Is there enough velvet in your life?

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Kim Basinger smoulders in the film LA Confidential

Velvet – isn’t it just the height of glamour? Always chic but especially on-trend this winter, with Prada’s luxe midnight velvet hiking boots, Gucci’s gorgeous teal velvet bag and Demna Gvasalia’s strapless gowns for Balenciaga.

Why do we love it so? Its extreme softness and delicacy has made it a luxury down the centuries. Elizabeth I actually made it illegal for any subject below the rank of knight to wear velvet, so concerned was she about devaluing its currency as a mark of nobility.

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Collection of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris

She need not have worried: velvet has maintained it luxury edge down the centuries. When Charles Worth, the man widely credited with creating the first haute couture fashion house, opened his design salon in 1858, he quickly became known for lavish fabrics and embellishment. This richly beaded velvet jacket from Worth even draws clear inspiration from tudor style with its structure and puffed sleeves.

Velvet seems to have originated in Baghdad in the 9th century.  It reached Europe in the middle ages through Venice, the main thoroughfare for the spice route between Asia and Europe.  The city has maintained a close association with velvet through the ages, culminating in Mario Fortuny’s exquisite devore and printed velvet cloaks, coats and tunics, produced in the city in the early twentieth century, and recently celebrated by A S Byatt’s excellent book, Peacock and Vine. Fortuny was an inventor and an artist – fashion was only one of his talents which also extended to lighting and theatre set design. To this day, no one has managed to discover the process he invented (and patented in 1909) to create his signature creased and crushed silk “Delphos” dresses. Lucky ladies 20161001_154021buying the dresses received them rolled and wound in boxes.

Velvet can be made from cotton and linen – typically heavier textiles – as well as in lighter silk or silk/rayon mixes. The fabric lends itself to a range of textural effects, from devore, in which the velvet is burnt with acid to create a pattern, to crushed velvet (see left). It can also be woven in combinations of colours to make it appear iridescent.

Since the start of the twentieth century velvet has featured strongly in every decade’s fashion. In the Jazz Age of the 1920s flappers wore lustrous embroidered velvet opera coats, referenced by John Galliano in his 1998 haute couture collection for Christian Dior (below).

Art deco of the 1930s brought a more minimalist feel in which colour and design were pared back to bring out the beauty of luxury fabrics themselves, as seen below in a panne black velvet necktie trimmed with ermine.

The 1940s and 50s saw the return of colour and pattern, especially in hats as velvet was used for percher hats and half-hats. The shimmer of the fabric highlights and flatters skin tone (see above).

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Balenciaga green velvet opera coat from the collection of the Fashion and Textile Museum, London

The greatest couturiers of those decades, Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga, also used velvet frequently in their collections. Dior’s H-line collection (Autumn-Winter 1954-55) was inspired by tudor court dress, while Balenciaga manipulated green velvet into a pattern mimicking astrakhan fur for this opera coat.

The 1960s saw the rise of perhaps one of the greatest designers to use velvet in his collections: Yves Saint Laurent. Who can forget his black velvet flamenco hat from the iconic portrait of Lou Lou de la Falaise by Steven Meisel? Black velvet was a staple ingredient of his evening dresses and featured strongly in some of his most famous collections – as bodices in the “Russian” collection of 1976 and as knickerbockers in the “Chinese” collection of the following year.

And what better lesson for us all in how to wear it than to study Lou Lou above? Velvet needs attitude for sure but it also needs a little disrespect. Pair it with jeans for Parisienne glamour, with leather for a rock chick edge, vamp it up with black jet to reference Victoriana, or go classical with contrasting white satin.  No wardrobe is complete without it.

This post first appeared as a guest blog for The Gathering Goddess

 

 

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A Capeline never fails to flatter

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A classic image of the wide-brimmed capeline is Bette Davis in Now Voyager and Bette and her genius costumer designer Orry Kelly, knew their stuff.  I’ve yet to meet the person that isn’t flattered by a wide brim.  Especially when the brim is wired – it means you can play with it, shape and angle it for maximum flattering effects.  Dipping it down over one eye, a la Bette, is a good way to go, as is getting the brim to run parallel with your jaw line, helping accentuate it.  The capeline is a marvel of engineering – practical, ergonomic and beautiful.

