A brief history of velvet

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By Bemz Design
'One of the richest fabrics known to man, velvet is today more in fashion than ever before... Velvet's opulence is only matched by its versatility'. De Marinis, F. (1994) Velvet: History, Techniques, Fashions. New York, NY: Idea Books.

Sensually soft and closely associated with royalty, velvet boasts an exclusive history. It's safe to say velvet has been around for a while - there is evidence as early as 2000 BC of the ancient Egyptians using a similar technique as the one used today in velvet production. Velvet trimmings have also been found dating back to the Qin and Western Han dynasties in China. 

The Renaissance was the undisputed golden age for velvet production with Italian cities such as Florence, Genoa, Venice, and Milan at its epicentre. Renaissance velvets were decadent pieces, crafted from silk, intertwined with precious metals and embellished with coats of arms. An expression of both wealth and power these luxurious fabrics were used in religious vestments, secular dress and interior furnishings.

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The term 'velvet' refers to the structure of the fabric rather than the fibre. Characterised by its silk thread pile, the texture is created by raised loops - an integral part of the weaving process. As the technique is so complex, time-consuming and requires a larger quantity of thread, velvet was an unattainable luxury for the masses before the industrial revolution.

Although velvet became more accessible, the connotation stuck. Throughout the ages the textile has been used to inject a shot of glamour to any ensemble. 1920's fashion is synonymous with richly patterned devore fabrics and velvet perfectly complimented the glitzy boho vibe of the 1970's. The 1980's and 90's embarked on a tumultuous love affair with crushed velvet and devore. Amidst the trending 90's revival, velvet has again taken the foreground; with both innovative and classic takes on the textile.

'With literally every brand and celebrity on board, there’s no chance of this trend going away anytime soon' - Who What Wear, August 2016.

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