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Solstiss – Women in Lace

What would I do without lace? – said Vivienne Westwood. And that’s true. Lace, for us women, is a symbol of elegance and sensuality as well. Solstiss is one of the lacemakers, which has been quietly working in the backdrop of the high glamour fashion industry, and supplying us with our much desired lace…

Kate Middleton Wedding gownAll eyes were on the television as they witnessed cars upon cars meandering across London’s clean swept streets and reaching Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Prince William looked dapper in his military attire, while the audience had its ears glued to the commentators’ voices who kept informing about who was wearing what. But frankly, everybody was waiting to see the belle and bride of the day – Kate Middleton. As soon she got down from the car with the train of the gown sweeping behind her, the commentator almost triumphantly screamed – it’s an Alexander McQueen designed by Sarah Burton!

Sure enough, everyone sighed at the sight of the ethereal gown – simple, smart and very classy. The lace covering her arms and shoulders and neck screamed elegance, while that on the gown lend it a sheer look. The gown was modest and demure to the core.

It’s the prefect time to introduce you to Solstiss, one of the lace companies, which had a hand in making Kate Middleton’s gown.

The company, located in Caudry (northern France) has an interesting history. In 1974, four established lace manufacturers decided to join forces and create a sole company, which was named Solstiss. The lace industry was undergoing a crisis due to social changes taking place at that time. Bras were being discarded, the Vatican no longer required the mantilla for attending mass and miniskirts were openly showing off bodies which previously were hidden by lace.

The four lacemakers aimed to join their savoir-faire, increase their activity, maintain a tradition and have a larger and more efficient production. They were Maison Ledieu Beauvillain, who specialised in twelve-stitch lace; Victor Machu and AEG Joël Machu, well known for their vast range of colours; Robert Belot, renowned for their Chantilly lace; and Maison Edouard Beauvillain, well-known for the diversity and wealth of their lace patterns.

The crisis was an occasion for Solstiss to show that it could quickly adapt to changes. The self-sacrifice of the personnel who wanted to secure the future of their company, as well as a close cooperation with the Labour Inspectorate, allowed implementation of intelligent solutions to ensure the future of the company. This will to preserve an ancient craft by modernising it saved Solstiss and saw the company grow, while other companies had to pull down the shutters.

Solstiss lace makingResults were certainly delightful. Solstiss soon became the preferred lacemaker for many international designers. Before Kate Middleton, in fact, Solstiss had also contributed in the wedding gown of Grace Kelly (for her marriage to Prince Rainer of Monaco).

To know more about this historical brand and about the art of lacemaking, we interacted with Mr Herves Protais of Solstiss, who take care of all our doubts and questions with some tongue-in-cheek answers.

LuxuryFacts: Congratulations on being a part of Kate Middleton’s wedding gown! What was your reaction when you got to know that you are going to be a part of the most photographed (and scrutinized) wedding gown?
Herves Protais: Proud for our team and all the people who made the dress possible.

LF: How much lace did you supply for the wedding gown? And can you tell us how it happened?
HP: Two laces can be seen on this dress since it’s a patchwork of a few laces. Solstiss is also a part of it, mostly on the bottom of the dress. We supplied 25m lace with 175cm width in ivory colour to Alexander McQueen twice – once in February and then in April 2011.

LF: Which luxury design houses do you supply with your lace?
HP: Chanel, Dior, Lanvin, Valentino, Dolce&Gabanna, Armani, Burberry, Christopher Kane, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Oscar De La Renta, Ralph Lauren, Monique Huillier, Elie Saab, Escada and Pronovias. And in India, we supply lace to Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra and Janavi.

Herve Protais Solstiss LaceLF: Lace is elegance, feminity, refinement. Big fashion designers from around the globe use your laces as a resource and inspiration for their work. How has the perception and demand of lace changed from the 19th century?
HP: Lace was mostly used for weddings. The black Chantilly lace was especially popular. Since the mid 1970s, a lot of new designers, like Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler and Chantal Thomas, arrived and used lace in their prêt-a-porter collection in a modern and younger way

LF: Since 1974, Solstiss produces laces, maintains a tradition and preserves a craft by constant innovation and creativity. What are the biggest challenges in your specialty?
HP: Our leavers loom needs a lot of human know-how. We aim to maintain these people and to train younger ones as well. Our clients are more and more exigent, and we have to adapt to their requirements in terms of speed, creativity, quality and timely deliveries.

LF: Lace making is an art, a tradition, a ‘savoir-faire’. Can you share with us the mysteries of laces, and the admiration and desire it receives for lingerie, to wedding gowns to haute couture?
HP: French lace is magic and unique. It has been travelling for around two centuries over five continents, and women are still dreaming. From Marilyne Monroe to Grace Kelly, from Madonna to Sophie Marceau, French lace is always there to sublime the women.

Look at the dress of Kate Middleton. It looks simple, but it is a piece of art – very complex, complicated, including thousands of hours of work and patience. Why? Because no other fabric is finer and more exclusive than lace. And the best laces are from Caudry with 200 years of experience, history and human work, and creativity.

LF: Lace making is an art. How many people truly understand that today?
HP: Yes, we are a handcraft industry. No one needs lace, but everyone dreams of it. So how many people understand? No idea! How many people wish to wear it? Fifty per cent of the world population – the women. The other half are wishing their wife to wear it.

LF: How are Solstiss lace products ‘luxury’ laces?
HP: The way we are weaving it. The leavers loom was invented in England by an engineer looking at women doing lace by hand. His idea was to reproduce this beautiful lace by machine, to make them more ‘populare’, and not only for the super, super rich people. It was the first step of lace moving from haute couture to deluxe prêt à porter.

Solstiss Lace designLF: How many new designs and creations become a part of your collection each season?
HP: Solstiss currently houses 5,000 designs. Every season, we develop 250 new products – so 500 per year.

LF: Solstiss weaves dreams through threads. What are the sources of inspiration?
HP: The women I guess. Your fabric is nothing without a woman to wear it. So we need good designers and women clients to buy from them. Lace must be class, but not classic. Lace must be modern, but classic. Any source can be an inspiration as long as our lace makes women feel more beautiful.

LF: Solstiss has partnered with many luxury brands: Baccarat in 2006, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in 2005. Have you considered a partnership in India? What could it be?
HP: India is a special market with its large size, population and dynamic fashion industry. But India also has a long and huge culture, in general and in garments as well. Their traditional garment is the sari. A sari is six yards long with 44 inches of width.

6 yards X 30 € = 180 € only for a Solstiss lace for sari.

An Indian designer must work on it, probably do some embellishment and hand embroidery. So, in the end, a sari will sell from 1,000 € minimum. So saris may be sold at much higher prices, but the quantities will be very small. Hopefully, the market is evolving towards modern garments, but Indian culture is antique….it will take time.

LF: What is luxury for you?
HP: Something not useful, but a dream. Luxury depends on your culture, your level… A bottle of wine at 10 € could be too expensive if you do not like wine, or very disappointing if you love it?

Each culture has its luxury – champagne, honey, embroidery, car, boat, holidays….lace. With globalization, only some products are identified as luxe. We are doing our level best to make Solstiss lace one of them.