striking, whereas today we are tending towards a finer, more delicate look. Like in fashion. So designs have changed in this regard, and our techniques too. For lingerie, we are now making lots of motifs that are a world away from our usual work, especially with the current trend for adding features on the back. We used to sell embroidery designed to be applied to the cups. But nowadays, lingerie brands have decided that the back is just as important and offer models with elaborate designs focused on the straps. The current trend for comfortable, understated styles has meant we’ve had to get creative, adding delicate embroidered motifs that generate a certain level of chic.
And now it’s all about showing your lingerie!
C.P. / Absolutely! When a woman wears a vest or a bare back, that focus on the design of the straps starts to make sense. The designs are leaning more towards the geometric, but this varies depending on the brand. Floral is still a popular option. In any case, our collections always revolve around these two graphic themes. For added sophistication, we can even mix the two, for a slightly more fusional style. Maintaining the same level of expertise but for a totally different effect.
Given that embroidery is still slightly more expensive than lace, we need our creations to offer real added value, which is the case for guipure. This thread work for very fine designs, which are then sewn on to tulle, is key to a more couture effect. With lingerie now heavily influenced by ready-towear, our products need to be more fashion-forward.
What expertise does French embroidery have to offer, and more specifically your Brand?
C.P. / I think that we are generally chosen for the extent of our archives, dating back to our creation in 1883. We are constantly coming up with ideas, based on 100-year-old embroidery combined with more contemporary things: it is crucial that we are inspired and responsive to what people need. Because the basis of our profession is the design work, we put a lot of energy into creative development.
We also try to innovate in terms of technique, by transforming the mechanics of our trades, our main machine. This is where we create our embroidery following several – mainly manual – steps. Once the embroidery has left the machine, the human hand takes over and the embellishment follows. This involves washing, dyeing, heating, and so on, all of which are important steps to give such exceptional character to our embroidery.
Is manual know-how still essential?
C.P. / Beyond the technical skills and specialist expertise, it is important to remember that there are fifteen people working on each embroidery. Without this human element, we couldn’t do anything, as each individual has their own contribution to make, to achieve the embroidery that we are really looking for. Even when it’s mechanical, the human hand is very important in the creative stages. Like in the past, programming is done manually to send the item in question to the embroidery loom; the technician marks the path of the needle stitch-by-stitch on the piece.
Are you often asked about natural fibres?
C.P. / There’s no doubt that in ready-to-wear, we are starting to see a preference for organic or recycled thread. Less so in lingerie but we will get there, surely. There’s no reason why not, it’s only a question of cost. I think we will make our move when the process is more accessible and less expensive. Although the difference is not critical for embroidery, beyond the eco-responsible approach of course: it doesn’t change anything in a visual sense if we use an organic thread or a traditional thread.
Do you think embroidery has a bright future ahead?
C.P. / I do think that we will always need it. I hope so and I believe it. Our customers continue to express the same desire to enhance a material and bring something really different to a piece. An ornamental creation, but nothing superfluous. Today we are used as much by couture as by lingerie.
These complementary sectors feed off each other, though it’s fairly new to see lingerie feeding off ready-to-wear, for very different and modern things. And ready-to-wear is inspired by lingerie in the sense of its pursuit for finesse.