Journey into the museum's collections

Specialist museum of lace woven on Leavers looms.

By Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

Current façade of the Museum of Fine ArtsCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The Museum of Lace and Fashion

The Museum of Lace and Fashion is a new municipal museum born from the history of an earlier museum: the Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle de Calais (the Calais museum of fine arts and lace) in Hauts-de-France. After a turbulent history of more than 150 years (two relocations, a major fire in the collections in 1940, and a reopening in a new building in 1965), the lace collections left the Musée des Beaux-Arts in 2009 to take their place in the newly opened the Cité de la dentelle et de la mode (Museum of Lace and Fashion).

Print of the Boulart factoryCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The Boulart factory

The Museum of Lace and Fashion is located in one of the last collective lace factories typical of late 19th century Calais, in the heart of Saint-Pierre—a neighborhood devoted to the art of lacemaking.

The Boulart factory takes its name from the people who built it in the 1870s. Its U-shape is characteristic of industrial buildings of the time.

Interior Courtyard, Cité de la Dentelle et de la ModeCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The factory is home to multiple manufacturers. All share the driving power of a single steam engine, located in the courtyard, and external turrets serve the various workshops.

In 1902, there were up to 80 lace looms in the factory.

The site remained in operation until the year 2000, when it was bought by the city of Calais as a place dedicated to the lace industry, a flagship of the industrial history of Calais.

Façade, Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, CalaisCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The building

Inaugurated in 2009, the Museum of Lace and Fashion is the result of the restoration work undertaken by the architectural firm Moatti Rivière. Combining an authentic 19th-century lace factory with a modern glass and steel extension, the building alone merits a visit. The architects have emphasized the value of heritage, whilst establishing a bridge with contemporary creation.

Silk-screened façade detailCité de la dentelle et de la mode

A long silk-screened glass façade with motifs taken from the Jacquard boxes of Leavers lace looms has been added to the body of the original building. The curves provide a symbolic contrast between the softness of lace and the austerity of the factory and the heavy-duty trades that worked there.

The scenography, crafted by the Pascal Payeur workshop, highlights the industrial and textile collections in a sophisticated setting.

La Plage (1926) by Henry BallCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Fashion and industrial collections

Combining both fashion and industrial collections, the Museum of Lace and Fashion is the leading museum for lace woven on looms. With an area of more than 2,500m², its vast galleries display techniques, lingerie and haute couture—the most contemporary aspects of this high-end textile. The highlight of the visit is seeing the operation of the lace looms—the monumental cast iron machines that produce this exceptional fabric.

Installation view - "Décrayonner" exhibition (2016)Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

In its Exhibitions gallery, the Museum presents great couturiers and renowned young designers. Cristóbal Balenciaga, Anne Valérie Hash, Iris Van Herpen, on aura tout vu.

Its Contemporary gallery is dedicated to the abundance of contemporary creation on the fashion and textile scenes, while the resource center allows you to immerse yourself in more than a century and a half of industrial archives.

Handmade lace galleryCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The time of hand-woven lace

Calais lace—exclusively mechanical—was initially inspired by handmade lace before later being freed from it. First appearing in the 16th century in Italy and in Flanders, this exceptional perforated fabric was crafted using a bobbin or by needlepoint. It decorated the clothes of the European elite and their homes until the 19th century. This very expensive handicraft, which was a symbol of wealth, became an important economic asset, particularly under Louis XIV and Napoleon III.

Cape (1850/1900)Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

In the second half of the 19th century, almost the victim of its own success, manual production was unable to meet the growing demand linked to the rise of haute couture and the opening of department stores.

Mechanization then began to compete with handmade lace.

Mechanical lace gallery.Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

The industrial adventure of Calais lace

In 1816, English entrepreneurs disembarked in Calais in order to set up looms to manufacture tulle. They were soon followed by other English manufacturers who trained French workers, transforming Calais and the neighboring village of Saint-Pierre-lès-Calais into a truly industrial city. Associated with Jacquard boxes in 1834, the looms then began to manufacture the first mechanically produced lace.

Samples register (1926)Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

The village of Saint-Pierre-lès-Calais developed with the rate of industrial growth: factories, workers' and employers' houses, banks, and shops standing alongside new institutional and cultural buildings.

The lacemaking industry shaped Calais life throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It reached its peak at the beginning of the 20th century, with more than 500 manufacturers employing 30,000 male and female workers.

Leavers craftsCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The Leavers workshop and production line

Leavers lace loomCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Bruit Leavers
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Manufacturing Calais lace is a lengthy process. The production workshop is the most impressive setting, with the famous Leavers looms, which are gigantic 12-ton cast iron machines. The mechanics of these machines have remained almost identical for nearly two centuries. The Museum features five Leavers looms, which are true pieces of historical heritage,

Hand working on tulleCité de la dentelle et de la mode

and offers its visitors daily demonstrations of mechanical lacemaking.

The presence of a tulle worker, who operates the machine, encourages dialogue to provide technical explanations and contextualize life in the factory.

The Professions galleryCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Whilst the production demonstration is considered the highlight of the visit, it does not only cover woven lace.
From creation to finishing and preparation of materials, various work stations and short films made by the company retrace the main stages of manufacture.

Installation view "The Professions gallery"Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

More than 60 professions are part of the production line—a long process in which manual expertise continues to play an essential role in the manufacture of this refined and luxurious material.

Gestures of Lace FrenchCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Installation view, "Fashion" galleryCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Over a century of lace fashion

Over 3,200 pieces make up the fashion collections covering the period from 1850 to present day. Collection rotations present a range of famous names: Worth, Doucet, Redfern, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Lacroix, Gaultier and Chantal Thomass. From the corset of the "Belle Époque", to "grunge" outfits, through to the miniskirts of the 1960s, clothing offers a reflection of the gradual emancipation of women and their involvement in society.

Body (1992/1993) by Chantal ThomassCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Lace follows the trends of both clothing and underwear.

Haute-couture clothing and delicate lingerie, projections, fashion magazines and virtual dressing rooms illustrate the extensive stylistic, technical and aesthetic evolution that has taken place over more than a century.

Bal dress (1960) by Maggy RouffCité de la dentelle et de la mode

Ball gown, evening dress, cocktail dress and afternoon dress—all of these dress denominations were still in development during the 1960s. If it was scandalous to bare your arms, shoulders and throat during the day, it would have been just as incongruous for a young woman not to bare them in the evening.

This ball gown is composed of a bodice and an ample tiered skirt made up of three flounces of Chantilly black lace, with a broad black satin ribbon emphasizing the narrow waistline.

Precious lace project for boleroCité de la dentelle et de la mode

The present and future of lace

After mechanization in the 19th century, the material underwent a second revolution with the arrival of artificial and synthetic fibers, or more recently the addition of properties by micro-encapsulation. Lace therefore adopts new materials and expands to new treatments and uses.

Temporary hanging, Infinite Lace (2016)Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

The aesthetic of lace has been used in unexpected ways and for an infinite variety of purposes. It is also an extremely modern source of inspiration.

The Museum invites and exhibits both emerging and established artists in fashion, design, architecture, and applied arts through exhibitions held every year.

Credits: Story

Photos : Fred Collier | City of Calais ;
F. Kleinefenn ; Museum of Lace and Fashion, Calais

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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