January 31, 2014

{The Return of Lace}

Dear Bride-to-Be:
Whether you are wearing a lace gown or just have a bit of lace-trimmed lingerie for your wedding day, lace has a special legacy for brides. So I thought you would enjoy this article I wrote, recently published in the winter issue of Season magazine.
....with love from Cornelia

The Return of Lace

Its early Venetian name, Punta in Aria—“stitches in air”—said it all: ethereal and mysterious. Lace has charmed and bewitched both men and women for centuries, worn as high-status fashion accessories at a time when you were what you wore! When lace became de rigueur for aristocratic brides, it was worn for its prestige (only the rich could afford it) as much as for its beauty (lace always captivated!)
There are stories from centuries past of brides who wore yards and yards of precious handmade needle and bobbin laces—worth a king’s ransom—but modern wedding history starts with Queen Victoria. Big white wedding gowns have been around since she broke with the silvery custom and chose “plain white” for her wedding in 1840. To make a statement—after all she was already queen of an empire—she called on England’s beloved yet faltering lace industry to create deep borders of handmade Honiton lace to trim her dress and silk tulle veil. Of course her wedding was highly publicized so the lace legacy was re-ignited and became associated with brides through the 1950s, highlighted by Grace Kelly’s silk taffeta gown with a fitted antique Brussels lace bodice and high collar. (What 50s-era bride didn’t want to look like a princess?)

Even when lace was out of fashion, it was typical for American women making a voyage “to the continent” to bring back a rose point lace veil from Belgium or Valenciennes lace yardage from France with dreams of a wedding in mind. Through the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s, lace as well as traditional wedding ceremonies took a back seat until Princess Diana’s royal nuptials turned weddings back into stylish events and romantic, lace-trimmed gowns became the favorite of 1980s brides. (The lace appliqu├ęd on Diana’s corseted bodice once belonged to Queen Mary, Prince Charles’ great-grandmother.)
In the 1980s and 90s, my bridal art-to-wear shop in Atlanta followed this practice of incorporating vintage laces into new gowns—“elegant recycling” as one of my designers called it. When creating Lady Mary’s wedding dress, Downton Abbey’s costume designer used this technique by repurposing an antique lace veil she found; it became the centerpiece in a delicate crystal-trimmed, tabard-style silk chiffon confection inspired by royal brides of the early 1920s.

Of course the most memorable lace revival was Kate Middleton! Her sweeping designer wedding gown with its sheer long sleeves and lace trimmed bodice and skirt—laces handmade by artisans at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace—set the fashion runways abuzz. Other royal brides followed suit with sumptuous dresses of the finest machine-made laces: Sweden’s Princess Madeleine married this year wearing a Valentino pleated silk organza gown with an open lace bodice; Princess Stephanie and Princess Claire of Luxembourg royalty both recently wore dreamy Elie Saab couture gowns with crystal- and pearl-encrusted Chantilly lace like something out of the most shimmering fairytale … and something only lace’s mystical filigree nature could inspire. □

[This is a reprint of my article, "The Return of Lace," featured in the winter 2013-2014 issue of Season magazine. To read it in the magazine's layout online, scroll to page 46.]