WHEN the designer John Galliano said recently that he wanted to see a return to 'noble fabrics', he was surely thinking of velvet.
Velvet had no place in the age of strict power suits and sharp tailoring. But there were signs of a change last winter, when trailing jewel-coloured velvet scarves were worn to soften workaday suits. Now it is the fabric of the season, worn around the clock, and not just kept for party frocks and special occasions. It's turning up as jeans, as well as coats, jackets and dresses.
A favourite with designers as diverse as Jasper Conran and Red or Dead is devore (literally 'devoured') velvet. This is made by treating the cloth with a solution that burns away the pile, leaving a fine trail of transparent gauze behind. The process can be used to make detailed patterns, or to 'age' the fabric artificially, giving it a romantic, time-worn feel. The results look best when cut on the bias, as in the clothes photographed here.
Simplicity is the key to success with velvet. A neat trouser suit, whether by Gigli or by French Connection, can be worn during the day or at night. This is a modern version of the floppy velvet rock-star suits of the Sixties and Seventies - the sort that Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull used to wear - although today's design is boyishly narrow.
The shapes may be new, but the fabric improves with age. A threadbare velvet jacket has an eccentric charm all of its own.
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