Through previously unseen pieces, recently acquired or specially retrieved from storage, you will plunge into the extraordinary history of Brussels lace. A fabric that has since disappeared.
Lace is an openwork fabric made with a needle or bobbins. The motifs are connected to each other by a background of stripes or mesh. Initially, it was made by hand and later it was mechanised. Lace is distinguished by its techniques, materials, motifs, colours, etc. Most of the time, it is the place where they were first produced that identifies them: Brussels, Malines, Valenciennes, Bruges, and so on.
Brussels lace has gained international renown over the centuries. Its finesse, quality and beauty made it the preferred textile of the elites from the 17th century. It found its way to the greatest royal courts of Europe, adorning the apparel of both men and women.
In the 19th century, lace became more democratic and widespread thanks to mechanisation. The price of fabric fell. Lace then conquered women’s fashion. Remarkable pieces were made in unprecedented large sizes, lace became a garment. This mechanisation marked the end of handmade lace. Brussels lace disappears with the First World War.
An overview of the museum’s lace collections
The museum’s lace collections are an integral part of Brussels’ heritage. Several of the exhibits are included in the inventory of the movable heritage of the Brussels-Capital Region. For example, check out this handkerchief decorated in the typical style of the Napoleon III era; its scalloped edges are composed of alternating leaves and flowers
New display: 17.10.2023 > 17.10.2025
The Fashion & Lace Museum turns the spotlight on the outstanding heritage of Brussels lace.
In the interests of proper conservation, the museum renews its lace display every two years. Rotating the pieces on view in this way makes it possible to both conserve the oldest and most fragile items and offer visitors the opportunity to admire examples of superb lacework. The museum also presents its recent lace acquisitions, pieces which have rarely, if ever, been exhibited.
This set comprising a cap crown and matching lappets reflects the very essence of Brussels lace in the early days of the 18th century.
- was made using bobbins
- employs the lace inserts technique
- comprises a variety of points and grounds creating extremely meticulous patterns.
It reveals the great skill of the lacemakers who crafted luxury accessories. These lacemakers contributed to the reputation of this lace throughout Europe.
The patterns include various grounds and densities, creating contrasting shades of white. They are linked by interlaced patterns of flowerets encased in ovals connected by picoted brides which lend a lighter touch to the piece as a whole. The lappets, which are rectangular and slightly narrower at the bottom, also display a wide variety of grounds and points. The contrasting patterns in relief, including the cornucopia and peonies, are separated by the same interlacing as the cap. Meticulously worked patterns of flowers and foliage are arranged in mirror formation. A clearly visible rib in relief, created with bobbins, emphasises the patterns. This is known as faggoting.
For one season per year, the Fashion & Lace Museum joins forces with the Museum of Art & History to show the public some of the main items in the lace collections of the two institutions.
2023 marks the 130th anniversary of Art Nouveau in Brussels.
Art Nouveau, the dominant movement between 1890 and 1914, is seen as a total art form with multiple facets. It flourished in both architecture and the decorative arts, standing out thanks to its modernity. The style drew inspiration from nature, an inexhaustible source of creation. For this new lace season, the Fashion & Lace Museum and the Art & History Museum are exhibiting items that reflect this style.
In Art Nouveau, patterns serve more than simply a decorative purpose. They form the line of the item. This typically curved line can be found in furniture or accessories that are winding, asymmetric, integrated into the décor as a whole.
Lace is a particularly appropriate means of expressing this aesthetic style. Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is seen as the cradle of this applied art form and of Art Nouveau. Through a selection of lacework produced between 1890 and 1918, the museum provides a more nuanced insight into this era.
This cotton shawl collar dating from around 1880-1890 offers an opportunity to gain a better understanding of these nuances.
This collar on machine-made tulle is adorned with patterns of flowers and leaves. The treatment and the line are free of the traditional stereotypes commonly used in this Duchess lace technique. The inclusion of a border with a geometric relief lends a certain modernity to the piece as a whole. So in Art Nouveau, the ornamental line defines the item. The role of the patterns is more than purely decorative – they serve a functional purpose.
This collar is an example of tentative efforts to revive the graphic register in lace as Art Nouveau flourished.
The lace seasons
Today, many designers and artists use lace.
For more than 30 years, the House of Carine Gilson has combined the delicacy of lace, the lightness of silk, the finesse of the patterns and the know-how of couture. In her Brussels workshops, the designer has elevated inlaid lace to an art form. She has honoured us by being the patron of the Lace Room. The museum regularly exhibits a piece from her collection.