Document 119534

Thursday, March 31, 2011 D9
New Life for the Historic Art of Lace-Making
The Return of Lace as a Major Fashion Trend is Giving a Boost to a Once-Faltering European Business
The fall runways included
(clockwise from top left),
Brioni’s use of an
embroidery method that
looks like lace, Marchesa’s
edgy look, Marc Jacobs’s
Swiss-made guipure lace
and Prabal Gurung’s blacklace look.
at the neck of a gown that was
priced for retail at $450. He
says one U.S. luxury retailer
asked him to use cheaper Chinese lace to bring the price of
the dress closer to $350.
The French lace cost $22.33
per yard, compared with $2 or
$3 per yard for lace from
China, he says. This wasn’t the
most expensive lace—in fact,
the average wholesale price of
Sophie Hallette lace is about
$63 a yard, says Maud
Lescroart, the company’s head
of marketing.
At retail, a garment often is
priced at five or six times
what it cost the designer to
make, after markups by
the brand, the retailer
and sometimes middlemen. So $20 of
lace can raise the
ultimate price of a
dress by $100.
“They didn’t understand why I
wouldn’t just put
Chinese lace on it,”
says Mr. O’Neill, who
wouldn’t switch laces.
Not every designer
made the same decision. During the financial crisis, Sophie Hallette, which also owns
the Riechers Marescot
lace brand, laid off 25% of
its work force in
Caudry—a painful time for
the family-owned company.
Now, as the world economy
sputters along in recovery
mode, lace has a fresh new appeal for designers. Indeed, European couture lace provides a
near-perfect metaphor for
what’s going on in the luxury
market, where designers have
been rethinking classic materials from mink to pearls. Lace
is expensive and utterly traditional, yet it’s being put to use
in a modern, whole-hog way,
such as a hoop-shaped lace
skirt from Yohji Yamamoto or
a Valentino coat with lace
stitched over a more substantial fabric.
Some of the machines in action at the Sophie Hallette factory in Caudry are 100 years
old, says Ms. Lescroart, who is
the 38-year-old granddaughter
of the company’s founder.
Many jobs are inherited from
parents. Eric Lernon operates a
tulle loom that his father
worked on as a tulliste. “It’s
like a 19th-century company in
the 21st century,” says Ms.
Lescroart, glancing around the
factory floor where she spent a
good deal of her childhood.
In a showroom, she and
creative director Pierre Alain
Cornaz pull out lace trims so
complex that it takes a person
two days to make one meter.
Often details such as embroidery, sequins and other embellishments are added by hand.
New lace patterns from Mr.
Cornaz are drawn by
hand—every single thread —by
a team at the factory. The lace
patterns they were drawing in
February 2011 will be seen on
runways more than a year
later, in September 2012, and
the clothes will hit stores in
January of 2013.
Threading the tulle loom
takes two months and two
people, says Ms. Lescroart.
“Tell the designers that’s why
it takes so long to fill their orders,” she jokes.
In another room, women
mend tiny faults by hand, holding the lace on their laps.
“This is a woman’s room,” says
Ms. Lescroart. “It takes patience.” Down a hallway in a
laboratory, chemist Philippe
Desmaretz measures dyes in
beakers and vials.
“He’s got a lot of work now
because of the shows,” Ms.
Lescroart says. “All the designers want special colors.”
How Lace Is Created
The Sophie Hallette factory supplies lace to high-end designers. using methods that have changed little since the 19th-century introduction of ‘Leavers’ looms.
New lace patterns are drawn by hand—every single thread.
A technician loads bobbins with fine thread.
Threads on a lace-making machine are as thin as gossamer.
When he created
this Theia dress in
2009 with Sophie
Hallette lace,
designer Don O’Neil
resisted pressure to
use cheaper lace.
After lace is woven, women repair any tiny faults by hand, with
needle and thread.
The laboratory where the factory creates custom colors ordered
up by design brands.
ONLINE TODAY: View a slide
show of lace looks on the
runway and the red carpet at
Fashion reporter Teri Agins answers readers’ questions
It always feels awkward
when you encounter a
“twin”—someone dressed in
the same outfit as you—at a
fancy social outing. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more
often, given all the branches of
fashion chains that carry the
same merchandise.
At the office, we used to
joke to each other “Don’t you
know not to wear Ann Taylor
in public?”—because several of
us owned a black-velvet Ann
Taylor cocktail dress that had
become everybody’s go-to
frock for after-work functions.
Here’s what you can do the
next time you spot a twin at an
event. (1) Stand far enough
away that nobody will notice,
or (2) Smile warmly and declare to your twin: “Don’t we
have great taste?” or “Don’t we
both look marvelous?” You
should also lob a compliment
at people you meet who are
wearing the same tortoise-shell
I gather from your description that you looked better in
that dress than your twin did.
