Luxe: a brief history of velvet

7th October 2016

Favoured by the rich, renowned and, of course, royal, velvet has the luxe factor we’re all looking for this winter. Here’s a quick romp through the heritage of this most luxurious fabric

We’ve said it before – and we’ll no doubt say it again – if you want to keep ahead of the Joneses in the home style stakes, look no further than what’s trending on the catwalks of the major fashion shows. This year’s ‘it’ fabric – as showcased by Prada, Christopher Kane and Giorgio Armani among many (many!) others – is soft, tactile, luscious and luxe velvet. But what is velvet and why is it so darn gorgeous and covetable?

From left: Prada, Christopher Kane and Giorgio Armani for autumn-winter 2016

From left: Prada, Christopher Kane and Giorgio Armani for autumn-winter 2016

Velvet 101

A few fast facts about this fab fabric…

1 You might be surprised to learn that velvet isn’t actually a material, it’s a weaving technique creating a soft, dense pile that covers the base cloth, forming the sumptuous plush surface we all know and love.

2 Velvet can be made from any type of material – traditionally, silk was used but with pure silk velvet costing hundreds of pounds a metre, it’s more usual nowadays to find it woven from silk blend, cotton, linen, wool, mohair or synthetic fibres such as viscose.

3 There are many types of velvet, including:

  • Crushed – produced by twisting the fabric while it’s wet so the nap is pressed in different directions
  • Pile-on-pile – ultra-luxe version of velvet, where piles of differing lengths are used to create pattern
  • Nacre – a pearlescent, shimmery velvet
  • Devoré aka burnout velvet, where areas of the pile are dissolved to leave a raised pattern

Divine devoré

Divine devoré

4 Many people think velvet and velour are the same thing… but they’d be wrong! Velvet is woven (see fact 1, above!) while velour is knitted.

The royal treatment

Velvet has been a favourite of the rich and famous since it first burst upon the clothing scene. Because of its high price point, it was an easy way to display wealth and power to the common people. The fabric quickly gained the royal seal of approval and was the material of choice for robes of state – Good Queen Bess was particularly fond of the fabric (especially when embellished with lots and lots of gold!).

Elizabeth I as portrayed by Nicholas Hilliard in 1585

Elizabeth I as portrayed by Nicholas Hilliard in 1585

A fabric as old as time

Examples of velvet have been found dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, with Cairo being a production hotspot around 2000BCE. The technique then travelled along the Silk Road (appropriate as silk was the core material for velvet back then) to Europe from the 12th to the 18th centuries – it was around this time that velvet started being used for upholstery, curtains and wallpaper in addition to clothing. Once the Industrial Revolution dawned, the fabric became much cheaper to produce and more widely available. The link to wealth and status continued, though, with velvet being the go-to material for glamorous garments (just ask the Dowager Countess of Grantham!).

Dame Maggie Smith rocking the velvet look, Downton Abbey,

Dame Maggie Smith rocking the velvet look, Downton Abbey,

Bring a touch of velvet to your home

If you fancy jumping on the velvet underground, then a statement sofa in this luxury finish certainly ticks all the style boxes. Here are just three of our DFS faves…

Catherine the great

Feminine and elegant, the Catherine sofa has classic lines and comes in five perfectly pretty colours


Make mine a Bailey

With its beautiful button back, the Bailey sofa will make its presence felt in any room


Shine like the star you are

Plush, squishy and velvet soft, the Shine sofa definitely has the wow factor


For more autumn/winter style inspiration, including more on sensuous velvet, check out our new Style Sourcebook, online now.

Back to homepage