10. 12. 2022

English Version | In the mood for velvet

by Ana Murcho


Because there are still those who think that velvet should only be worn after nine o'clock at night, in pomp and circumstance, by ladies over sixty, we asked a forty-one-year-old girl to explain us how it is to wear velvet, in broad daylight, since she was twenty. Spoiler alert: that girl may or may not be the author of this text.

Artwork by João Oliveira

My mother assures me that "in my time" velvet wasn't used. She wants to convince me that, “back then” nobody associated the fabric with children's clothes. So why do I remember a wonderful bordeaux dress that my classmate Claudia debuted at a school Christmas party? It was the one that started my obsession with velvet - the distinctive touch, the way it reflected the light, the intense color. One or two years later, Claudia was back in action. This time with dark blue shoes whose shape I had never seen before - now I know they were Mary Janes. In velvet. I don't know where she was getting those things, her closet looked like something out of a movie we hadn't seen yet, but I know the impact they had: I mentally pointed out the words "velvet" and "Mary Janes " as goals to achieve in a more-or-less near future. And so it was. Ironically, I fear that my first investment in a velvet piece was shameful, even more so when compared to the devotion I have devoted to it for years. I have an idea of a black top, of dubious cut, fabric and size, bought in the late 90's, at a time when "going out tops" were in fashion. It was also around that time that I bought a long dress (black, everything on this list will be black) to wear at the turn of the century or, if you will, the real Y2K. Footnote: it is still flawless. A while later I succumbed to some tracksuit pants (here it is important to reinforce that they were black, because nobody bought velvet tracksuit pants unless they were, you guessed it, pink), one of my biggest faux-pas. It was short-lived, fortunately. Longer lasted, in no specific order of preference, a kaftan that got lost in a trip abroad and is the cause of my kaftan craze, a vintage blazer, dozens of dresses of all shapes and sizes, coats of various shapes (I am missing a bomber, if any charitable soul is reading), a (beautiful) Miu Miu bag... An exaggeration? Everything would have been simpler if, when I was seven, my mother had gotten me a bordeaux dress. A velvet one, of course.

Even though it is the pinnacle of sophistication - I'm not the one saying it, it's written all over the place - velvet has always seemed like an easy fabric to me. I don't hesitate to pick up a black velvet blazer at ten o'clock in the morning, just as I don't hesitate to wear it late into the night if it is justified. Some people look at it with fear, panic even, as if they suddenly have to remake a Yves Saint Laurent dress from the 1980s - in velvet, if there is a time when velvet was king and lord, apart from the period of the kings and lords themselves, it was the 1980s, when "anything was possible." In a way, it still is. There are no right and wrong times to wear velvet. Of course, no one goes to a funeral in yellow velvet pants - one of my greatest sorrows, while we're on the subject, was realizing, when it was too late, that discarding a pair of yellow velvet pants in a fit of rage had been a mistake. They were my only colorful velvet piece, if you don't count the (memorable) day when I wore an extraordinary yellow velvet Valentino dress for a photo shoot. I found it on The Outnet a few weeks ago: even with the superb discounts on the site, it is still unaffordable for a Portuguese citizen who does not evade tax. Anyway... Velvet is, along with silk and cashmere, a woman's best friend - yes, even before diamonds.

Concrete examples to prove it? In Gone with the Wind (1939), Scarlet O'Hara fearlessly took the velvet curtains from the family home and made one of the best DIY dresses of all time. Princess Diana, the undisputed style icon, wore velvet time and again, notably to dance with John Travolta at the White House (1985) - and in all of them she showed her sexiest and most feminine side. Long live velvet, therefore. And then there is that red velvet tuxedo, part of Tom Ford's fall/winter 1996/97 collection for Gucci, the same one that Gwyneth Paltrow would come to immortalize at the MTV Video Music Awards of '96. No self-respecting fashionista can ignore the impact of this suit, which is part of the collection of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Its relevance is such that in 2021 Alessandro Michele recreated the famous look at the Aria show, which marked the beginning of Gucci's centennial celebrations. If this still wasn't enough to drop everything and go buy a dress from The Vampire's Wife, the brand of Susie Cave - aka Nick Cave's wife - who has the most amazing velvet dresses in the world, read on.

In the penultimate week of November, the global search platform Lyst had over 13,000 products, spread across 137 stores, whose reference answered the filter "velvet." From the gigantic five-figure Balenciaga gown, a faithful copy of Divine's wonderful scarlet red dress in Pink Flamingos (1972), to more modest options like a Tom Ford bralette in Klein Blue or a Cos blazer, there's everything here. A velvet lover will feel uncomfortable with the amount of options just a click away - because a velvet lover knows that it is practically impossible not to hit "add to cart" when finding a new piece of choice. At first instance, we are undecided between the black Giuseppe Zanotti mules, the oversized Saint Laurent blazer, the printed Loewe kaftan, the little red Khaite dress, the Balmain clutch... Have all the brands decided to bet on velvet? Nay. That is, not all, but almost. In July this year, at the presentation of the Haute Couture collections, velvet stood out as one of the main trends, in opulent and glamorous looks, in a clear message of timeless luxury: Armani Privé, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Christian Dior, Stephane Rolland, Zuhair Murad and Schiaparelli opted, almost always, for total black; the accessories were either discreet (Dior) or exaggerated (Rolland). None of this is exactly new. Velvet has long since become the unofficial fabric of fall/winter, so to announce that it is "the new black" would be excessive and misplaced. It is not even the big trend of the season.

But one thing is certain: after two and a half years of pandemic, with several months of isolation, and a lot of leisurewear and activewear in between, velvet is a safe and yet surprising option. On the ready-to-wear runway shows, its thousand and one facets stood out: classic, seductive, excessive, irreverent, velvet can be whatever we want it to be. Jil Sander turned it into a minimalist dream, Blumarine painted it pink, Collina Strada took it to the extreme, Emporio Armani and Saint Laurent succumbed to its darker version, Stella McCartney and Marine Serre painted it in dazzling earth tones... That's precisely the beauty of velvet: besides being timeless, it resists all interventions and aesthetic sensibilities. On a terrace, during the day, or an ultra-formal dinner at nightfall, velvet always "falls" well. And that's what makes it so interesting, the fact that we can wear it anytime, anywhere. Even a seven-year-old girl? Yes, even a seven-year-old girl.

Translated from the original on "The Velvet Touch" issue of Vogue Portugal, published december 2022.
Full stories and credits on the print issue.