What do Sgt Pepper, Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, Princess Diana and Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman have in common? All were fans of velvet, responsible for helping make this sumptuous fabric one of our favourite fashions of yesteryear. And as velvet smoulders its way back onto the catwalks this season, we consider the iconic styles that made us fall in love with this trend.
The look of luxe
Velvet has always had connections in high places, clothing the great and good of high society. Even in its early days, velvet was associated with the European nobility as the velvet industry in Italy took off from around 1400, making velvet furniture, upholstery and even curtains for wealthy buyers.
The first unlikely fashion model of velvet was Henry VIII, as his portraits show the earliest example of velvet used to adorn something other than churches. Then came the Industrial Revolution and while velvet could be made more cheaply, it still retained its air of luxury. With the arrival of the decadent Twenties, naturally, velvet became the go-to look, with evening gowns and shawls cut from velvet or the more patterned style of devoré.
From Biba to The Beatles
When Barbara Hulanicki opened her Biba boutique in 1964, fashion followers found plenty of velvet and soon Biba’s affordable velvet trousers became a must-have item of the Sixties. What’s more, velvet proved it definitely wasn’t just for girls as The Beatles loved to dress up in a suave velvet trouser suit. Other superstars followed, with the likes of Sir Tom Jones and Johnny Mathis all showing a penchant for velvet over the years.
Velvet goes iconic
Come the Seventies and Eighties – and even into the Nineties – velvet was at the top of its game. Suddenly there were velvet hot pants, velvet vests and even velvet heels – it was everywhere.
In the film Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts rocked up to the opera wearing a stunning red, strapless velvet column dress with white gloves, we were torn between gushing at how beautiful she looked and longing to get hold of that dress ourselves. Velvet had another magic moment when Diana, Princess of Wales took to the dance floor at a White House reception with John Travolta in 1985 wearing a velvet midnight blue off-the-shoulder gown. The dress sold for an incredible £510,000 at an auction in 2011.
Now velvet has returned to the catwalks, but this time it’s keen to show it’s not just for evening wear as velvet T-shirts and trousers pop into the shops. Joanne Froggatt and Victoria Beckham are among the modern-day fans enjoying a touch of velvet.
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