June 08, 2012
Cosy luxury ... Nevenka's Gangland Goddess dress.
This winter's crush on velvet - think sumptuous shrunken blazers and floor-length gowns - is more than just a cure for the cold. The popularity of the plush pile is a sign that luxury is on the cusp of a comeback.
The ancient fabric's timing couldn't be better. Just like sequins, satin and fur, nothing says luxury like a velvet dress.
For Australia's Von Troska though, velvet has been a staple for years. The Sydney-based fashion house started by Traudl Troska has used velvet as a core design fabric since the '80s.
"It's a very elegant fabric and it's very hard to find something that will give you that feel of warmth, luxury and our customers love it," says Cigdem Cimenbicer the managing director of Von Troska.
Cimenbicer took over running Von Troska some six years ago when Troska sold the brand and moved into semi-retirement before her death in 2010.
Velvet is even getting a style stamp of approval from Hollywood. Harry Potter star Emma Watson was lauded for the one-shoulder, over-the-knee frock she wore to the Deathly Hallows premiere. And Angelina Jolie showed up on the red carpet of Brad Pitt's Megamind Paris premiere in a velvet pantsuit.
Von Troska uses three grades of velvet from a polyester spandex blend to the most expensive silk velvet to make a range of pieces from jackets and tops, scarves, dresses for day wear to suits and evening dresses.
Crushed velvet, printed velvet and burned velvet - which is also called Devore - are used to create different effects.
Natasha Bedingfield in a Devore velvet dress at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: Getty
Devore, which is both seductive and secure, features prominently in Von Troska's current winter collection in dresses, skirts and a scarf top.
With velvet an off-the-shoulder top will stay in place and allow you to flash only the skin you want to expose. "We use crush because it doesn't cling to the body," Cimenbicer explains.
"Pleated or crushed velvet can be used to hide some body imperfections, some bulges, and crushed velvet can give movement to a simple design, and distract the eye from the imperfections we want to hide.
"We never, never lose sight that a good portion of our customers are now in their fifties. It's a key part of our appeal, and those women are now introducing their daughters to our label," she says.
"So we will often make two dresses in velvet one shorter and one longer to appeal to both the 30-somethings and their mothers."
Most people associate velvet with luxury, and there's a good reason.
Although historians aren't sure if the silk weave originated in China or Pakistan, many agree it was carried along trade routes in the Middle Ages to Italy and France. Upon its arrival, it became the fabric of choice - for cloaks, gowns, and ornate suiting - among royalty and the Vatican, according to Elizabeth Ives, Philadelphia University professor of fashion and textile history.
The fabric remained popular during the Renaissance as royal families incorporated velvet into their family crests, and velvet brocade became the preferred backdrop for commissioned artwork.
Renaissance fashion - and therefore velvet - enjoyed a resurgence in the 1820s and 1830s, with women wearing corseted dresses with lace collars, said Clare Sauro, curator of Drexel University's historic costume collection. A century on, the Roaring Twenties ushered in another velvet vibe, Sauro said, but it didn't become a mainstay until the 1950s, when velvet could be made from fabrics other than silk, making it less expensive.
So how to wear it? Most importantly, keep the velvet minimal - no more than one full-on velvet piece per outfit. Let your velvet dress - mini or maxi - be the focal point, but wear opaque tights of the same hue for an of-the-moment monochromatic look. Grab a sparkling clutch, and you'll turn heads at any party.
Don't be afraid to mix textures. A velvet blouse looks great with dark denim skinny jeans and a cardigan. Velvet blazers are chic and for an extra level, look for a satin trim. Shiny blouses with velvet floral appliques are deliciously stylish.
Cimenbicer says the 'in' colours for winter in Australia are midnight and indigo, and of course black.
"We also have a black and cream printed velvet this season," she says.
But regardless of the colour, or the piece, Cimenbicer says that because velvet is so rich, so luxurious, it's like you're wearing a nice big rich mug of hot chocolate.
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