19 thoughts on “Behind the Seams: Patricia and Charles Lester

  1. Holy sh*tballs! I actually think I own that Tilda Swinton dress!! Exact same colour and cut and everything. Bagged it on Ebay for something like £16 or 18 YEARS ago – and even got free postage cos the seller remembered selling something to me the previous year that I had totally forgotten about…

    The Belle du Seigneur dresses are SCARY GOOD Fortuny lookalikes. I would have sworn they were kosher from those pics, and even that the wine-coloured dress was the one Lady Mary wore in Downton Abbey.

      1. No pics to hand, sadly, and it’s in storage at my mum’s. But basically, it is long panels of this gorgeous mushroom-coloured silk, so light and buttery, pleated super-tightly, with a rippling texture that seems to be inherent to the pleating process. There’s beading at the neckline, I think, which I can’t tell if it is present on Tilda’s dress, but it anchors the dress around the neckline and then the fabric just clings and moulds naturally as it hangs down, going by how it behaved on my mannequiin when I tried it on her. Basically it’s just a very simple rectangular dress with a bit of beading and a LOT of pleating.

  2. This reminds me of something I always want to share but don’t know who would give a damn (perhaps you!) I work with Mennonite students who often wear tightly pleated skirts (1cm wide parallel pleats) and when I asked how they made the pleats, this is what they told me:
    1. Iron the fabric by hand, with no pleating board
    2. Wrap in damp towels
    3. Bake in the oven on low for a few hours!

    Is that a normal approach to pleating? The idea of baking polyester to set it in shape totally blew my mind!

    1. That does make a lot of sense – Issey Miyake’s amazingly pleated dresses are made by pleating the paper-thin polyester in layers between sheets of paper and setting the pleats using heat – I once saw an exhibition where they showed some of the dresses and garments stacked together like the layers in an onion, with some layers peeled apart and some of the paper torn away to show the colours emerging.

  3. swoon

    I’ll come back when I’m not an orgasmic puddle of goo….

    (Some of these creations are divine!!!)

  4. Fabulous! Recently read a discussion in which it was posited that Fortuny was using permanent wave chemicals to set the silk, as those burst on the scene a few short years before the pleated gowns were invented. Somewhere I found a sketch of an alleged pleating machine of his, but have been unable to find any provenance for it. I have a used copy of the huge deOsma book, so I’m hoping there will be more in there.

  5. I absolutely adore, worship and love Fortuny. So yes, I’m a Lester fan for their Fortuny-like garments.
    And I spied what looks like one of Fortuny’s Stenciled Coats also on Downton Abbey’s last season. It was worn by Lady Rose Aldridge née MacClare.
    I thought I saw Essie Davis in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery wear a Fortuny dress, but I am not sure their budget was enough to rent it. So a Lester?

  6. Interesting. I’m curious how they manage to produce the pleats, but I wouldn’t share the secret either, if I had it! ;)

    I feel like this sort of costuming choice could go very right or very wrong, depending on the shape of the garment and the actress wearing it. I think it looks better with a belt, myself, instead of just hanging / clinging there. Hmm…

  7. Could they have used something like a smocking machine and then set the pleats somehow?

  8. Interesting that by Belle du Seigneur the dresses have acquired what look like beads along the edges. When I was researching Fortuny, the dresses in Wings of the Dove really bugged me because they didn’t have the corded and beaded seams (yes, I AM that nerdy).

    I actually got to handle a Delphos dress a couple of years ago – I was beside myself with excitement!

    1. I’m still not absolutely convinced that the Belle du Seigneur dresses aren’t originals. (well, the cloak and dress underneath do look Lester, but the other two depicted do look absolutely spot on…)

    2. The dresses in Belle du Seigneur may be the real thing, not Lester replicas. They may be from Natalia Vodianova’s own personal collection.

  9. I was watching the British ‘Antiques Roadshow’ several years ago and a woman brought a Fortuny gown she bought in Amsterdam approx. 12 years before. A tiny production assistant modeled the gown. I believe the owner paid approx. 80 pounds for the gown. It was gorgeous.

  10. There was a Fortuny exhibition at the Hallwyl museum here in Stockholm the other year, and they displayed his patent for the technique, which just gives the bare bones, as well as some other material. It seems that the silk was finely pleated by hand and the pleats were then set in two steps, first vertically, then horizontally, IIRC (or possibly the other way around), on a contrapment that allowed warm water, and possibly some sort of chemical solution, to run evenly through the fabric somehow. You can clearly see the fainter horizontal crimping over the vertical pleats on both Fortuny gowns and, I notice, the Lester garments if you look closely. Fortuny offered a sort of re-setting service too, apparently – the pleats become rumpled and messy when you sit and move about in the garments.

    1. The fabric was pleated both vertically and horizontally, to clarify, not just set both horizontally and vertically.

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