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“French lace gives you the opportunity to wear heritage that goes back hundreds of years.” – Kaaren Bedi, Layneau.
Layneau’s Colette Kimono is a luxurious confection of French Chantilly Lace, silk chiffon and charmeuse. Eyes are treated to dramatic floral lace, shimmering satin and sensuous sheerness. To slip this piece on (or off) is to revel in tactile sensations designed to make you feel graceful, powerful and loved.
It’s thanks to the skill of the seamstress and the quality of the fabrics that these visuals and sensations are possible says Layneau’s founder, Kaaren Bedi. This is why she primarily uses Gelmor in New York City to source her brand’s fabrics, especially the French laces used throughout the Layneau collection.
“I think we respond innately to something that is handmade, that is made with care in a very intimate way as opposed to something that is mass produced,” said Kaaren. “I feel the same way about French lace. Yes, they are made with magnificent Leaver machines that date to the early 1800s, but it takes skilled operators to keep the Leavers flying. I think you feel that in each piece.”
In business since 1948, Gelmor focuses on importing luxury lace from the French lace making hubs of Calais and Caudry. In fact, they’re the only company in the U.S. to stock it.
That they stick solely to French lace and continue to thrive after all this time should be testament enough not just to the quality, but also to the enduring appeal of this high-end fabric. Their clients, mostly in the lingerie, bridal, and evening wear markets, simply can’t get enough of it. And neither can their clients’ customers.
the Artistry of French Lace
Above: examples of Chantilly Lace.
“[French laces] get softer and more luxurious, more sensual as they age.” – Kaaren Bedi.
I spoke to Hillary Hofer, one of Gelmor’s principles, to find out just what makes French lace so special – and why cheaper, Asian-made laces can’t begin to compare.
“French lace is an expensive fabric, but an expensive fabric worth using,” says Hillary. “Just like one chooses to use quality silk, or cotton versus a cheaper option.” For one thing, and this is critical to lingerie creation, it feels much nicer against the skin. “Just like a fine silk and a cheap silk feel different, so does French lace versus less expensive lace,” she added. A Calais-Caudry lace is always soft to the touch, never scratchy. A chemise or robe made from it can feel as light as air.
Then there’s durability. Yes, all laces are delicate, French ones included. But French lace is a whole lot more wear-resistant than its Asian counterparts. According to Hillary, it can last years – generations – when treated properly.
“[French laces] get softer and more luxurious, more sensual as they age,” added Kaaren Bedi. “In my collection of vintage lingerie I have a pair of knickers from 1928 that belonged to my great aunt. The lace on this piece is softer than the day it came to her and it’s just gotten better over time.”
Artistry and Craftsmanship
The difference all comes down to how the lace is made. Most French lace is made on Leaver’s machines, over 100-year-old looms. “[It’s] a machine made up of thousands of threaded bobbins from which the lace is woven by following a prescribed pattern,” Hillary says. Lyon lace is made on even older looms, found exclusively in France and of which a mere three are left in existence.
Above: Lyon Lace.
Once the pattern has been designed – sometimes with help from the experts at Gelmor – the machines are prepared (a lengthy process in itself) and then set to weaving. It takes around eight hours, a full working day, to produce just 100m of Leaver’s lace. And much longer to produce the same quantity of Lyon lace.
Above: Layneau Trousseau Collection.
The machines are old, imperfect and temperamental, but that’s actually what leads to such a perfectly-executed result. Someone is employed to walk up and down the Leaver’s loom, constantly monitoring the lace as it is being created to ensure that any flaw is spotted and rectified.
Once the loom is brought to a halt, the work is far from over. Hillary outlined the subsequent steps: “French lace is then put through a rigorous process, all hand-done, to insure that the final product that reaches Gelmor is of the absolutely highest quality. It is washed, clipped, dyed in special vats, and scalloped – all completed by skilled workers. Each yard is then inspected yet again by these same skilled artisans for any possible defects; any they find are mended by hand to create a perfect product.”
Centuries of tradition and a human touch
If it’s destined to be an Alençon lace, it also then gets corded – another process that’s done by hand. This outline-style embroidery defines the pattern’s edges, for a more graphic look and a 3D texture.
By contrast, the typical Chinese and Japanese lacemaking process is much more automated. It involves Jacquartronic machines, which pump out 5-7 times more lace per hour than a Leaver’s loom. How do they do this? Their machines and process are completely automated and the human element, which is so integral when producing French laces, is non-existent. The resulting lace is far less intricate and well-made.
“I tried to use a Chinese lace once, but when I started laying it out, I noticed that all the details were missing. The spacing in the motif was all off and it didn’t work.” said Kaaren of her experience with inferior fabric products.
What’s the difference between woven and knitted lace? Knitted laces are produced by sets of connected loops, while woven laces are made by interlacing two sets of threads into a design.
Inexpensive laces will have larger holes “denoting the less-fine process that is used to create it,” adds Hillary. They’ll also have a plainer, more uniform pattern. On the other hand, French lace is more attractive in its appearance, has a better hand and lasts longer. “The patterns are often more complex and have a variety of designs, and mixture of spaces and types of weaving within one pattern,” says Hillary. That’s especially true of all French laces, and even more apparent in Lyon lace.
“The thing that I love about sticking to the tradition of fine silks and French laces is that nothing else feels the same. There’s a warmth – an innate warmth – to the material,” said Kaaren.
French lacemaking may be time-intensive, but Gelmor keeps all of their laces stocked in New York so designers don’t have to deal with long wait times. They carry hundreds of patterns and aim to never discontinue a lace. Which makes them a perfect choice for continuity lines and brands that tend to restock sold-out pieces!
Above: Angela Friedman.
When you buy from Gelmor you can be sure you are receiving and using the highest quality, authentic French Lace from Calais – Caudry. Furthermore, Gelmor attaches proof-of-authenticity tickets to each strip of lace they sell. “Many non-French manufacturers call their laces ‘French’,” Hillary warns, adding that a high price-tag doesn’t necessarily denote a high-quality lace. But with Gelmor, you and your customers will never be disappointed.
To her fellow designers, Kaaren asks, “Why would you use anything else? Always buy the best materials you can because the outcome is always better.”
Learn more about Gelmor Lace
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