The High-Fashion Side of Knots


Detailed. Delicate. Colorful. Laurentine Périlhou’s three-dimensional flowers look more like embroidery than macramé, the traditional knotting technique long associated with 1970s wall art and plant hangers.

“People never imagined we could do this kind of thing with knots,” Ms. Périlhou, 38, said as she turned over the arched petal of a knotted white and gold daisy on a recent morning in her rural atelier in Limbrassac, southwestern France, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountain range. But with macramé, “everything is possible,” she said.

For Ms. Périlhou, an art history graduate whose creations in macramé have included fine jewelry, architectural structures, 3-D works of art and even furniture, this belief in the possible has become her watchword. When a project seems undoable, “we always find solutions,” she said. “That’s what allows us to evolve.”

Case in point: Last December she erected scaffolding across the back wall of her workshop to create a half-dozen rope- and leather-knotted decorative panels each measuring nearly 20 feet by 10 feet for a luxury fashion house.

While people in ancient times knotted the loose ends of woven fabrics into tassels, macramé as a unique fabric structure originated from 13th-century Arab weavers before it moved into Europe with the Moors, according to Catherine Amoroso Leslie, professor of fashion and textile history at Kent State University in Ohio.

Macramé has had several notable resurgences over the centuries, most recently in the ’60s and early ’70s during a period of “back-to-nature crafts,” Ms. Leslie said.

Ms. Périlhou said she first recognized macramé’s potential in 2008 after hitchhiking across crossing Chile’s Atacama Desert to reach the village of San Pedro de Atacama. Entering the macramé jewelry shop of the local artisan Felipe Andres Alfaro, she was struck by his work’s unusual precision and artistry, she said.

On his invitation, Ms. Périlhou stayed for two months to study the craft. On her return to France, Ms. Périlhou’s increasingly complex macramé designs incorporating semiprecious stones won her commissions from luxury houses, including Jean Paul Gaultier and Guerlain.

Having founded her own company in 2014, she began operating under the brand name Laurentine Périlhou in 2017, with the aim of developing her macramé work beyond jewels.

Today, the company employs one part-time and three full-time artists to service the luxury maisons and interior designers who comprise the bulk of its clientele. (Because no schools teach high-end macramé, Ms. Périlhou said, all are trained in-house.)

This year, they tried their hand at making a rather special macramé dress. Last November, Ms. Périlhou received a call from Eddy Anemian, the head of couture at Balmain, saying the fashion house was creating a collection with the performer Beyoncé to celebrate the release of her “Renaissance” album and wanted a gown in macramé.

“To have something super complex and unique, for me, there is only Laurentine in France in the market of macramé,” said Mr. Anemian, who said by telephone that he had long been waiting for an opportunity to collaborate with Ms. Périlhou.

The team of five knotted and assembled the black silk, velvet, rayon, and patent leather gown over 15 days in January, working weekends and several nights. The dress was completed in just over 450 hours, Ms. Périlhou said.

“It was crazy,” she said. “But that’s the rhythm of couture.”

For any project, the first step is to sketch the design. After which, the most important decision is the thread, she said.

More recently, in her workshop, she stood before a large metal rack of threads in varying colors, unraveling bobbins to explain their potential: 0.3-millimeter wire (for painstaking details), Lurex (to add shine and light), wool (recently used to give a warm, velvety feel to thistle shapes), straw, crocodile leather off-cuts and, Ms. Périlhou said, a “very couture” golden chain studded with black rhinestones.

Following a round of tests with the chosen materials, the work of knotting can begin. Tools include a pair of Japanese Kai scissors to cut the thread and a large, white polyester and foam board, overlaid with the penciled design as a template, to which an initial knot is pinned.

All of Ms. Périlhou’s work derives from three core knots: “Classic, flat and square,” she said.

To demonstrate a classic knot, Ms. Périlhou gathered the eight slender threads of a half-finished floral artwork made with 22-karat gold thread and worked on a line of knots representing a vine. Selecting all but one of the threads, she held them between her left thumb and index finger.

“These are my knot threads,” she said, before taking the remaining “guide thread” in her right hand. Ms. Périlhou looped the guide thread over, under and inside the knot threads before pulling the guide threads taut. “Like tying shoes,” she said.

To make a single classic knot, she repeated the process twice. To create the final design, Ms. Périlhou will continue making a succession of knots, adding or removing threads when necessary. Larger and more complex projects are often divided into sections that are fixed together using a needle and thread, “like a puzzle,” she said.

When a section of macramé made from synthetic materials is finished, its ends are sealed with a lighter flame. (Ms. Périlhou said part of her right thumb is numb as a consequence.) Projects using natural materials are finished with stitches when possible or secured with a dot of super- or textile glue.

Two of Ms. Périlhou’s most ambitious artworks to date — “The Wild Herbarium,” a roughly 6-foot by 8-foot medley of clovers, wild grasses and mimosa, and “Under the Lemon Tree, the Flowers,” a life-size lemon tree, fashioned around a wicker trunk and hung with lush, yellow macramé lemons, white blossoms and blue and purple chicory — are scheduled to be on display at the Pierre Bergé auction house’s craftsmanship exhibition planned for early next year.

The two works are to be offered with a reserve price of €32,000 (about $34,300) for the herbarium piece and €49,000 for the lemon tree work.

“People were very surprised she had succeeded in making such a fresh and contemporary creation with such an outdated technique,” Carole de Bona, the exhibition curator, said of the lemon tree creation, first displayed in June at Révélations, an international biennial of crafts and creation in Paris.

“Laurentine reinterprets macramé in her own fashion,” Ms. de Bona said by phone.

“She’s changed the materials; she’s really made it her own,” she said. “She has adapted to the 21st century.”

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