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2 Apr

Meet Hurel, an Oasis of Luxury Fabrics in Paris

At Hurel Paris, an independent textile house dating back to 1873, a employee fluffed a length of embroidered white tulle that resembled a mouthwatering pile of freshly whipped cream.

Within the embroidery workshop one floor below, seamstresses guided their needles through small squares of material stretched in wood frames; one creating delicate flowers, one other glimmering grids of sequins.

And in a small meeting room on level 4, where antique silk-screening stamps are displayed under a glass-topped table, Baptiste de Bermingham plucked a length of reddish-brown velvet from a drawer and let it puddle on the glass. It resembled molten lava flecked with gold and diamonds.

De Bermingham and his brother Paul are fifth-generation owners of the family-owned firm and as co-managing directors are crafting a latest approach to the business to make sure its longevity.

Last month, Hurel quietly acquired one in all its historic suppliers, Lyon-based Tissage des Roziers, consolidating its repute as a number one source of luxury velvets.

Baptiste de Bermingham noted that Tissage de Rozier’s five looms, which date from the ’30s, can produce only about one meter of jacquard velvet an hour each, underscoring why costs for these intricate, sumptuous fabrics can run as high as 125 to 200 euros a square meter. “It’s very, very specific, very couture and really luxurious,” he said.

Tissage des Roziers in Lyon, France.

Laurent Bécot Ruiz

In a rare and exclusive interview last Friday, the brothers spoke frankly in regards to the challenges of the textile trade in France, where the variety of independent, specialist makers is dwindling.

Some have been snapped up by the posh behemoths, including Chanel, Hermès and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, while others have disappeared amid heightened competition from mills in Italy and lower-cost countries like Turkey and China.

Selective acquisitions, including the 2018 purchase of historic Lyon print specialist Atelier Guinet, are allowing Hurel to realize control of the downstream chain and transition from being mainly a design house and couture embroiderer to a full-fledged purveyor of outstanding fabrics, a lot of them custom-made for a client roster that features Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Fendi, Valentino, Versace, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and others.

Paul de Bermingham explained that when their mother retired from the business five years ago, he and Baptiste, each business-school graduates, wished to bring a latest touch to the enterprise.

“We decided to vary the business model of Hurel a bit. We wanted to supply ourselves, to maintain the know-how in France and to master the strategy of making luxury fabrics,” he said.

Inside Atelier Guinet in Lyon, where fabrics are dyed.

Courtesy of Hurel Paris

They’ve also rapidly ramped up Hurel’s sustainability credentials, using FCS-certified viscose yarns for velvets and developing biodegradable glitter prints by utilizing a special type of cellulose from eucalyptus wood as a substitute of polyester film, for instance.

Hurel Paris is now a GOTS-certified facility, complying with the Global Organic Textile Standard. Printed fabrics from Guinet start at about 20 euros a meter.

Baptiste de Bermingham argued that its specialized, luxurious fabrics are arguably inherently sustainable, given the small quantities and their prime quality, ensuring longevity.

“There may be a balance between being sustainable and having prime quality,” he said, noting, for instance, “sometimes while you use recycled polyester or recycled nylon, the standard isn’t the identical. There may be a better risk of defects.”

The brothers acknowledge that business was tough through the coronavirus pandemic, especially since their fabrics are mostly destined for eveningwear that’s worlds away from comfortable work-from-home attire.

But they found a lifeline by sticking to the posh sector, noting that its marquee clients are greater than ever in quest of rare and exceptional materials, validating their strategy of preserving rare savoir-faire via the 2 strategic acquisitions.

Paul de Bermingham noted that Hurel’s in-house designers create fabric collections each season, but then clients may ask to include their branding, alter the design motifs, or make custom colorways. Uniqueness and differentiation are what fashion houses are after, he stressed.

All three firms are small, with Hurel Paris housing 28 employees, and Tissage des Roziers and Atelier Guinet each about seven or eight.

To ensure, all of them boast wealthy histories and archives. Paul de Bermingham pulled out two thick books of swatches dating back to the ’30s and ’50s, which exalt how colourful and kooky fabrics were on the time, from large-scale florals and blurred paisleys to hand-drawn scenes of forests or Paris monuments.

Hurel Paris has fabrics archived in books from the Thirties.

Courtesy of Hurel Paris

He noted that its designers take inspiration from the archive, but additionally strive to innovate and offer newness.

“We’re very open to latest ideas and latest designs. As we produce fabrics for therefore many alternative clients everywhere in the world, the inspirations are very wide,” he explained.

Baptiste de Bermingham pointed to midcentury black-and-white advertisements for Nina Ricci and Hermès that flagged their use of Hurel fabrics.

Going back further in time, Hurel Paris can credit its shift from embroideries to fabrics to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who turned to Pierre Hurel in 1934 for help when she got right into a dispute together with her principal fabric producer, Rodier, leaving her fabric-less one season. The nice-grandfather of Paul and Baptiste agreed to supply wools and velvet for the legendary couturier, expanding its activities within the textile field.

In 2008, the French government named Hurel an Enterprise of Living Heritage, recognizing its unique heritage and savoir-faire.

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