The Plush Pleasure of Velvet
LONDON — ’Tis the season for wearing velvet — or so it would seem during a browse through the Notting Hill branch of the high-end boutique Matches.
In the shoe section there was Saint Laurent (poppy-red strappy sandals), Malone Souliers (gold and red embroidered mules in black velvet) and Aquazzura (deep-blue ankle boots), while handbags included clutches from Bottega Veneta in its classic intrecciato pattern in both cotton-candy pink and baby blue, and a gold spider-embroidered clutch in dark green velvet from the Turkish designers Sanayi 313.
The clothing racks had a long black dress with gold-velvet embroidered flowers from Rochas, a white and black silk dress from Roksanda with black velvet trim around the neck, and a minidress in black velvet with lace trim from Valentino, all highlighting the supple fabric’s big fashion moment.
“Velvet,” a sales associate, Domenico Tortora, said during a walk around the shop floor, “is pretty much everywhere.”
But the fabric isn’t just being used in designer collections this winter; mainstream brands like Zara, Reiss and Topshop also have been buying velvet by the yard. “Velvet is key for Topshop this season,” Jacqui Markham, Topshop’s global design director, wrote in an email. “As well as festive go-tos like velvet dresses and suits, it also features across everything from belts, hairbands, chokers and caps through to footwear and even backpacks — all promising to add glamor to an outfit or make for the perfect holiday gift.”
Velvet has become all but ubiquitous this season for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its warm and cozy feel, a kind of tactile barrier in a world that seems to grow more tumultous and uncertain every day.
As Simon Curtis, an occupational therapist and a lecturer with the Sensory Integration Network in Britain, explained, “There is a different feeling each way you rub velvet, and that can be quite calming. It can give a feeling of calmness. Perhaps you do feel more confident in it.”
Plus, fashion has moved away from the minimalist look of the past few years and toward more nostalgic looks like longer dresses and shawls.
Since the global downturn of 2008, “ it almost felt like brands were matching up to that and everything was this super-minimalist Céline white look; we have come back from that, and the reaction is the opposite,” said Camille Charrière, a creative consultant born in Paris and now based in London, who edits the fashion blog “Camille Over the Rainbow.” “Velvet is a really comfortable, luxurious fabric that when it is done right, it makes you look like a million bucks.”
The fabric has long been associated with royalty, like in images of Queen Elizabeth I of England or Catherine the Great of Russia parading through their palaces in velvet finery.
“It has connotations of very traditional luxury,” said Isabelle Watton of Beckford Silks, a British textile company that offers silk velvet — made of 20 percent silk and 80 percent viscose — in 25 colors and whose clients include Prada and the British designers Vin + Omi. “In Victorian times only gentry could afford velvet.”
The cost was linked to the expensive Chinese silk traditionally used to weave velvet. But today a mixture of fabrics, such as viscose, wool and rayon, can be added to silk, and many kinds of mixed-material velvet actually can be hand washed and then tumble-dried to bring the pile back up and restore the softness.
That’s another reason why designers — and fashion fans — are more eager to use and wear velvet these days. “Velvet has definitely got a lot more durable, hence why it can be used in many new ways that previously hadn’t been explored,” said Anita Barr, the buying director for Harvey Nichols, the British luxury department store. “When used on footwear, it was classically used for a gentleman’s pair of slippers, however, now we see a modern and more wearable approach with it featuring in sneakers from Buscemi or mixed with contemporary Perspex as seen in Gianvito Rossi.”
Mr. Rossi himself agreed that the updated durability of the fabric has added to its popularity. “Fabrics are not so delicate as people imagine,” he said, adding that the quality of velvet “has improved much through the years.”
Also, fabric makers and designers have been experimenting with colors like pink, blue, yellow and orange, not the sort of hues traditionally on velvet’s palette, turning the fabric into something that is no longer solely for formal occasions. “It’s wearable from desk to dinner,” said Emma Waldmann, Reiss’s head of women’s wear buying and merchandizing, when discussing the little black velvet dress in the brand’s current collection.
And Ms. Charrière recommended keeping any look involving velvet minimal and basic. “Wear a blazer with frayed jeans, make it super-modern and fresh or with a miniskirt and T-shirt,” she said, adding that one of her favorite jackets this season is Haider Ackermann’s kelly-green velvet jacket.
The global concierge company Quintessentially, which has a division that helps source gifts and hard-to-find fashion items, has found that velvet is one of the most asked-about looks as the holidays approach. “We have seen a high number of requests for pieces,” said Jessica Greenslade, the division’s head of sourcing. “In accessories we will see more and more requests.”
Unwrapping a gift is always a treat, but it could be made all the more special if it’s made from velvet.
“The first thing you do with a present is hold it in your hands,” said Julia Hobbs, fashion news editor at British Vogue. “Velvet has that super-fabulous, super-sumptuous feel to it, and it also has that cuddle thing where you want to embrace it. Velvet has that mood of being all the trimmings.”
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