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La Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais is open!

On 11 June 2009 the International City of Lace and Fashion was officially opened!

The sun shone, the canals sparkled and Calais buzzed.  Hot pink posters announced the event on the end of buildings, on buses, in shop windows, in the press and in handouts delivered through the streets by charming young French on gyroscopic chariots! Even truckies hung out of their cabins calling for a poster.

The museum sat on quai du Commerce waiting. Architects Moatti and Riviere wanted to highlight the value of the city's heritage while creating a bridge with contemporary design. It would be a disservice to their intent to abbreviate here their explanation of this amazing building. Suffice to say it is stunningly beautiful and an amazing concept. A long facade of glass, screen-printed with motifs from Jacquard cards of Leavers lace machines, has been grafted on to the body of the original building.  Light dances along them, inviting you to come and see.

By midmorning, the invited guests were gathered on the forecourt and to symbolise the arrival of the original machines from over the water in 1816, the Official Party arrived by boat down the canal!

Their opening speeches delighted in the achievement of the undertaking, recognised the enormity of its undertaking and its importance in a world where again the fortunes of Leavers lace is in a decline.

Then La Cité internationale de la dentelle et de la mode de Calais was open to guests.

It is stunning!  It is a showcase with the greatest attention to detail. There is symbolism beneath every exhibition area that tells a  secondary story.  Martine Fosse, Head Curator, said: .... the museum can be seen as multi-disciplinary.  The sphere of activity covers industrial, economic and social history but it also encompasses industry's relationships with the arts, the fashion world and contemporary design. More than anything else, for us it is the history of the industry that brought our families to Australia. 


The museum’s design takes visitors on a journey of introduction, immersing them in everything there is to know about lace: its history,the machines, creation, present and future . Everything is told, from its most ancient aspects to its most contemporary.

Text Box: A pair of original 19th century bolts which once held a machine in place.
It is more than a museum site perpetuating the town's industrial heritage and the expertise of  an entire population. It is also a hub for studies, research, encounters, reactivity and creativity centred on lace, looking to the past and to the future. It has the further function of promoting fashion of today and tomorrow.

The permanent exhibition is organised into five stages relating the history, the current state and the future of lace and fashion.

The era of hand-made lace

The first presentation sequence of the permanent exhibition is devoted to the history of hand-made lace from the sixteenth to the nineteen century. The chronological trail shows the significant stages in the development of this craft, in so far as they influenced French economic and social organisation, production and fashion.

Apart from lace pieces demonstrating the technical and stylistic evolutions, costumes are on display and a large collection of images show the successive changes in the silhouette of costumes and the role lace played in this.

Leading to the next stage that shows the introduction and development of mechanical lace, the tools and production methods of hand made lace are presented. The visitor can also enjoy a fun area where they can try out the main production techniques.


The industrial adventure of Calais lace

The second exhibition space relates the industrial adventure of tulles and mechanical laces. Here, the visitor discovers the birth of this type of production in the city of Nottingham and will get to know the machines' inventors, the early manufacturers in tulle production. This is a Franco-English story punctuated by smuggling, human exchanges and equipment. Everyone can discover 150 years of lace production in Calais through the registers, the sale of its lace products in department stores throughout the world, and the development of the town of Calais thanks to this industry.


The Leavers workshop and the manufacturing chain

The Boulart factory has had its soul restored thanks to the Leavers looms.   This is the heart of the museum.  Five machines are operable and it is truly a sensory experience - you see the machines but you hear the rhythmic thump and you feel the vibrations through the boards.  They are superb and bring home just how incredibly clever those early lacemakers of Calais were.

The area next to the machines shows the whole process necessary to produce lace - the designs, the jacquard cards, the rolling of the warp beams, the filling of the bobbins.  It is one thing to see photos of the process - it is unbelievable to stand there and know that this is how the Australian Lacemakers of Calais earned their living!

Fashion in lace

The fashion department of the City of Lace contains some 3,220 pieces covering the period from 1850 to the present day. The greatest names in fashion are here - Worth, Doucet and Redfern from the Belle Epoque, via those enfants terribles of 1930s fashion, Chanel and Schiaparelli, to Lacroix, Gaultier or Chantal Thomass today.

This collection is presented, themed and displayed in sequence, in minimalist surroundings which magnify the designs through plays of light and through videos projected onto the surfaces of the showcases.

Lace - its present and future

After exploring the four galleries - which one by one reveal hand-made lace, the industrial adventure of mechanical tulles and laces, the Leavers looms workshop and the manufacturing chain and fashions in lace - the visitor can now take delight in a presentation of the true nature of lace.

Lace in the twentieth century has embraced man-made fibres and adopted advances which have revolutionised its techniques. Mini laboratories have been put at the visitor’s disposal in order to explain these technological upheavals.

Parallel to this, the 'Effets de la dentelle' (lace effects) area invites the visitor to discover the astonishing artistic wealth of lace in contemporary design, through a selection of objects made in a variety of visual artistic mediums. All share the common desire of lifting lace out of its traditional field and exploring an alternative identity.

The establishment of the City and Museum in a former factory could not be more appropriate. The lace industry employed a large workforce of mill-based and home workers. This industry imposed a characteristic town planning.

Most Calais residents have lace-makers among their family and forebears. These machines reveal very close bonds with machine and material, expressing both passion and pride. The public is fascinated by the world of work and the conditions and organisation of production.


This being so, this collective history had to be embodied by a museum project developed in line with the standards of the Musées de France, in a location capable of expressing modernity and bringing all the potential projects under one roof.

 La Cité can be seen to be multidisciplinary. The sphere of activity covers industrial, economic and social history but it also encompasses industry's relationships with the arts, the fashion world and contemporary design.

An area of 500 square metres is reserved for temporary exhibitions and finally, La Cité provides a venue for study, research, training, meetings, social events and creativity. It houses an auditorium, fashion show hall, specialist library, workshops for learning lace-making, lace conservation, and fashion and design, a training area, space dedicated to the profession, a shop and a restaurant.

You don't just visit the International City of Lace and Fashion, you go and live an experience, discovering the exceptional skill behind machine-made lace and you very quickly become aware of how incredible those early creators were. 

Gillian Kelly with the help of Nord Littoral and the Press release from La Cité

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