under the (Lyonnaise) robes of lawyers

Great business saga. – Founded in 1843 in Saint-Genis-Laval, this company specializing in lawyers’ robes and religious costumes has been passed down for six generations. A rare know-how close to Lyon. Narrative.

Beneath the robes of the lawyers and – more incongruously – the nuns, there is a family story. The workshops of Feyzin, a stone’s throw from Lyon, house a nugget whose name goes under the cloak: the Artisan Costumier. A brand passed down from father to son and daughter for six generations. A rare resilience and a Lyonnais pride born 175 years ago on the heights of Saint-Genis-Laval, in the west of Lyon. A specialist in lawyer’s robes, the couturier also works on judges’ robes, university professors’ robes, brotherhood costumes and even religious clothing. As a guarantee of quality, all the pieces are unique and made to measure by the fifteen craftsmen. Since its origins in 1843, the establishment has evolved and developed a know-how unique in the region: starting with weaving for religious vestments, the Saint-Genis factory then moved directly to making garments until produce, today, the costumes of lawyers… and even actors. We thus find costumes of the Lyonnais in the film I accusewith Jean Dujardin, Polanski, and many others.

With its history, the tailor currently has a network of four shops in France, while having its habits in the main schools of lawyers in France. L’Artisan Costumier has managed to carve out a place for itself in this niche market by being the first to offer personalization elements for this item of clothing, at first sight far from fantasy. The lawyer’s robe in two words: a black toga with a pleated white flap. “For a new graduate, the first dress has the same symbolism as the wedding dress”, laughs Jérôme Derruau, the company’s operational manager. But it has not always been so.

Beginnings facilitated by the political context

Other times, other customs. In 1843, when Adrien Fournier opened his first weaving for religious communities, the clientele was rich and abundant. France abounds with small convents, and the Church of Lyon of that time shines with its vitality. It is also the time of Pauline Jaricot and Antoine Chevrier. Figures from Lyon still venerated today by Catholics. The business of the Church is good, so is that of the entrepreneur. Consequence: several looms are installed in Saint-Genis, south-west of Lyon. During this period, the religious, autonomous, only needed fabric to sew their own clothes.

We had sales people all over the world, in Africa, in Canada

Since the advent of the Restoration in 1814, and the return of the monarchy, religious congregations have taken on new life. The violence of the Revolution and the suppression of all ecclesiastical establishments during the Napoleonic period now seem distant, and the revolts of the Canuts worry the Church little. As a result, orders are increasing and the factory is opening two other factories in Oullins, in addition to a possible shop on the Presqu’île de Lyon. For the record, between 1854 and 1865, the prefect Vaïsse – our Haussmann from Lyon – opened rue Impériale and rue de l’Impératrice, now rue de la République and rue Édouard-Herriot: already fashionable places. From 1900, trade developed further: “We had sales people all over the world, in Africa, in Canada”, underlines Chantal Perroy, of the fifth generation. She continues: “It is said that 70 looms beat in the year, some for the same community.” A commercial success that brought the family into the ranks of the notables of Saint-Genis-Laval and a growth that would last until the Second World War. The latter greatly weakens the business of the weaving company.

From fabrics to nuns’ dresses

The other difficulty was the vocations crisis in the Church, starting in the 1960s.”The numbers were down, we thought we were going to close”, recalls Chantal Perroy. Among the innumerable causes, the evolution of French society towards more emancipation with the apogee of May 68, but also in the monasteries with the Vatican Council II, which ended in 1965. “The pope said: ‘Simplify your outfits’, the sisters understood ‘take them off’. Only the contemplative orders kept them”, reports the commercial. Indeed, in 1970, Chantal Perroy entered the family business and developed a catalog of clothing and underwear for religious. A proposal at first inappropriate for the communities, unaccustomed to buying these products to which they will eventually turn, constrained by the lack of vital forces among them. The commercial first crosses France, then Europe to meet what will constitute a network of 10,000 points of sale. “I was driving away for a week with the samples in the trunk. I canvassed Belgium, England…” recalls Chantal Perroy.

The sisters never negotiate. If they order, they have the money.

An economic model shared between the sale of fabric and clothing that has proven itself. Communities like the Little Sisters of the Poor bought the same clothes for their sixty houses around the world. “It was almost 25% of our turnover”, exclaim the heirs of Adrien Fournier. “The sisters never negotiate. If they order, they have the money. I can still see those little sisters coming forward to touch the samples. Sometimes we were even paid in advance”, assures Chantal Perroy. Once, in 1992, things were more difficult: “I had trouble with the superior of a traditionalist community of Saint-Pie-X, for whom it was inconceivable that a woman take the measurements of the seminarians or even realize the outfits. I lost the order. Fortunately, the Benedictines, aware of this story, compensated with a big contract”, jokes today the one who was the first woman in charge of the workshops. A lucrative trade, which revived the company up to a certain point.

The first custom lawyer gowns

Precisely, to diversify, the company rebounds. L’Artisan Costumier, then called La Maison de la Tunique, bought the Gérin house in 1995, specializing in lawyer dresses: “We had to learn how this product was made. I took a friend’s dress and we cut it up.“Without lining, the law suits were then of a very wise and above all constant sobriety for decades. “It is said that a lawyer dies in his third robe, but if he is careful he can keep it all his career. In addition, some display the signs of wear to signify their experience.”, regret, with humor, the specialists for whom this resilience does not facilitate trade.

It is said that a lawyer dies in his third robe, but if he is careful he can keep it all his career. In addition, some display the signs of wear to signify their experience.

An immutability that struck Chrystèle Métairie, of the sixth generation of descendants, who arrived in 1994. After decorating a stand with fake lawyer’s robe flaps, she realized the interest of young graduates for these customized pieces. Considered sold ! It was then the beginning of a series, which is still continuing, with Christmas flaps and creative flaps – bouquet of roses, sun, small snowflake, bling-bling… An innovation today integrated by the profession which wears often the red flap to display his anger on protest days. Besides, the tailors had the idea of ​​allowing the customization of each element of the dress, whether it is the materials, the fabric of the lining, with or without a pattern, the edging and even the embroidery. Enough to design personal pieces corresponding to the character of each according to all moods: “It will upset the judge”, testify some lawyers wearing a flap in sequins.

Customizable flaps. An invention of the Artisan Costume designer @Antoine Merlet

2000-2022: entry into modernity

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