The timeless charm of lace – bridging tradition and innovation

Pascal Gautrand, founder of MADE IN TOWN, a consulting and production platform specialized in the promotion of local know-hows, chaired a round table dedicated to  the question “What are the prospects for Leavers lace, a perpetual source of creativity?” (Thursday 13 February, 2.30-3.30pm, Fashion Talks Area, Hall 6). Guests Olivier Theyskens, designer, and two lace-makers from the renowned lace houses Jean Bracq and Darquer were invited to discuss the legendary history of Leavers lace and shed light on its future prospects.

Pascal Gautrand opened the panel by reviewing some of the elements that make the centuries-old history of lace such an epic human and technological tale of our modern age. Drawing on the Italian and Belgian looms of the Renaissance, Leavers lace emerged from the crossing of two key inventions: French jacquard looms and the bobbin looms initially invented by the Belgians, which 19th-century English engineers raised to new levels of mechanised industrial production.

Renowned for its extraordinary fineness among the many laces produced by looms over the centuries by local communities (Chantilly, Cluny, Alençon), Leavers lace produced in Calais-Caudry was trademarked in 2015 under the label Dentelle de Calais-Caudry®. This trademark certifies lace which has been manufactured for over 200 years in these two regions and is part of the French Federation of Lace and Embroidery (Fédération Française des Dentelles et Broderies).

“You have to go and see for yourself these gigantic, thundering machines, over 10 metres long, which, through a complex interconnected weaving process, spew from their metal jaws these ethereal, intangible fabrics of unparalleled fineness and sophistication,” said Olivier Theyskens, whose fascination for lace goes back to his childhood, when his Norman grandmother let him handle small pieces of this ancestrally elegant material. Theyskens has worked with the greatest luxury houses (Rochas, Nina Ricci, Theory). Since 2016, he has been promoting, through his eponymous brand, a vision of fashion that is as dark as it is enchanting, one that effortlessly focuses on unique know-hows marked by history, such as lace.

Since the 19th century most lace has been mechanical, but we sometimes ignore the attention, care and immense manual labour behind its manufacture,” says Julien Bracq, whose own family is intimately tied to the history of lace. Founded in 1889, the Jean Bracq company, of which he is the manager, has passed on this exquisite art from father to son for five generations. Likewise, the Darquer house, which Sébastien Bento Soares has just taken over, has been in existence since 1840, and, like Jean Bracq, works with machines which are for the most part over 100 years old, though updated over the years with electronic components. Both companies proudly emphasise the enormously rich history of this textile tradition, embodied in archives constituting a true compendium of the history of taste and the forward march of technological progress over the centuries.

But the story of the lace is not just a backward-looking tale. “Lace in itself is a motif, so it can be just as modern as any other motif,” concurred the panel. For Olivier Theyskens, lace is an actual material, not just a simple embellishment, and its surprising versatility opens the door to endless advances. Jean Bracq is currently working to develop organic cotton lace, while Darquer is working to produce lace knitting, while furthering artistic collaborations to highlight lace’s extraordinary versatility and timeless modernity. “We often have a stereotypical idea of lace as being classic, delicate, floral, etc., but lace can also be heavy, full-bodied, voluminous, with a really strong personality,” says Sébastien Bento Soares.

Not forgetting the vast range of possibilities provided by embellishments and finishings. Whether printed, coated, enriched with beads and added details, lace can endlessly be transformed to meet the challenge of the most modern and daring projects for haute couture, ready-to-wear, decoration and lingerie.

“In the past, lace has known spikes in popularity and overproduction, but now it’s time to get back to its DNA of luxury and refinement, an incomparable union of art and technology, tradition and innovation,” concluded Julien Bracq and Sébastien Bento Soares.

Luxurious materials, unique know-hows, a tradition rooted in the past but looking to the future – this is what’s unique about this art form of matchless elegance, whose preservation can only be viewed as an investment in the future.

Find the other reports of the Première Vision conferences in our programme section.