An interview with Cedric Brochier for La Voix de Lyon

photo of Cedric Brochier

Subject: Cedric Brochier - Lyon Silk Shop
Interviewer: Susan Templin
Transcriber: Patrick Hammerlund

The segments in this interview excerpt were recorded during fall 2000, as part of La Voix de Lyon, a travel documentary on Lyon, France. The documentary is a production of The Duncan Entertainment Group.

What is the history of silk in Lyon?
The history of silk in Lyon is very old because it was François I in 1532 who brought the industry of silk to Lyon and exonerated them (the silk industry) from any taxes, which helped a lot. It's even older than that because, in fact, even in the Gallo-Roman times there was silk here. It's a very old history, but it really begins to be important for us in 1530 with François I and it has never ended. The fabrication and the production of silk has changed a little since then, it is not the same fabric. Today there are many different companies in the silk industry and many different techniques for weaving the silk.

Are there silkworms here?
No, there are no silk worms here anymore. There is a worldwide organization between the countries that produce silkworms and those that print on it (the silk). 80%-90% of the worldwide production of silk from silkworms comes from China. We buy we personally buy all of our silk from China. Then according to the quality we either buy the woven fabric or we buy the thread to weave the fabric here according to the old methods or the modern methods. Brazil is becoming very involved in the production of silk. All of the small square scarves from Aramis are woven from Brazilian silk. That's the way the organization is today. There are producing countries, Brazil, China, Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam. Then Italy, France, U. S., and Japan are the main countries that transform the silk.

What are the innovations that have come about in the silk industry?
In talking about the relationship between the silk producing countries and the silk transforming countries, we (the producing countries) don't have the manpower to produce the silk, but we do have the technology for research. We have done a lot of genetic research on the silkworm. We have studied how it protects itself from disease and how it can produce more. A silkworm can produce between 500 and 2000 meters of silk. 500 is normal 2000 is exceptional. And today the worm can live for two years more or less. But the silk must be of good quality, the silk must be nice, the silk must be smooth, there are many things like that. And today we are at the point where we want to genetically combine the characteristic of a silkworm and a spider so that a silkworm will produce the thread of a spider. The silk will then be very resistant (strong) as resistant as steel something that is incredible. The only problem you would have is enclosing the spider. It is very difficult to enclose a spider. In contrast a silkworm is an animal that doesn't move.

Please talk about the different processes of imprinting the designs on silk garments.
Both.I The importance of Lyon in working with silk is our competence in all of the different techniques. All of the techniques in the world for working with silk exist here. All of the other countries have techniques to weave, to imprint, to embroider. Indians do beautiful embroidery, but in Lyon we have all of these small fabrication companies and they all do small jobs. Some do embroidery, some do printing, some do weaving. And the combination of all of these makes the fabrication of the silk fantastic. Today you saw the printing shop. That is when we have finished weaving the fabric and we are starting to put the colors on it. They have woven the fabric, then they put the designs on it, after they print on it, after that they fix the ink. There are thousands of manipulations and they all exist here in Lyon. Today you saw the printing, and that is called printing "au cadre" (with a frame). There is also printing "peint en main" (paint by hand) and these are two very old printing techniques. Printing "au cadre" replaced the old technique of printing "a la planche" (with a board). Printing "au cadre" is what makes it possible to reproduce all of the motifs in a particular style of printing. In the shop you visited today, the frames are very old. They are about 100 years old. The technique is very traditional, but it is the technique we use every day, that is one color per frame. Then you are going to have 10 or 20 colors according to how complex the design is and you print each color, one after another. This technique allows for the reproduction of each design. The second technique of painting by hand seems easier because it is more natural, but it is actually more difficult because to make something beautiful when painting by hand it must be perfect. And it's important because now we are not talking about craftsmanship, we are talking about high culture (fashion). Often they (the fashion world) ask us for special designs and they come out very beautiful. And the women who do the hand painting, they have the ability to do perfect designs and a great knowledge of color. That's very important.

How have artists created designs specifically for silk?
It's a story that started in 1953 with my grandfather. The "Fondaçion Mic" is a large foundation of contemporary artists. Mireaux asked for a printed piece of paper 11 meters long. All of the paper printers said this was not possible, "We can't do it." But my grandfather who was a friend of Mr. Mic said, "We work with silk, we can do it." And that's how we began to work with Mireaux in '53. It was called the Mechimaneaux, there were 123 colors and that was the first time we really worked with an artist. Then little by little we continued and did good work for, of course, Mireaux, Brac, Chagall, Caldere, Jacometi, Glenbern, and many others. Every year, starting in 1957, an artist came and made a design so that we could make a scarf with it. It's a fascinating story. The scarves were not sold. They were just for gifts. The scarves were always very different depending on the artist. Last year it was a Korean artist who was very young. To mark the year 2000 we decided to pick an artist who came from far away and who was very young. He made some beautiful things.

How are the designs created in your shop?
It's not simply inspiration. You need a lot of inspiration. The way we work is that there are two collections per year. So there are two main creative periods. And there is the creation of the design, the choice of the colors, then the choice of the fabric. These three things together, the design, the colors and the fabric, without those we cannot make it happen. That is very important because if we don't have them all, the collections are no good. Those things depend on the fashion of the designers (creators). Also there are those who are a little bit outside of that, who are very interested in us, interested in artists as well as museums, those who work a lot with ancient documents. For example, they send us a document that might come from Philadelphia or St. Petersburg or an old document from a museum, and they ask us to create something inspired by that document. And we are specialized here to do this kind of thing. The designers will take the documents. She is working right now on a design by Cézanne. The people who want us to do that want us to be inspired by that design. Today, all inspiration comes from something that's already been done. We've worked a lot on African themes, because African themes are back in fashion and that is happening perpetually. We look at the artistic traditions in museums for the motifs we are going to use and we are inspired by them. So always, inspiration really comes from someplace. It is very difficult these days to know what is going to work and what is not going to work. Our way of working is that we make very small quantities. So if we say that a fabric worked very well, we sold a few thousand meters. We haven't flooded the market with our fabric. And since we are changing all the time, we don't have time to take advantage of the fabrics that really were a success. We don't know all of the ingredients that make a fabric work and also they are short-lived. We know it has worked when people have liked it, when they have talked about it. Our job is to get people talking about our fabric, to sell a few meters of a very expensive fabric with many images on it, and on the other hand, to sell a lot more of a fabric that is a lot less expensive. It's very difficult. That's the choice, is it preferable to sell very expensive fabric and only sell a few meters, or is it preferable to sell less expensive fabric and sell many meters of it? We have more of a tendency to sell expensive fabric and sell fewer meters of it.