Within the environment of the atelier, hands are so important, they traditionally are used, as a term, to indicate those professionals who take care of the materialisation of the couturier’s ideas to reality.
Gown from the Maison Worth, 1895-1900 ca., Courtesy Modemuseum Hasselt, All Rights Reserved
The première main, often referred to as just première, is the head of the atelier, the person in charge of supervise the work of all the people involved in the the process of production of dreamy couture gowns and precious ensembles. The other workers, each specialised in one passage of the process, are called petites mains. The hierarchy within the atelier is quite strict, and usually petite mains end up being so loyal to the fashion house they are in, to grow there professionally, from the apprenticeship onwards.
Dress by Hubert de Givenchy, 1950 ca., Courtesy MUDE - Museu Do Design E Da Moda, Colecção Francisco Capelo, All Rights Reserved
It is very important that both premieres and petites mains are able to understand the designer they work with, and above all that they share a language in order for the creations to be successful. Premières are always present during fittings, and have to be able to understand what is wrong with the toiles - the first step of the process, usually made of cheaper fabric - so they can go back to the tier and fix it according to the couturier’s vision.
It is probably their attention to all the visible and invisible aspects of couture that made them gain this name. Petites Mains are in fact the ones who embroider and complete all the details of a gown, tirelessly putting effort and technique into their work through their hands.