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Behind Velvet's Timeless Allure


Self portrait in a velvet dress, 1926 by Frida Kahlo


As the warm weather shifts into something else entirely (for us, Diwali season marks that transition), something magical happens — velvet appears everywhere. It’s in shop windows, in fashion magazines, and wrapped around your favourite fashion inspirations. Unlike most fashion trends, this one doesn’t fade — there’s always a new way to style velvet, a new look, a new inspiration.

But good styling is never enough to stay relevant — velvet’s appeal extends beyond the bounds of aesthetics — it’s also about how it’s made and where it comes from.

“Whether made out of silk or cotton, velvets are woven with a pile that gives them extra warmth and tactility,” explains fashion historian Elizabeth Currie. This would explain why we reach for velvet as we descend into colder climes. What makes velvet even more unique, though, is its ability to absorb or reflect light, Currie adds. “Depending on whether the pile is cut or uncut, some velvets shimmer while others have very deep, saturated colours, and both these effects are especially appealing and indulgent in winter.”

Advertisement for "My Queen Vel-Vel" depicting a group of fashionable women in velvet. From THE GRAPHIC, January 14th 1888, p. 47 (TRC 2018.2577).


Velvet —one of the most luxurious textiles produced in Europe over the past thousand years, both time consuming and expensive to fashion — it became an essential item for royals and nobility. Short loops are worked into a predetermined set of warp or weft threads, and these loops are subsequently (though not always) cut to create a raised or piled surface. As well as being incredibly time-consuming, the technique requires larger quantities of thread in the warp than flat textiles. Earliest velvet textiles are believed to have originated in 2000BC Egypt, and even in 400BC china. However, it was not until the Renaissance (1400-1600), that production of this tufted fabric was at its peak.


Enamoured and seduced by the soft and luxurious qualities of velvet — Europeans introduced it into trade along the silk road. And Italy was the first European country to have a velvet industry, where applications included high-end clothing, furniture, upholstery and curtains — but still it remained limited to aristocrats and the wealthy. During the Industrial Revolution, velvet production improved and became more widely available, catalysing a spurt in the fabric among the glamorous and the fashion-conscious.

In what would today be considered a viral moment, Diana's dance with Saturday Night Fever Actor, John Travolta made her Victor Edelstein blue velvet evening gown recognizable all over the globe.


From the 1900s, velvet was a staple in both the fashion and interiors worlds. Evening gowns and suits were commonly cut from the fabric while Edwardian furniture such as chaise lounges and dining chairs were typically upholstered in patterned devoré styles. Today, velvet is no less luxurious, and is the ideal material when styling your sophisticated (and festive) ensemble — one that will look just as good on the dancefloor, as it will in your living room. That’s the thing about velvet — you really can wear it anywhere.


References


1. Independent Digital News and Media. (2020, November 8). The story behind Velvet's perennial allure. The Independent. Retrieved October 16, 2022, from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/velvet-allure-trend-fashion-why-b1616604.html


2. Mackelden, A. (2021, November 2). Princess Diana's unforgettable Blue Velvet Gown is going up for auction. Harper's BAZAAR. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a29829294/princess-diana-john-travolta-dance-dress-auction/


3. Mitic, G. B. (2016, November 27). The plush pleasure of Velvet. The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/fashion/fabric-velvet.html


4. Rosenzweig, & Rosenzweig, M. (2007). Self portrait in a velvet dress : Frida’s wardrobe : fashion from the Museo Frida Kahlo / [editors, Denise Rosenzweig, Magdalena Rosenzweig]. Chronicle Books.



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