It’s fitting that the day we visit the atelier of floral artisans, Guillet, is perhaps the warmest Spring day Paris has experienced so far this year. The scent of daffodils and roses in the air provides the perfect compliment to our visit. Established in 1896 by Marie Guillet, the house started out creating sets for the theatre and supplying to hatmakers before extending to lavish window displays for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes and Gucci. When Marcelle Guillet inherited the house in 1971, she instigated collaborations with the leading couturiers of the day including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Dior and Chanel.
The atelier occupies one arch of a sun-dappled former railway bridge in the Bastille district. We are given some clue as to what to expect by the rich profusion of buds, petals and blossoms laid out on a giant table around which a small team of 15 are busy constructing. The creative process begins with fabrics such as velvet, silk and leather being starched and cut using a giant press before being dyed by a master technician. Then using century-old handtools, the artisans heat and mold the fabric to give it its form before binding the petals to a stalk using cotton or silk thread. In concession to modernity, Guillet also has an exquisite ready-to-wear accessories collection and recently added a bridal service – in the shop front, one can purchase tiaras and headbands threaded through with the most delicate jasmines, lilies, daisies and lilacs.
Since Chanel added Guillet to PARAFFECTION in 2006, nothing much has changed in this workshop. Points out PR Caroline Langeois, “We have complete freedom working under Chanel. We are always creating new models and working on new materials and we continue to experiment with new techniques.” As part of PARAFFECTION, Guillet’s floral artistry is regularly called upon to contribute to Chanel’s annual Metiers D’Arts collection which showcase the skills of the Paris ateliers and which Karl Lagerfeld once described as the collection most evocative of the spirit of Coco Chanel, often drawing from Coco’s own storied history. ''I call these little couture companies 'the satellites,''' Lagerfeld explained. ''Without them, French fashion cannot exist.''