Tough Love

Lace gets a butch makeover

The house of Alexander McQueen seasonally revamps its four-ring evening clutch. This spring it turned it out in pale pink with an overlay of white lace. Despite its demure covering, the bag’s bejeweled hardware, which resembles brass knuckles, makes the accessory better suited to a dark alley than a dim bedroom. In another corner of fashion’s upper echelon, Pasadena’s Mulleavy sisters created sleeveless lace blouses for their latest Ro-darte collection for an effect that’s progressive, not prim. At Valentino, where see-through froth tops gowns, sporty canvas totes are embellished with a lace print in lieu of the real thing. Wolford, the tights specialist, also recently adapted a lace look to nonlace stockings.

Why lace, and why now? With fewer dollars to spend, shoppers want classics that will last from season to season but are unusual enough to justify buying. “Designers dig deep into archives and try to do something to stand out,” says Elyse Walker, whose eponymous Pacific Palisades boutique sold out a long-sleeved black silk lace top by Equipment. “Intricate fabrics do that.” Solstiss, a French lace company with a showroom in L.A., says its sales are up 75 percent over last year. It produces as many as 600 new lace designs annually in addition to dentelle varieties that reach back a century.

What’s different about lace this time around is its creative use beyond wedding gowns and lingerie. Kym Gold wanted the scalloped trim on a casual knee-length skirt to fit the laid-back vibe of her Babakul label. “We tone it down,” says Gold, who dyed and washed lace that was stitched to the hem. “That way, when you mix it with sportswear, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.” The skirt proved to be the star of her spring collection, carried in Anthropologie stores nationwide. It took more than half a millennium—lace was invented in Europe in the 1400s—but the novelty fabric has trickled down to everyday wear. “In the past few years,” says Mitch Naidrich of Malibu Textiles, in Vernon, “it’s gone from a seasonal specialty to a 12-months-a-year staple.”