Brocade – heavy, textured and dramatic – might spark thoughts of antique sofas or curtains in a drafty country house rather than of an elegant wardrobe. But these days the tactile, ornate material is as beloved of fashion designers as interior decorators. Which means that this Christmas, as you recline in front of a roaring fire, you can choose to match your outfit to your chaise longue.
“Brocade is one of the ultimate dandy fabrics,” says Paula Reed, fashion director at department store Harvey Nichols. “There’s a richness and luxury about it. It’s got a very sensual appeal because it’s almost 3D in the way it’s woven. It’s all about decoration.”
Reed has embraced the trend herself, wearing a pair of slim geometric-print brocade trousers by Prada at least once a week since she bought them a couple of months ago, paired with everything from a plain T-shirt to a velvet top.
Prada’s sister company Miu Miu is also offering boldly patterned brocade pieces this season, such as cropped trousers (£635) and a matching coat (£1,370) in a potent, vintage-inspired purple print. Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen has an extra-fitted red-and-black sleeveless brocade sheath dress (£885) that feels quite seductive without revealing any skin, while Marni, Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana and Markus Lupfer have also experimented with the fabric.
High street names, too, are selling brocade pieces: Topshop offers a silvery minidress (£59), while Zara has patterned trousers (£39.99).
“Brocade is a fabric I’ve always loved to play with because it’s so striking and really draws the eye,” says US designer Tracy Reese, who has often included brocade in her collections. “It makes the perfect frock. You’re kind of done when you’ve got a great brocade dress – you don’t have to do a ton of accessorising.”
Admittedly, with its eye-catching patterns and often heavier feel, brocade isn’t the most forgiving fabric to wear. Brix Smith-Start, co-founder of east London’s Smart boutique, says: “You have to be careful if you are a healthy size, because it’s not the most slimming of fabrics.”
“You also have to have confidence to wear brocade,” she adds. “It’s not for a shrinking violet. It’s quite a strong statement. But you don’t have to go for the full-colour crazy pattern clash – you can always go with an evening black brocade trouser.”
As with many potent looks, the key to pulling it off is about moderation. “Limit it to one piece,” says stylist George Kotsiopoulos, who critiques designerwear on US TV show Fashion Police. “To do it with a blazer is perfect, or with pants. Keep it simple and keep your statement to one element.”
Reese does exactly that with designs for her own brocade pieces, teaming a bronze skirt from a couple of years ago with a solid turtleneck and tights, for example, or accessorising one of her dresses with an understated pair of shoes and a bag.
“For so long clothes have been in classic colours like greys, navys and blacks, in understated pieces you could use again and again, because if you were going to spend money, you had to make it last,” says Smith-Start. “This is almost a slap in the face reaction to that. It’s rich and indulgent. It’s luxury at its best.” Harvey Nichols’s Reed does not, however, see brocade as a trend-driven, here-today, gone-tomorrow indulgence. “They’re heirloom pieces,” she says. “A skinny cigarette pant in brocade: I’ve seen that come round many times before, and it will come round again.
“This feels to me like a vintage season in wine: there is a moment to buy textile and fabric, and brocade is, this season, giving us the opportunity.”
Brocade is not the only link between fashion and furnishings. As the Los Angeles-based fashion and interiors designer Kelly Wearstler – known for the maximalist, eclectic interiors she designs for Hollywood hotels – explains, the two disciplines complement each other, writes Lucy Garside.
“I think fashion certainly influences interiors; it’s so out there; it’s in every magazine, everyone wears it, everyone wants it. With interiors, people are frightened of even painting a colour on a wall, they lack confidence. I’d say fashion is definitely the leader of the two.
“I decided to go into fashion as friends in the business kept saying to me, ‘Kelly, you have such a distinctive voice, you’d really do well in fashion.’ You can’t say no to that. But fashion and interiors are two very different disciplines. The past year and a half I’ve been in fashion has been so intense and challenging. It’s as if I’m learning a whole new language – and a very difficult language at that!
“For me, whether it is interiors or fashion, it’s all about the mix; a mix of periods, styles, old and new. If you have everything new, there’s no soul, there’s no spirit.
“My fashion and interior passions are now so intertwined. I spend half the day on interiors and half the day on fashion, they inspire each other so much. I went to the fashion fabric fair Première Vision in Paris and it was amazing. There were all these insane fabrics I just can’t wait to upholster things with!”