Bless her heart; no wonder she
fled so quickly. Now turn the
tables. What should you do if
someone upstages you in the
same dress? It’s your turn to
force a smile and then discreetly check her out: her jewelry, shoes or any other details
that made her look so put-together. Consider this a teachable moment to help you
sharpen your critical eye for
Tom Kuhlenbeck
alized I had made the wrong
decision. Now I have some
new large tortoise-shell
glasses and keep encountering people with the same
glasses. What should I do?
—K.H., Los Angeles
This sample of Sophie Hallette lace has hand embroidery.
I was in the drinks
line at a cocktail party
behind a woman in the same
dress as mine: black and lowcut, with a full skirt and an
appliqué border around the
bottom. I told her, “I like your
dress,” and she turned
around to smile. Then I told
her we were wearing the
same dress, at which point
she stepped back and looked
me up and down, totally mortified, and then walked away.
(She was very top-heavy and
about 5 inches shorter.) I re-
y, I
In the past week, actress Emily Browning wore white lace to the
premiere of the movie ‘Sucker Punch’ in Los Angeles, and heiress Nicky
Hilton wore white lace to the Starlight Children’s Foundation gala.
Christina Binkley/The Wall Street Journal (6)
Contact me at [email protected] or
Caudry, France
Lace, suddenly, is everywhere.
Looking nothing like your
grandmother’s doilies, lace is
the fabric of whole dresses and
suits for summer, as well as
next fall. Lace hasn’t been this
popular since Queen Victoria
sat on the throne.
The lavish lace is a dramatic change—not only for
high fashion but also for a European industry that has been
dwindling since the 1920s. Europe was once famous for
lace—hundreds of types of
Swiss, Belgian,
French and at
one point even
English lace. Now, much of the
lace shown on high-end runways comes from one town
in northeastern France.
The French lace industry
was famous when Jerry Lee
Lewis crooned, “Chantilly
lace and a pretty face....”
in the 1950s. But Chantilly lace is no longer
made in the French town
of Chantilly. The highend lace industry has
mostly shrunk to the
area around a town
called Caudry, where rival
companies Sophie Hallette and
Solstiss supply the likes of
Christian Dior, Chanel, Jean
Paul Gaultier, Jason Wu and
The region is known for its
stinky Maroilles cheese and
the slurry of its “Ch’tis” dialect, made famous in France by
the 2008 comedy “Bienvenue
Chez Les Ch’tis” or “Welcome
to the Sticks.” The factories
here specialize in “Leavers”
lace, using looms that imitate
the intricate knotting of 18thcentury handmade lace. These
machine looms, named after
the Englishman who invented
them, can work cotton, silk,
rayon, polyester, wool or other
materials into exquisite laces
that are sturdier than they
look. (Handmade lace is now a
hobbyist’s product, though
some machine lace is embellished by hand.)
Of course, the Leavers machines are far slower than the
knitting machines now used to
make mass-market lace in
China. Heidi Cho, who trades
in lace at Victorian Lace &
Trim, a Los Angeles-based lace
wholesaler, sells large quantities of Chinese lace to fastfashion and budget-clothing
manufacturers in the U.S.
“The China quality is low, but
the price is low, Ms. Cho says.
Created with an entirely different technique, it isn’t nearly as
nuanced or beautiful.
Still, Chinese factories haven’t made headway into the
market for couture-level
lace—largely because new
Leavers machines haven’t been
manufactured in decades.
Outside of bridal trims and
lingerie, lace hasn’t been a big
part of women’s wardrobes in
recent decades. Perhaps that’s
partly because it’s so truly, almost wholly feminine—in an
era when women have been focused on competing with men.
The fashion industry’s most
contrarian designer, Miuccia
Prada, prepared the way for
lace’s comeback. For fall 2008,
she used heavy Swiss-made
lace—a type more often used
in curtains—in Prada’s skirts,
dresses and accessories.
French lace makers celebrated, knowing Prada was
likely to influence other designers. Sophie Hallette’s U.S.
sales representative, Jane Pincus, recalls that she was at a
Paris fabric trade show in the
spring of 2008 when word
spread about the huge Prada
order. “There was champagne
popping in the booth,” she
says. “The sheer size—they put
it on every product—the shoes,
the bags.”
Then the financial crisis hit,
with Lehman Brothers collapsing in September. Many designers stripped expensive details from their collections to
slash prices. In late 2009, Don
O’Neill, designer of the midpriced Theia line, used a
wedge of Sophie Hallette lace
Associated Press (Marchesa); Daily Express/Zuma Press (Brioni); Joshua Allen (Theia); Getty Images (4)
Email questions for Teri Agins
to [email protected]