Metallic Fabric: 'Cloth of Gold'
Spinning gold into thread isn't just a story for fairy tales. Metallic fabrics are taking the fashion world by storm. This year’s Paris Fashion Week was gilded in these beautiful and luxurious textiles, which featured prominently in the collections of top designers such as Saint Laurent and Givenchy.
While gold, silver, and bronze fabrics seem to popping up everywhere these days, the use of metallic fibers in fashion isn’t a new trend. Gold and silver have been used in apparel since ancient times, when these glowing hues were used to signify nobility and status. Originally referred to as ‘Cloth of Gold,’ metallic fabrics were woven on Byzantine looms during the 7th and 8th centuries, and were reserved for only the most affluent members of the Byzantine Empire. By the 9th century, much of the production of metallic textiles was taking place in Venice, Cyprus, and Sicily.
In ancient societies, metallic fibers were created through a process of wrapping precious metals around a fiber core which was typically made of cotton or silk. In today’s world, many textile manufacturers who produce metallic fabrics rely on aluminum and stainless steel instead of rare and costly gold and silver, thus making the final products less expensive and more durable. While metals can be incorporated into almost any type of textile, metallic fibers are most commonly used in the production of brocade and lamé fabrics.
Like the history of metallic fabrics in general, brocade has a long and rich past and is a fabric whose story is interwoven with decadence and royalty. Its name comes from the Italian word broccato, which means “embossed cloth.” The first brocade fabrics were woven in the Byzantine Empire and coincided with the European discovery of silk in the 6th century. To make the beautiful brocade fabrics that were treasured by nobility throughout Europe and Asia, Byzantine weavers used colored silks and gold and silver threads to create these truly decadent fabrics. Brocade textiles are created using a special weaving technique that gives the illusion of embroidered designs. Woven using Jacquard looms, brocades were typically adorned with precious and semi-precious stones, but it is now more common to see designers incorporate sequins and complex beading designs into the fabrics.
Unlike brocades which tend to be quite heavy, lamé is a fabric celebrated for its beautiful, delicate drape. Typically gold or silver, lamé can be either woven or knit from metallic yarns and is a favorite of fashion designers who focus on formal and evening wear. Lamé fabrics are also a favorite of Hollywood, both on the red carpet and onscreen. These beautiful fabrics have such a distinct feel and appearance that they are often considered to be ‘futuristic’ and are frequently used in the costume design for many science fiction television and film projects.
One of the most innovative designers working in metallic fabrics today is Telerie d’Arte, a manufacturer based in Biella, Italy. Founded in 2007 by Giovanni Guerra, Telerie d’Arte takes a truly unique approach to the design and production of metallic fabrics. Their textiles occupy a space between traditional metallic fabrics and technical fabrics employed mainly in industrial applications.