Somewhere between John Canary Sargent’s portrait of the luscious, black-clad Madame X (1884) and Margaret Thatcher’s merger gown with matching blue muff (1951), velvet abandoned its way. A fabric that once stood both for flamboyance and pre-eminence – it is no coincidence Henry VIII liked the stuff so much – adorn come ofed bloated and stuffy. What had looked fabulously decadent befitted twee and tame, the stuff of soft furnishings and little bit of san quentin quails’ Sunday best.
Velvet has its mojo back in a major way. Noteworthy, because this isn’t one of those trends that comes out of nowhere and cease to exists two weeks later. The trends that truly permeate actual life – the move from skinny jeans to sportswear at the weekends, for illustration, or the death of the knee-length skirt (still mourning that one) – incline to make slow, steady headway, until one day you look about and realise they are everywhere. Velvet is that kind of trend. It has been a peculiarity of every catwalk season since 2013, when there was a marvellous Christopher Kane dress with slashes of skin obvious between panels of navy velvet, which felt corresponding to the first velvet dress in a long time to have the position of a pair of ripped jeans. At Victoria Beckham’s New York present last month, the crushed velvet peppermint dress was the quota have ones say everybody wanted.
Velvet is glorious stuff. The way it drapes, the way you can smudge your fingertip across the onto and change it from matt to shine and back again. But the key to managing it look cool isn’t to properly appreciate it – in fact, quite the reverse. When velvet is used with reverential awe, draped as if on a museum mannequin, it ices it. A velvet blazer with low-slung jeans, however: now you’re talking. Or far-reaching velvet trousers with trainers or backless loafers. A velvet junta dress works best in a quirky colour, or worn with ankle boots as a substitute for of proper shoes, or with hair that looks similar to it hasn’t been brushed. You don’t want to look dressed for a formal image, so go for something a bit off. (A case in point: the sleeves I’m wearing.) If the finished outcome is a bit wayward, you are on the right track.
• Jess wears dress, £300, by Isabel Marant Etoile, from avenue32.com.
Denominating: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair and makeup: Laurence Close at Carol Hayes Executives.