The Most Luxurious Fabrics in Fashion
They say that the clothes maketh the (wo)man, but what about the materials that maketh the clothes in the first place? The fabrics we choose speak far louder (and have more to say) than we may think.
Take shimmering, sleek silk, for example. The history of silk in fashion stretches back elegantly across thousands of years. Since its origins in China, around 7,000 years ago, this fabric has clothed empresses, kings, movie starlets and some of the most glamorous figures in fashion history.
Silk and other luxury fabrics often have long, rich histories. The natural beauty of each material speaks for itself, but the wealth of stories and references woven into it only add to the allure.
5 Luxury Fabrics We Love
In this article, we will explore some of the stories intertwined with our favourite luxury fabrics, from silk and chiffon to velvet and cashmere.
In Jigsaw’s history of silk fashion (link above), you can trace the decadent story of silk back to its mythical origins. The Lady Hsi Ling Shih, also known as the Goddess of Silk, is credited with its discovery. After a silkworm cocoon fell into her tea as she sat beneath a mulberry tree in her palace gardens, legend has it that the Lady pioneered sericulture (the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk).
After its discovery in China, silk made its way along the Silk Road trade route, which ran from China to Rome, becoming prized and coveted by the people who encountered it along the way. Jigsaw’s silk timeline tracks silk’s journey from the head wraps of Persian kings and the ‘goddess robes’ of scandalous Roman emperors to the stunning saris of Indira Devi and the Hermes scarf worn as a sling by starlet Grace Kelly.
Today this beautiful fabric has retained its elegance and luxuriousness. Silk is the classic but endlessly versatile fabric of choice on red carpets and haute couture runways – but silk is no longer restricted to high-end settings. The iridescent material has also found its way into all corners of the fashion world, from desirable streetwear and the sumptuous lining of tuxedos to to-die-for silky sleepwear.
Lace is perhaps one of the most romantic materials of all time, and its luxuriousness stems from its intricate production process. During the lace-making process threads of cotton, silk or synthetic fabric are woven into a net of complex patterns, using a variety of historic and modern techniques from needle and crochet lace to chemical lace.
Today, as it was hundreds of years ago, the finest lace is handmade by artisans in Europe. Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2008/2009 collection showcased enchanting webs of lace, handmade in the small Swiss mountain town of St Gallen. Much modern lace, however, is no longer handmade. Instead the lace-making process has been largely mechanised, making this decadent fabric much more accessible to all.
Made from the wool of cashmere goats, cashmere is a rare cosy addition to our list of luxury fabrics. Originating in Kashmir, Nepal and Mongolia at least 5,000 years ago, the sheer softness of the wool (and the rarity of these creatures it comes from) has made the fabric a prized commodity in the fashion world. Today this wool is a staple on Autumn/Winter runaways and in luxurious winter wardrobes.
This light, ethereal material plays a role in the history of silk as well. Originally this dreamy fabric was woven from silk threads. However, this made chiffon extremely expensive to produce. As chiffon-making processes were honed, it became possible to manufacture chiffon from nylon and polyester.
Widely used in evening wear, chiffon’s lightness is perfect for bringing a feminine romance to garments. These characteristics also make chiffon a popular fabric for wedding gowns – but chiffon’s uses don’t end here. In fact, this mesmerising material is pleasingly easy to work with, allowing high end designers to innovate with its gauzy forms. Rick Owen’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection even features breezy, brightly dyed chiffon face masks.
One of the most sumptuous materials available is velvet. The smooth texture is created using a purpose-made loom, which can weave two thicknesses simultaneously. The velvet-making process is very complex and time-consuming, which makes this luxurious fabric rather expensive.
The luxury and cost of velvet are a key reason why many of us still associate this fabric, used in everything from fashion to interior design, with kings and queens. Indeed, much like silk, velvet has been a favourite fabric amongst the nobility for centuries. In 1399, King Richard II even decreed that he should be buried in velvet clothing.
Woven with Luxury
All of the luxury fabrics explored in this article share some common threads. Each has a rich history in fashion and each fabric has been coveted for its exclusiveness and impossible-to-imitate beauty. From handmade lace, which takes months of artisanal work to weave, to silk woven from the cocoons of carefully cultivated silkworms, these mesmerising materials may be costly to make – but their inimitable beauty is impossible to ignore.