Luminous Lace Shimmers at RISD

luminous lace RISD gown

This off-the-shoulder tea-length dress with rhinestones by Arnold Scaasi was machine-embroidered in the 1980s, but looks like handmade lace. Photo: RISD Museum (Gift of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, made possible by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf).

Lacemaking originated in the 15th century, and since then, it’s been is one of fashion’s favorite embellishments almost non-stop. From royal weddings to the catwalks of Paris, lace functions sometimes as a fancy trim and others plays the star of a look. Now, a new exhibit at the RISD Museum, Luminous Lace, explores its origins, history, and grandeur. The focus is on laces made with gold, silver, and other metallics that increase both their complexity and value.

On display until the end of July are pieces by Yves Saint Laurent and Junya Wantanabe, House of Worth gowns, antique oil painting portraits, and needle-and-bobbin lace samples from centuries past. Throughout the historical spectrum, it’s obvious that lace has always indicated luxury and wealth – and bestowed a certain amount of power upon the wearer. No wonder some of the world’s most exquisite fashion houses still insist on making it the old-fashioned way today.

luminous lace RISD blouse

In the 1920s, Coco Chanel and the flappers reinvented almost everything we knew about women’s fashion, but lace was still in full effect. This 1923 French chemise shows off the era’s new silhouette, but pays tribute to a lace tradition. Photo: RISD Museum (Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt Gerry).

 

Yves Saint Laurent velvet suit

With metal piping and golden guipure (embroidered lace) trim, this 1980s Yves Saint Laurent suit was inspired by a bullfighting costume. Photo: RISD Museum (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles Fiterman).

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

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