On a cold March evening, his cement floor warehouse in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois hosted a different kind of haute couture show. Model wearing a short-sleeved tunic with a bronze bodice, navy blue silk chiffon necktie, and a swinging bronze chain hem, stepped to the beat of a club DJ.
Another model wore a tangerine corset dress made of Strips of cloth cascade down like a waterfall towards the ground. The third was dressed in a white silk mantle, gathered at the thigh, embroidered with blue and pink modes.
Contrary to traditional fashion design, as it was shown on the catwalks in Paris this week, These garments are not sewn by seasoned craftsmen or made from precious new materials. The bronze jacket was made from a used pair of men’s Etro trousers and embroidered with fine chains from the company Vulture.
The chiffon was dead stock from a retired fashion atelier. The lace-up tangerine dress was made for the off-duty Aéroports de Paris uniform. The white floral dress was a shawl from the 19th century.
And they’re all sewn by a studio team who, not so long ago, would have had a hard time finding jobs in the luxury fashion industry.
View event action Renaissance, a French non-profit organization that produces recycled haute couture pieces and provides job training opportunities to low-income individuals and immigrants. It was founded in 2018 by Philippe Gillet, former design assistant to Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier, who wanted to prove that haute couture could be more responsible.
The organization teaches some of the most advanced techniques in fashion design and builds on a movement by nonprofit organizations to train workers and help place them in fashion jobs. Much like traditional haute couture, many Renaissance pieces are unique pieces that are carefully handcrafted.
said Pascal Morand, CEO of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the governing body for the French fashion industry, and a member of the Renaissance Council. He pointed out that there are organizations that study the craft of sewing. “But the Renaissance combines these two aspects on a very high level,” he said.
Mr. Gillett, who has also worked with Chloe, J. Mendel, and Donna Karan, has long had an interest in recycling. (For Mr. Gauthier’s spring 2002 couture collection, he made a men’s tie cocktail dress.) He turned men’s trousers into a waistcoat and showed it to Monsieur Morand, an old friend. Mr. Morand thought the piece was beautiful, and asked Mr. Gillette how he could make it into something more.
Mr. Gillette decided he wanted to “do something that’s environmentally responsible and also passes on this beautiful knowledge,” he said, implying a perfected knowledge of the craft.
He raised funding from the Kering luxury group and received grants from the French government. In September 2019, he opened a workshop at the Cité du Vercors, a public housing complex in Villejuif, a low-income suburb south of Paris. The space was offered by Action Logement, an urban development association that helps fund and manage social housing. There, Mr. Gilt set up sewing machines, workbenches, and Stockman dolls, and interviewed candidates sent by the State Employment Agency.
He chose 15 people, including immigrants from Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, and refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Like all Renaissance students and teachers, they received French wages and employment benefits. For seven months, M. Guilet taught couture techniques, such as the “Méthode Grès”, a fluid style of drapery invented by Madame Grès couturier.
“Costume design is about the cleverness of the hand,” Mr. Gillette said. “If you understand haute couture, you can do anything. You are a master.”
Through word of mouth, the Renaissance received donations of well-made vintage clothes, which the studio transformed into modern silhouettes rooted in French classics. Mr. Gillette held his first Renaissance fashion show in March 2020 at the Arab World Institute.
the second group Produced by the second batch of 20 students, it was shown at the Drouot auction house in Paris in July 2021. Subsequently, some of the garments from the first two shows were sold; Many of the gowns have sold for more than $7,000 apiece. Some of these pieces were shown during Haute Couture Week this past January.
Although there are sewing machines in Renaissance studio, lots of work Handmade, as in fashion design. “It’s not about cutting old dresses and sewing them into something new,” said Mr. Gillette, “it’s about learning the technique of haute couture.” “Students unpick the seams, and once they undo, they understand what they have, and figure out how best to use it with the goal of eliminating waste.”
During the course, each student produces two or three skins that are available for rent or purchase. Three looks ended up on the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” including a meticulously tailored bodysuit made from a judo kimono presented by the former champion of France; a recreated Sonia Rykiel dress; And another dress from Yamamoto’s men’s pants and Rykiel’s dress.
The organization’s on-the-job training program is also thriving. Almost half of the 35 Renaissance graduates have secured jobs at luxury fashion houses, including Saint Laurent, Chloé, Alaïa, and Dior, and many have opened their own studios to produce wedding dresses or make alterations and repairs.
Robbie and Ted Kipre, 25-year-old twin brothers who grew up in the Cité du Vercors and were first-class interns, founded a streetwear brand called Kipre Couture. They staged a show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in January, and set up four pop-up stores in Paris.
During a post-show reception at the Fontenay warehouse in March, Ted Kipre said that fashion “has always been our passion—we always wanted to do it, but we just didn’t know where to start.”
He was wearing one of the trademark looks: black crepe pants, a leather jacket, and a Kipre Couture baseball cap—100 percent recycled, he said.
Renaissance is now developing a capsule batch to produce the current class of 40, selected from over 1,300 applicants. The set is made from uniforms donated by RATP, the Paris transport agency that runs the metro and buses. The clothes will be sold on the Renaissance e-commerce website, which is set to go live in September.
“Ultimately, we’d like to have a shop,” said Mr. Gillette. “Then someone can bring their beautiful old clothes and remake them into something new.”