Laces and guipures are important industries, of which Paris is the centre of operation; but these products have two special centres of manufacture in localities whose names have been given to them. Alençon is famous for its magnificent stitches, known throughout the world as the stitches of France or Alençon. The splendid black silk laces of large dimensions, which Bayeux and Chantilly have brought to the last degree of perfection, are sought after everywhere. Bailleul is today famous for the speciality of lace known under the name of Valenciennes. Caen manufactures successfully, like Bayeux and Chantilly, laces for dresses, ruffles, shawls and veils. Mirecourt, renowned for the originality of its creations, satisfies all the whims of fashion. Its products have the honour of being almost universally imitated; but foreign competition excites its emulation without arousing its fears.
The Exhibition of 1867 demonstrates, beyond the obvious, that France today holds the first rank in this rich industry and that she has no rivalry to fear.
From one end of the year to the other, 200,000 lace-makers are constantly at work; they all work at home, in the countryside and in the towns; they only leave their bobbins to attend to the care of the household or to engage in harvest work.
French laces are sought after on all markets, in Germany, England, Italy, Russia, the United States, Brazil and even in India; but Paris is the most important centre of consumption for this industry, whose annual production is estimated at over 100 million francs.
The laces of Chantilly, Bayeux and Caen, the most beautiful of all black laces, are woven with bobbins, made in strips, joined together by hangers; the laces of Cambray, imitations of those of Chantilly, of which they do not have the finesse, are made on the loom; the Valenciennes of Bailleul are made with bobbins, like the point of Alençon, which is the lightest, the finest and the richest of all white laces.
When one contemplates this marvellous stitch, one's heart bleeds if one comes to think that it is made by the most poorly paid and therefore the most miserable working population.
The lace-guipures, black and white, have made such progress in France that they no longer fear serious competition. Mirecourt is the most renowned manufacturing centre for white guipures and Le Puy is without rival for black ones; both are admired for the variety of stitches, designs and style.
Belgium, which holds the second rank for the manufacture of lace in the order of awards, has, so to speak, placed this industry under the tutelage or the patronage of the greatest houses of Paris: Messrs Verdé-Delisle frères, for example, have an important factory in Brussels, where everything is executed according to their dispositions and on their designs; also the masterpieces produced there, reveal to all, by their richness and their exquisite elegance, their very Parisian origin. The lace exhibited by the town of Ypres obtained the gold medal, those of Mr. Van der Smissen-Van den Bossche, the silver medal; but it is by pure accident that the Cheuvreux-Aubertot company did not take for its account this double exhibition which, before the opening, was its property, since all the pieces were ordered by it and executed according to its most precise instructions, and on its drawings sent from Paris. This proves that in this, as in many other things, everything is always better over there when the direction or impulse comes from here.
Didn't Messrs Normand and Chaudon, by being admitted as Belgian manufacturers and by obtaining a gold medal, credited to Brussels, want to prove, in addition, to Belgium the advantages of the annexation?
Among our exhibitors, Mr. Lefebure had the honour of the first gold medal. His beautiful workmanship could not fail to be noticed and rewarded by the jury; everyone applauded the justice done to him.
We can explain less well, after the most attentive and conscientious examination of the exhibition of MM. Aubry frères, that the second gold medal was awarded to them; their shawl and their dress in Venice stitch, their shawl and their Chantilly ruffle, are very rich; but we looked for, but did not find, what distinguished them from the similar products of the current manufacture. What undoubtedly contributed to making them favourable to the jury was their banner in Mirecourt guipure, intended for the Empress. It is difficult to ignore such attention.
How can one explain, with the cross of honour that was awarded to him, that M. Verdé-Delisle only obtained the third gold medal? All the rival exhibitions pale beside his, and all his colleagues unanimously awarded him first place. The efforts and enormous sacrifices made by this company to bring the lace industry to its highest point of perfection, in the four factories it has founded in Bayeux, Caen, Alençon and Brussels, deserved, in our opinion, better and more than the gold medal: the jury would have awarded it the grand prize and everyone would have applauded.
Mr. Normand and Mr. Chaudon received the gold medal for their laces made in Belgium: their large flat skirt woven in one piece, is a tour de force which cost, according to the exhibitors, 1050 days of workers; it is in truth much too much time and money spent for the execution of a product which seems to us to be of the most difficult placement.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée