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PARIS (Reuters) - For the first time in its history, luxury conglomerate LVMH has provided a peek into its exclusive workshops, design showrooms and wine cellars -- to reveal the hundreds of hands and delicate workmanship behind its expensive brands.
Seeking to "reveal the true nature of high quality," according to LVMH, the company opened up 25 of its brands to the public on Saturday and Sunday.
Couturiers like Christian Dior and Givenchy welcomed hundreds of the curious in Paris, while in France's champagne region, top makers from Dom Perignon to Moet & Chandon opened their cellars.
In Italy, Bulgari, Fendi and Pucci participated in the "Private Days," which also reached Spain, Scotland and Poland.
"These are works of art," said Beatrice de Plinval of Parisian jewelers Chaumet, referring to the nearly 3,000 diadems -- or bejeweled headpieces -- the company has produced since it first began serving the French aristocracy in 1780. "This is a profession of passion."
Worn no less by Josephine Bonaparte, the first wife of Emperor Napoleon, Chaumet's sparkling creations can require between 500 to 1,500 hours of workmanship. It takes 10 years for a jeweler to develop a "good hand," said de Plinval, who is curator of Chaumet's archives and museum.
"Each house has its identity, so it takes time to learn," explained jeweler Nicolas Tappou, who has worked at Chaumet for 15 years - one of the countless artisans who labor behind the scenes at LVMH's celebrated houses.
LVMH publishes third-quarter sales figures on Tuesday, with analysts expecting strong growth. Despite the tough global economic environment, the luxury sector has continued to grow helped by a resurgence of demand in Europe and strong performances in Asia.
But behind the financial facts and figures and the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton shopping bags, lies a rich history of tradition and thousands of hours of home-grown craftsmanship.
"The group communicates a lot about its financial performance but not enough about its savoir-faire and its history," Antoine Arnault, head of communications at Louis Vuitton, said in a statement.
At Dior -- whose fashions this year have been overshadowed by the firing of former designer John Galliano for uttering anti-Semitic comments that were caught on video - a grey-haired tailor who has worked at the couturier for a decade showed small groups the proper way to make a men's jacket, which takes about a week and requires 15 pieces of fabric.
In the atelier for haute couture - where mannequins in the shape of each client are lined up on a high shelf -- a team of 27 concentrates on gowns, with one person shepherding the dress from conception to its finish.
With new orders for exclusive gowns coming in all the time, "We don't have the time to get attached," to the sumptuous creations they make by hand, laughed one seamstress.
"Magnifique!" exclaimed Vocella Maryse, one of the hundreds who came from Paris' outskirts to catch a sneak peek into Dior. "You can see why it's so expensive. Now I understand why."
Visitors were shown the high-ceilinged salon where Givenchy's famous clients like Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor would meet with the famous couturier, who retired in 1995.
On display were gowns from Givenchy's recent autumn-winter collection, one with tiny, white hand-curled feathers adorning the bodice, another with delicate balls of cashmere and pearls imprisoned in muslin creating an avant-garde, textured effect.
LVMH's weekend event was also an opportunity for architecture and design buffs, as the brands are headquartered in some of Europe's most beautiful buildings.
The grand marble staircase at Dior, situated on Paris' exclusive Avenue Montaigne, was the site of the atelier's first fashion shows, where stars like Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich would watch sinewy models pass by.
And at Chaumet, headquartered in Paris' Place Vendome, visitors passed through the gold-columned Louis XVI-style salon, now considered a historical monument, where pianist Frederic Chopin spent his final days.
Editing by Paul Casciato