The Timeless Beauty of Lace

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2004

All bridal fabrics are beautiful, but none combines history, craftsmanship, and romance as well as lace. The intricate web of patterns is both coquettishly revealing and demurely concealing for a fitting wedding dress combination.

Lace is essentially an ornamental, openwork textile whose enchanting motifs are created by looping and twisting threads. It was first developed in sixteenth-century Europe and was often named for its place of origin, such as Chantilly and Alencon, both towns in France. The precious fabric, which required painstaking skill to create, was a luxury whose purchase was restricted to royalty and high-ranking aristocrats. It was cast aside during the French Revolution but later flourished or declined depending on the whims of fashion. When Queen Victoria wore a lace veil on her wedding day in 1840, brides fell in love with the look and copied her.

Almost all lace today is made by machine. "With so many good-quality machine-made laces, a bride is sure to find one that suits her," says François Damide, president of Solstiss Inc., the United States branch of a French fine-lace manufacturer. A dainty Chantilly lace can serve as an overlay for a bouffant skirt, while a denser lace such as Alencon works well for a straight silhouette. And just the lightest touch -- on a veil, a glove, or even a bouquet -- creates a soft, feminine effect.

Or let lace inspire you in other ways. Use it to decorate a table, wrap favors, or provide an elaborate motif for a fabulous cake. When lace was made by hand using bobbins or a needle, different regions became famous for their distinctive patterns. Those traditional looks, now re-created by machine, retain their original names. Venise lace features heavy, raised motifs -- flowers, leaves, scrolls -- joined by connecting threads called "brides." Alencon lace consists of floral designs that are outlined by cordonnet, a fine silk cord. The more cord used, the more sculptural the pattern. Chantilly lace was reportedly a favorite of Marie Antoinette; it is characterized by delicate botanical motifs worked into a mesh background. The lace is feather-light whether the patterns are simple or complex.

Left: This luxurious ensemble by Christian Lacroix will satisfy a taste for feminine details. The strapless gown is a patchwork of lace, satin, and organza in shades of ivory and cream; two lace-trimmed tulle veils, worn together as a shawl, envelop the bride in a golden-pink haze. Lace and mother-of-pearl fan from Jana Starr Antiques & Bridal; pearl ring by Cartier. Below: Alencon lace, with its substantial texture and body, makes an ideal choice for sculpting a bodice or bordering a hem. Here, a gown by Michelle Roth pairs a spaghetti-strap top of ivory Alencon lace with a multilayered tulle skirt that flutters gracefully with each step. Fresh and airy, it is a lovely selection for a warm-weather ceremony. A single silk camellia adds an elegant flourish. We used a lace ribbon as a choker.

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Appliques of Alencon lace on a dress by Richard Glasgow are echoed in the lace-bordered tulle veil by Nelson D'Leon Designs. Below: The simple lines of this Christos gown with its satin-and-lace paneled train accentuate the opulence of the beaded Alencon lace.

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Reem Acra's tea-length, antique lace slip dress is sensuously glamorous. Below: This effervescent two-piece design by Monique Lhuillier is made for whirling around the dance floor at the reception. The Alencon lace of the blouse has been embellished with decorative stitching, a technique called re-embroidery. A pale coffee-colored grosgrain ribbon accents the skirt of laser-cut tulle triangles. Sandals by Manolo Blahnik.

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Chantilly lace on a veil by Suzanne Couture Millinery transforms a subtly detailed silk-satin gown by Priscilla of Boston into a romantic vision. Below: Chantilly lace overlays Edgardo Bonilla's strapless organza gown with trumpet skirt; the hem is bordered with Alencon lace. We added lace trim to the gloves by Carolina Amato. Crystaland-lace choker by Jose & Maria Barrera.

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A cascade of ribbon-embroidered Chantilly lace falls from the midriff of this ivory dress with chapel train by Amsale. Below: For a sweet and lovely appearance, a bride might choose David Fielden London's mauve tea-length ballerina dress with its bodice of thick guipure lace and frothy tulle skirt. The raised floral motifs drift luxuriously down the top layer of tulle. Ring by Me & Ro.

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In the past a woman would have concealed the corset beneath her gown. Here it serves as the bodice of a bride's alluring ensemble. The corset of gold silk, lace, and ribbons is worn over a skirt of ivory re-embroidered lace; both are by Maggie Norris Couture. A shawl of gossamer handmade lace from Jana Starr Antiques & Bridal covers the bride's shoulders. Below: Covered in French re-embroidered lace, a gown by Peter Langner shimmers with crystals, sequins, and beads. A satin ribbon is tied at the hip.

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