How they make lace… from then to now with an inspiring road-trip uncovering the history of lace
With wedding, prom and formal season about to commence, we bring you our very own Parisian ex-pat who set about to uncover the rich history of lace.
From styles evocative of the Victorian era to the modern day romance of Kate Middleton’s spectacular lace wedding dress, there’s plenty to take inspiration from for the season ahead.
Follow Richard as he travels to the city of Calais, long known to be the hub of the finest lace making center the world over, as he uncovers time-tested techniques and takes in thousands of varieties.
>>Discover: What to wear to weddings & formal events
From Richard Nahem, our resident French fashion expert: I am always looking for fun & inspiring day trips from Paris and recently read about a fashion exhibit at the Lace Museum in Calais. I checked the train schedule and Calais was an hour and forty minutes from Paris and the fares quite reasonable.
I arrived at about 11:30 and walked through the quiet, working class city to get to the museum. Most people know Calais for its ferries to England but it is also the lace making capitol of France. The country’s lace making industry began in 1816 coming from England and the original factory sits close to the museum. The Calais International Centre of Lace and Fashion was inaugurated in 2009 and resides in two buildings, one a former factory which has been connected to a newly built, modern building. Besides being a museum, it is an active center for the lace making industry with classrooms, seminars, and an auditorium for presentations.
Before I took in the fashion exhibit I toured the permanent collection. There is a room where with lace making looms and every hour on the hour is a demonstration of how the machines work. I never knew lace making was such an intricate and complicated process and just how very noisy the heavy machinery is. I moved into the next room, which had more looms, sewing machines, threading machines, and other industrial devices for lace making.
The next rooms had mannequins with lace fashions representing different decades, starting with long lace dresses hailing from the late 1800’s, then old fashioned lingerie including corsets and full slips from the 1920’s, moving to modern day lace gowns and dresses from designers like Jean Paul Gaultier for example. The room also had other lace accessories including hats, fans, and shawls.
Another room traces the history of lace from the 16th to the 19th century. It explores the technological as well as stylistic developments throughout the centuries. One of the more interesting displays was the sample books with thousands of patterns of lace in all colors and textures.
Now that I was fully educated and informed on the lacemaking process I proceeded to the exhibit we came for, Plein Les Yeux. The exhibit focuses on the relationship between the body and fashion throughout the history of Europe with costumes, haute couture dresses, accessories, photos, sketches, and paintings. I had a private guide, one of the co-curators of the show, for part of the exhibition.
The show is divided into five acts, giving it a more theatrical type presentation. The first, Ruff Times, addresses the oversized, extravagant collars and cuffs attached to men’s and women’s clothing in the late 1500’s. The guide explained to us how the uncomfortable, sometimes stiff collars and the close fitting bodices on the women’s dresses affected the posture of the women and it’s one of the reasons why they had such regal posture. The guide also told us the lace workers in Calais made the lace dress for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and they weren’t told who they were making the dress for until the wedding was over. And accordingly, the workers were so thrilled and honored to have made the dress.
The next two features, Blinded by the Light and Caged Bodies, were the highlight of the exhibit. They explored the extraordinary decorative elements of the lace plus how the body was enclosed in cage-like shells. Many of the fashions were from historic films including the richly detailed costumes from Queen Margot (1994), starring Isabel Adjani, Lola Montes (1955), and a white dress trimmed in green velvet worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. There were also some stunning costumes Thierry Mugler designed for an opera in the 1990’s.
One of the best parts of the exhibit was the wardrobe department. There were sample garments on a rack along with dressing rooms and mirrors. I snapped some cute little girls fantasizing about becoming fairy tale princesses in the mirror, trying on long skirts and cages.
The last part of the exhibit, Catwalk, had fantasy outfits from the modern day catwalks of Chanel, Christina Dior, Givenchy, Thierry Mugler, Christian Lacroix, and Hubert Barrere.
I spent almost three hours at the museum and had an extended lunch with excellent regional food at Histoire Ancienne, so I unfortunately missed much of Calais.
I think the Museum of Lace is a fruitful daytrip and if you could make it to the Plein Les Yeux exhibit, it will be worth your while. –Richard Nahem
CLICK on these pretty lace picks in store now, priced from high to very affordable….
>> Check out these stunning examples of lace, from then to now from Richard’s photo gallery:
Visit in France:
The Calais International Centre of Lace and Fashion
135 Quai de Commerce,62100 Calais
It’s a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Calais-Ville train station.
Histoire Ancienne Restaurant
20 rue Royale
Calais is an hour and forty minutes by the TGV train from the Gard du Nord station in Paris. The train goes to Calais-Frethun station and you must take the local shuttle train to the Calais-Ville station to get to museum.