November 12, 2023 5 min read
What is French Chantilly lace?
The Chantilly lace is the most delicate and elegant of laces. It is a whisper thin bobbin lace with intricate floral or botanical patterns. The lace has a net background or a point d’esprit (a fine bobbinet with scattered woven dots). The French Chantilly lace below is from 1880. It is a small stole from Bayeaux.
How was French Chantilly lace made?
Originally the lace was made by hand on a big flat bobbin pillow. The fine, detailed pattern was outlined in cordonnet, a flat untwisted strand. To make Chantilly lace by hand was extremely time consuming and costly. The lacemakers were mostly women. The French Chantilly lace was mainly made in black silk to be used for mourning wear. The off-white lace or 'Blonde' in unbleached silk or linen was less frequently produced.
What is the history of French Chantilly lace?
The Chantilly lace is named after the city of Chantilly, North of Paris, France. The sought-after handmade silk laces were introduced in the 18th century. Unfortunately, only a few pieces of the black Chantilly lace exist from the 18th century. The black dye that was used was acid and contained iron. It tended to oxidize and rot the fabric.
The Chantilly lace became popular with French royalty. The lace production flourished between 1740 and 1785. Louis XV’s mistress, Mme du Barry, and Marie Antoinette adored Chantilly lace. The demand for Chantilly lace discontinued with the French revolution in 1789. Mme du Barry and Marie Antoinette were beheaded by the guillotine in 1793. Since the Chantilly lace makers were seen as protégés of the royals they were sadly also beheaded. In the pictures below are Mme Barry to the left (painted by Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, 1782 ) and Queen Marie-Antoinette with her children to the right (painted by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1785).
The production of Chantilly lace started up again in 1804 when the Emperor Napoleon I decreed that only Chantilly and Alençon laces should be worn in court. As a result, the lace had a comeback. The handmade production of Chantilly lace moved to Bayeux in Normandie, because the labor costs had become too high in Chantilly, outside of Paris. The handmade lace production grew. By 1830 there were 20 businesses employing almost 15,000 lace makers in Bayeux. It was one of the biggest lace-making centers in Europe. The photo below, from the Museum of Bayeux, is of a handmade Chantilly stole from Bayeux from the mid 1800.
Is there a difference between handmade and machine made Chantilly lace?
In 1844 the first machine was patented in France to make black Chantilly silk lace. Below is a photo of two Chantilly lace silk shawls; a machine-made to the left and a handmade to the right. The photo is from Textilmuseum, St. Gallen, Austria.
The machine-made lace had several advantages. It was more affordable and it could be made in large widths. The width of the handmade lace was limited to the size of the bobbin pillow. Most importantly, the machine made lace was almost indistinguishable from handmade lace.
Why did machine made Chantilly lace become so popular?
A combination of a growing middle class and the development of department stores propelled the machine-made Chantilly lace forward. By 1860 the department store Le Bon Marché in Paris successfully offered a large selection of lace and lace accessories. Emile Zola has described the lace at Le Bon Marché in detail in his 1883 novel “Au Bonheur des Dames” (Ladies Paradise).
The demand for lace continued until WWI when lace production was interrupted. In the swinging 1920s the lace demand was up again. It was the machine-made lace that was in demand for insertions, trimmings and lace skirts and dresses layered over contrasting-colored underskirts. The lace patterns showed stylish trends, like geometric patterns, and social influences. Egyptian motifs became popular after the discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s treasures in 1922. Below is a photo of a border of a machine-made Chantilly black silk lace veil from the 1920s. (The Lacis Museum of lace and textiles, Berkeley, CA.) Next to it a 1925 French sketch of a black lace dinner dress. (The Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, Paris).
World War II affected the production and use of lace, which would not fully recover until 1950s. The last European centers of handmade lace sadly disappeared. In the 1950s the machine-made Chantilly lace regained its former glory. Chantilly lace was used for wedding dresses and in haute couture for the cocktail hour and the evening. Chanel used black lace, Cristobal Balenciaga had lace in bright and dense colors, Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior favored white lace.
Hollywood and the film industry helped the popularity of black Chantilly lace. In the 1966 movie ‘How to Steal a Million’ Audrey Hepburn wore a dress of black Chantilly lace designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Below are several photos of Audrey Hepburn in the film.
In 1970 Yves Saint Laurent designed a famous short black wool crepe evening dress. The back featured a large inset of machine-made Chantilly lace panel. The first photo below was taken by Jeanloup Sieff, France in 1970. The second and third photos are from Palais Musée de la Mode Galliera de la Ville de Paris.
In 1994 the French designer Thierry Mugler designed a legendary sculpted evening gown in black Chantilly lace. It has velvet appliqués and pink silk satin. The photos below are from 1st DIBS.
How is Chantilly lace used today?
Chantilly is a luxury lace and the white Chantilly lace continues to be in demand for wedding dresses and veils while the black Chantilly lace is the choice for evening wear. Below is a photo of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. For her wedding she wore a French Chantilly Lace and English Cluny lace dress designed by Alexander McQueen’s Sara Burton. Photos by Getty Images, 2011.
Fashion houses love Chantilly lace and show it as a highlight on the runways. Below are photos from Christian Dior's Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Collection showing black and ecru Chantilly lace. Photos are by Daniele Oberrauch, Gorunway.com.
Why is French Chantilly lace a great choice for Gilded Lace jewelry?
Chantilly lace is known for its intricate patterns, which adds elegance and sophistication to the jewelry. When we design the jewelry, we make sure that you can see every detail of the Chantilly lace. Below is our Ryan necklace in rose gold.
Chantilly lace is exceptionally fine, which translates to lightweight jewelry. This is particularly important for earrings. They need to be comfortable to wear for extended periods. Below are the large Leopoldine earrings that Beyoncé wore on tour.
The Chantilly lace has beautiful scalloped edges and eyelash fringes. We love this detail and made it a focal point when we designed the Cameron earrings below.
You don't want to miss our jewelry collection, 'French Chantilly Lace' with intricate and beautiful bracelets, earrings, necklaces and brooches.
For this blog we used the following sources: ‘The Threads of Power’ Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen Edited by Emma Cormack and Michele Majer Published by Bard Graduate Center, New York, 2022
'The Identification of Lace' by Pat Earnshaw. Published by Shire Publications Ltd, 2009.
'History of Lace' by Mrs. Bury Palliser. Published by Dover Publications New York, 2013.
'L’Europe en Dentelle' by Rita Carole Dedeyan. Published by Massin Editeur, France.
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …