The International City for Lace and Fashion

Lace from Calais has been the best in the world for the past 200 years. It adorns clothing like evening gowns and gloves, and can be seen everywhere on sophisticated lingerie, whether this be the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Pierre Cardin or Chantal Thomass. The latter is the patron of the International Centre for Lace and Fashion in Calais too. The Centre, which opened in 2009, is housed in a historic weaving and lace-making factory. Since then, a stunning futurist extension has been added, its curved glass facade in the style of a silk screen imitates the punched cards used in Jacquard looms – the technology that made Calais great in the 19th century and revolutionised the industrial manufacture of lace. The fascinating architectural ensemble is clearly a metaphor, not only of its ambitions as an industrial museum, but also as a shop window for contemporary fashion trends. Visitors arrive in a 3.000 square metre complex containing working, historic looms  where they can view an impressive collection of lace fashion from the 16th to the 21st century, and a presentation of state-of-the-art manufacturing methods. In addition the museum has room for temporary exhibitions, a documentation centre, a room for fashion shows and spaces for fashion workshops.

The International City for Lace and Fashion
Cité internationale de la dentelle et de la mode de Calais
135 quai du Commerce
62 100 Calais
Nord-Pas de Calais
France
+33 (0) 32100 - 4230
Homepage

History

It was men who first adorned themselves with artistically designed filigree lace that was sewn by hand, woven or manufactured on a loom. This luxury product only arrived in Calais after it had long been in use to cover (or reveal) the bodies of women. At the time, in the early 19th century, the rising demand for lace demanded more efficient production methods. As a result, people in the English city of Nottingham developed machines which manufactured a sort of net lace called tulle, although they did not produce lace itself – much to the annoyance of the Nottingham lace makers who feared for their existence and therefore did everything they could to move this new technology abroad. The first place they arrived at was Calais twenty or so miles across the English Channel.  

From 1816 onwards the town developed as the centre of the French lace industry. The basic reason for this was that the English looms had been improved upon by the Jacquard loom invented in Lyons which made lace manufacturing easier because it was controlled by punched cards. Around the turn of the 20th century there were over 300 lace factories in Calais with a workforce of around 40,000. They satisfied the huge demand for tulle and lace which was used in the manufacture of many products includingparty clothes, wedding dresses and lingerie. Lace from Calais became world-famous and developed its own very special treasury of motifs that even now set contemporary trends in haute couture and inspire renowned designers. Almost 80% of current products are made for export. The International Centre for Lace and Fashion pays a self-confident tribute to its outstanding importance.

The first idea for an industrial museum in Calais came as early as 1841, but for many years it had no permanent location, until eventually, the collection was moved to a museum of fine arts that displayed lace. The present site – which links the past and the future – exceeds our usual ideas of what a museum should be because of its wide-ranging concept. This finds an attractive expression in the spectacular extension designed by the Paris architects Alain Moatti and Henri Riviere.

Recommended duration of visit: 1,5 Hours
Duration of a guided Tour: 90 Minutes
Admission: Charge
Access for persons with disabilities: For details see website
Infrastructure for Children:
Catering:
Gift and book shop on Site: yes

April to October:
Wednesday - Monday 10am-6pm
November to March:
Wednesday - Monday 10am-5pm

  • Guided tours optional
  • Tours in other languages
  • Guided tours for children