Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Indeed laces, especially the french alençon and chantilly, are famous worldwide for their artistry and beauty. lady gaga’s performance on american idol earlier this year may have been much heralded, but her giorgio armani crystal embellished chantilly lace costume stole the show. apparently, designer minds do think alike going by fall 2010 collections: valentino presents lace overlay bags and burberry, known for clean lines and plaid, has thrown in a lacey skirt or two.
and yes, coco chanel did have this to say in 1939:
“i consider lace to be one of the prettiest imitations ever made of the fantasy of nature; lace always evokes for me those incomparable designs which the branches and leaves of trees embroider across the sky, and i do not think that any invention of the human spirit could have a more graceful or precise origin.”
whatever preconception you might have about the intricate thread work, lace wasn’t always simply an idyllic past-time activity, turned fashion detail must-have…
Once upon a time (in 1665 that is), the french king louis XIV actually mandated that certain lace making centers (alençon, quesnoy, arras, reims, and chateau thierry among others) operate in a state funded company to produce all sorts of thread works imitating those done in venice or flanders, where the lace making industry first gained artistic and commercial importance. at the time, imports of venetian and flemish lace were also strictly forbidden.
forbidding imports of venetian and flemish lace, developing the skill under edict, and appointing a certain venetian pattern maker by the name of frederic vinciolo all served to stimulate the french lace industry. in less than a decade even the textile-proud italians would acknowledge the quality of the laces produced by the french, who have since stood as a serious contender in lace making.
while fashion houses currently conspire around the marvel of lace, it (particularly hand made lace) has certainly lost its acclaimed position in the wardrobe. gone are the days when laces were sewn to collars and cuffs of a dress one day, then detached and resewn to another the next.
the art of lace.
if the artistry of lace piques your curiosity, here are three types of fine needle works that still exist today:
An italian needle point lace, these laces are easily identifiable by their geometric designs and were produced abundantly from the late 1400’s to early 1800’s. admittedly the predecessor of lace, there was a fundamental difference in the way it is made compared to most other types of laces: instead of creating the designs by twisting and weaving threads, the early reticella is made by cutting out and withdrawing threads from a foundation fabric.
is it really still in existence today? yes – but only in museums.
taking its name from the french town of alençon in normandy france, it was initially developed by marthe laperriere in her efforts to improve upon the venetian lace. she was also the first to come up with division of lacemaking tasks that allowed women to specialize in certain aspects and collectively work faster and better.
Alençon lace is probably the most expensive lace in the word. light and airy yet durable, this fine needlepoint lace made of linen thread demanded up to 13 stages of production where each stage was carried out by different workers. with the proliferation of machine lace, the luxurious alençon lace survived only because of buying demand from tourists.
today wedding veils and gowns are probably where you can still find beautiful displays of the alençon lace. (try Vera Wang fall 2010.)
a handmade bobbin lace named after the city of Chantilly, France, this famous lace is known for its fine ground, outlined pattern and abundant detail. unlike most other types of laces made of white linen or cotton threads, the best Chantilly laces were made of black silk, becoming especially popular in Spain and the Americas.
Despite the recurring slump in the lace industry, Chantilly lace remained popular in the 19th century, and any fashionable of that time would have a black or white Chantilly shawl. but only the discerning would have known the difference between french Chantilly lace made of non-boiled, very fine and very black grenadine silk and those made in Belgium which looked more Grey-black.
so the next time you see or wear this most refined of textile arts, remember the exquisite alençon lace, the very black fine grenadine silk, and the french king who started it all for France. 

If you take one thing (OK, maybe two) from Proenza Schouler’s Spring 2011 collection, it’s that tweed suits needn’t look stuffy and lace bras needn’t be paired only with loose tanks. In her show, the undergarment peeked out of otherwise prim dresses, appeared under sheer fitted tops, beneath tweed-like jackets made from sequins, and supplemented sheer cream, black, and highlighter yellow dresses. No longer just reserved for the hipster and Lollobrigida set, the peek-a-boo lace bra could look polished yet still impart that much-desired sex appeal.
If you’re adventurous, emulate Proenza Scheduler runway and wear the look for day. Wear a lace bra under a sheer, fitted top and pair with high-waisted pants and a belt. If that’s too revealing for you, wear a fitted V-neck cardigan or blazer over it. Or let the bra peek out from under a tailored shirt you can see yourself wearing to work one day in the near future. It gives the outfit a more modern vibe without subtracting from the clean-tailored look. If Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn are your style icons, why hesitate? Note that these looks only work with soft cup bras—a push-up style would be over-the-top to properly pull off the look.