Every year, new membership certificates are presented at the WIEN PRODUCTS Annual General Meeting. This year, Albert Alexander Maurer was given one of these certificates. Mr. Maurer is the sixth generation to run the family-own passementerie business. Passementerie? Many people ask themselves what this means, nowadays – the term is known and used almost only by professionals in this field these days. To find out, I arrange a meeting with Mr. Maurer at his company, which has been located in Vienna’s 7th District for a long, long time. The business has moved around within this district — known as a center for the textile industry — and can be found at Kandlgasse 20, at present. Crossing a courtyard, I reach the factory, from which I can hear rattling noises from four floors…
Mr. Maurer explains what skills a passementerie professional must have and that this profession has almost died out. I can see people weaving, embroidering and even gilding – ribbons, braids, bullion wire and sequins become tassels, aiguillettes or shoulder cords and other precious uniform pieces in their skilled hands …
The uniform used for the Austrian TV emperor Robert Heinrich I is a good representative of this type of work and features a number of products made by M. Maurer, and the boss also says that “the company’s products can be seen in large numbers at the Vienna Opera Ball”. Every time gala uniforms and medals or other honors are required at a ball, Maurer has a lot to do – but also theaters, movie productions and museums rely on the skills and products of the passementerie firm. The company has 50 staff members – partly working from home – some of whom have been with the business for over 40 years. And the firm is proud to have apprentices, because “without specialists we would not be able to provide this quality,” says Mr. Maurer, who is happy to have three apprentices at his factory who will hopefully stay with the company after they have finished their apprenticeship and secure the survival of this trade. “In the past, there were over 100 passementerie firms in this area, now we are almost the only one.”
Mr. Maurer takes me through all the different departments, while we are talking. We start at the weaving department and I am surprised by the skillful hands that quickly insert hundreds of warp threads in various colors into the looms and weave them into trimmings and ribbons. The shelves are full of bobbins with cotton, artificial fibers and silk in a plethora of colors, which are all waiting there to be used. “We produce to order, not for stock,” Mr. Maurer tells me. “Our customers come here and expect excellent quality and precision work. This is what we stand for and I would like to continue the work of my forefathers.” Mr. Maurer has travelled the world, studied economics and finally decided to return to the family business. He enjoys the challenge of leading a business into the future. Where else would you have the opportunity to maintain a family tradition and, on the other hand, continue keeping a rare trade alive?
I am really impressed by the people who work here and the machines, some of them are over a hundred years old and are still running reliably. The company is currently working on digitizing old templates and patterns. I can see machines that still use punch cards and a wall full of files with old templates. The rattling of the machines, the colorful threads and spinning bobbins take me back more than 100 years ago …
Those were the heydays of the passementerie trade, when thousands of uniforms were adorned or elaborate gowns decorated with braids, buttons, gallons and other ornamentation and, last but not least, the fringes and tassels that were used to decorate cushions and lampshades.
Meanwhile, we are standing in front of a machine that winds up bullion wire. Razor-thin wire is wound into a tight spiral – usually silver or gold wire or false – also known as “Leonic gold” – metals. These wires are used for embroidery, passementerie or so-called Klosterarbeiten (arts and crafts textile objects made by nuns at convents).
Passementerie objects used to mostly consist of multiple interwoven and knotted metal threads and generally adorned uniforms. Nowadays, they are often made from textiles. Meanwhile, we have arrived in the workshop where ladies make beautiful cords and tassels from the threads. This is where true pieces of art are made using careful, painstaking detail.
Finally, we are standing in the showroom on the first floor in front of some wooden cabinets that reach from the floor to the ceiling. The cabinets have hundreds of drawers and I feel like I am in Paradise – each drawer contains another secret – one of them even keeps sword knots. I see a cincture, a rope-like girdle used by priests for their robes, run my fingers over instrument cords and am fascinated by glorious epaulettes with gold tassels. Mr. Maurer shows me old pattern books in which each product is carefully described. A true history of passementerie making in Vienna.
Unbelievable – and yes – this diversity is also needed today. “The Fire Department is a major customer – restaurateurs, the national heritage agency and costume designers are very happy that we exist,” says Mr. Maurer before I say goodbye. I step out onto Kandlgasse and meet customers who quickly move through the entrance to the offices and I am certain – the quality of passementerie makers M.Maurer is worth a stroll to Kandlgasse.