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/

 

The pillbox hat – glamourous minimalism

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A black velvet pillbox hat is a classic example of 1960s minimalism.  This one reminded me of the fabulous little pillbox that Audrey Hepburn wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, especially with the addition of some white spot veiling to recall the more flamboyant white feather on the front of Miss Hepburn’s hat.

The film clearly shows the transition from 1950s studied glamour to 1960s spontaneity.  The clean lines of Hepburn’s Givenchy wardrobe and hats have the simplicity of combinations she has come up with on the spot.  They look youthful and fresh compared with the high glamour of Patricia Neal’s Pauline Trigere ensembles that have the feel of an entire top-to-toe ‘look’ crafted by the designer.  Over a decade after the original ‘New Look’ of Christian Dior in 1947, it was time for a fashion re-set and the pillbox was then, and is still, the perfect minimalist touch.  Add a few feathers or a veil and create some drama.

Are you going to London Hat Week?

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/

The cloche hat: Jazz Age modernism

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Nothing so epitomises the Jazz Age like a cloche hat.  First appearing around 1914 in designs by French milliners Lucy Hamar and Caroline Reboux, it was a reaction against the wildly extravagant picture hats of the Belle Epoque, groaning under the weight of their embellishment.  It summed up the modern, practical spirit of a world of female emancipation, motoring and minimalism.  The cloche looked fresh and youthful and crucially, helped to keep newly bobbed hair smooth and sleek, as it still does perfectly today.

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/

And check out Jazz Age Style at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum at their Autumn blockbuster exhibition – http://www.ftmlondon.org/

 

 

Glamourizing the beret

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Berets are classics and for good reason.  Everyone can wear a beret but the trick is getting the angle right.  Just experiment with it: is it better dipping to right or left (very few people’s faces are symmetrical so the effect will be quite different).

Or perhaps you prefer it pushed back off the face a la Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker?  Or maybe your beret is the serious kind – a French intellectual, or a tudor-style Thomas Cromwell?

This one was inspired by Steichen’s iconic 1924 image of Gloria Swanson, eyes piercing through a veil of black lace.

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/

 

Percher hats – an easy-to-wear shot of elegance

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Percher hats are usually small and light and secured by covered elastic to the nape of the neck.  As daywear they bring instant pzzazz – see Gucci’s AW 16-17 ad campaign that pairs a black percher with an 80s style suit in Times Square.

For evening they can sizzle with glamour with the addition of veiling and some sparkle.  If in doubt, check out Woody Allen’s latest, Café Society for the classic Hollywood take.  They also convey something of the Air France hostess – when air travel was still something for which you actually dressed.

This is a vintage hat, revamped with a little modern embellishment.  Easy to wear – just decide which side of your head to tip them and adjust to the best angle for maximum effect.  If its good enough for Alessandro Michele at Gucci, its good enough for me.

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/

 

Half-hat – full impact

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The half hat is a classic of the 1950s.  Anyone who has seen the movie Carol will be in no doubt about the power of the half-hat.  A particular strength is how well it can work with your hairstyle.  So many hats require hair to be tied up or concealed – this one actively complements your style, holding it in place.

Easy to wear and secured either with its own veiling or with covered elastic to the nape of the neck.  Good for day but even better for evening and a nice alternative to a fascinator.

This one came to me in a sorry state, wilting feathers dangling from yellowing glue and torn nylon veiling.  With these sad vestiges gone, the gorgeous lustre of the lilac velvet really came through, especially basking in the reflected light of a little gold beading.  A hat to love once again, especially when so many designers are making us fall in love with velvet this season.

#LHW London Hat Week 6-12 October 2016

http://www.londonhatweek.com/