Fingertips never forget that particular feel. It’s sinfully soft and elegant, shimmering and confident. My first encounter was ten yeas ago, stepping onto a blackened show-room floor in Los Angeles. I turned and there to the left dramatically and strategically spot-lit, a 44 quietly eyeing me up. Dyed a blue so dark, it was on the verge of night. Alive in the light.


A two button coat with notch lapels and side vents. Digressing a bit, I concur with GQ on side vents as being “totally traditional, the standard of fine British tailoring. They make a lot more sense sitting down than one or none…give me side vents for the man of action, especially if that action is sitting down and standing up.” Back to the point, like a second skin, it slipped over the pink embroidered shirt – I plead guilty to this particular fashion crime – and rested neatly on my narrow shoulders. Standing in front of a mirror, it was an unexpected revelation, as if the garment belonged to my identity. How could it, it was simply cloth: visually sinister yet somehow lustre-filled and noble.

The legacy that ultimately results in this piece of perfection started in the Far East, camel-ridden along the legendary Silk Road and potentially even over the infamous Taklimakan – the Desert of Death. The narrative found its way to twelfth century Italy, exploding Venezia, Firenze, Lucca, and Genoa into velvet production and supply centres for the rest of Europe all the way to the eighteenth century. Although it took some time, as it does in all things still, the French eventually found this weaving technique fascinating as well. Thankfully for England, though not for the French Protestants, Édit de Fontainebleau was instated in October 1685, forcing the primarily Protestant silk weavers to migrate to England. Ergo, leading to the establishment of the London Silk Weaving industry in Spitalfields; velvet become second nature to British tailoring.

And of course the dynasties and the monarchies and the royalties and the nobilities and the majesties and all the rest of the pompous money-hoarding suckers from the Far East to the British Isles retained the sole privilege of donning velvet, even walking over crimsoned varieties with their grubby toes. Why the exclusivity? Because “velvet” is not the textile – originally silk – nor a colour, as you are assuming, you vile little Pleb! Rather, “velvet” was the secreted and well guarded technique, “pile weave”, of weaving silk on a special loom in such a way that created loops during the weaving process. The loops were then sliced, forming a soft but densely textured surface on one side of the fabric. Thus, in Italy, the eponymous outcome was dubbed “velluto” meaning fleecy. Pure tactile pleasure for the elite.

But let’s skip shall we a few years forward to…today. Velvet is defined with sexiness at Dolce&Gabbana, as classy and contemporary under McQueen, politely opulent if your taste falls for Burberry Prorsum, strikingly regal when Valentino cuts the cloth, assuredly luxurious with Lanvin, and sauve as only Balmain could ever deliver. Admittedly, I’ve addressed the fashion world rulers. But since we’ve established velvet to be a technique rather than the content, allow me to clarify that velvet can be constructed from pure silk as it has been in centuries past, OR in more affordable silk-rayon blends, acetate, and even cotton. This knowledge put together with contemporary weaving tech, stocks this season’s collections of J.Crew, Zara, Topman, and Uniqlo to name a few, with this highly desirable creation.

For myself, since that autumn day when velvet entered my severely limited but tightly curated selection of coats, there is still a thrill when fingertips brush over the fabric, as other velvet owners would agree. After ten years of being worn in sun and wind, rain and snow, thrown on floors and over coatracks, rolled up, folded up, crumpled and stuffed into travel bags and unceremoniously flung out to take on human-form again, my blue velvet coat worn here by dear friend Leo Hambrook – youthful founder of Uncommon Scents label – has finally attained (might I add, without shelling out four hundred times the amount for the “pre-worn” option) a well-aged and “fashionably disheveled” appeal.

Leaving the streets of Los Angeles, this particular piece of velvet made its way over the past decade, via Air France, to the boulevards of Paris. And from Berlin, now to Provence. We’ll see where it will show up next.

photography: © Matilda Hambrook