Wedding fever is upon us all. After the royal wedding, the biggest frock event of the year, comes the second biggest: the wedding of fashion royal Kate Moss. And with both comes a deluge of paparazzi attention that may transform one of 2011’s biggest fashion trends into a cultural phenomenon: lace.
“Lace is being discovered by a generation of young girls who like the dress-up element,” says Barbara Horspool, New Look’s group creative director. The retailer offers acid yellow and bubblegum pink lace shell tops (£26.99) and a white broderie anglaise playsuit (£24.99). Karen Bonser, joint head of design at Topshop, reports similar success. “Our red lace shift (£59) has sold out and a cream 1960s dress with a frilled sleeve is heading that way,” she says.
Three Vogues (German, Spanish and French) featured the same white Dolce & Gabbana eyelet dress on their April cover, choosing it from among the lacy offerings at Erdem (where lace was Chantilly and red), Christopher Kane (psychedelic) and Stella McCartney (peekaboo). It popped up again in last month’s graduate shows, where Thomas Bender, who is studying at Central Saint Martins, incorporated lace into furniture, and Samuel Johnson used 40m of lace curtains for his collection at the London College of Fashion. But it is the royal weddings (official and non) that have prompted full high street penetration.
Sophie Hallette, the family-run lacemakers founded in 1887 and based in Caudry, France, supplies brands from Dior to Givenchy and Alexander McQueen, and created the lace used in Kate Middleton’s dress. “The popularity of lace goes in waves,” says Romain Lescroart, its chief executive. “There’s a cycle that seems to happen every seven years. But thanks to Kate we’ve gone into extra time.”
The company had no idea that the silk tulle woven with shamrock, roses and lilies commissioned by McQueen would be used as a “canvas” for Royal College of Needlework workers to customise – cutting around the motifs and reapplying them to create the décolleté, sleeves and train of the royal gown.
Since then things have gotten a little crazy. The company has seen exports rise and waiting lists explode. When it comes to this kind of lace, there can never be a rush in production. It can take three men two months to set up the 100-year-old British Leavers looms required for a pattern (such as the one previously known as number 950264 and now as “Kate’s lace”) and they can only produce 60m of lace a day.
Helen Low, head of design for brands in women’s wear at Marks and Spencer, notes, “You can do lace on all levels. When money is tight lace offers opulence – it’s a treat. We’ve incorporated spot lace and peek-a-boo into lace sleeves to give just a suggestion of flesh.” Topshop is selling out of an orange lace pencil skirt; Fenwick of Bond Street is excited about its khaki and navy lace offerings (shift dress and short-sleeve tops by Irwin & Jordan, from £239; Malene Birger chiffon top/tunic from £169) and M&S has channelled Louis Vuitton’s racy S&M references in a short black lace dress for their Autograph range (£65, from October).
“Lace fits into the new season because it lies flat, allowing for detail and texture without complicating a clean, modern silhouette,” says Ruth Runberg, buying director at Browns in London.
“Anything with a skill involved is always revered and timeless,” believes Louise Wilson OBE, of Central Saint Martins. “There are also many different layers to the meaning of lace. It is present at birth, in a christening robe, as well as marriage and death.”
“Lace is a lot like salt, my father used to say,” says Romain Lescroart. “You can eat without salt, but life becomes dull.”