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Fall for tulle: how fashion's floatiest fabric rose to power

What do Villanelle, Carrie Bradshaw and Queen Elsa of Arendelle have in common? Aside from convention-challenging, glass ceiling-shattering, nonconformist ways, their most memorable outfits comprise candyfloss-hued clouds of tulle. And, this season, they are bang on trend.

“The material itself transcends all eras,” says London fashion week designer Ryan Lo, who has used tulle “for as long as I can remember”. He has found a fanbase in the likes of Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams as a result. “We knit it, gather it, smock it, use it as a petticoat, make ruffles, flowers – the possibilities are endless.” For AW19 his references run a gamut of epochs, retaining the “serious period dreamy quality”.

Fellow tulle aficionados Molly Goddard (creator of that Killing Eve pink gown) and Simone Rocha – the women who have given tulle cool credentials for the 21st century – both took it to new heights, while keeping it rooted in reality. See A-line dresses worn with tapered trousers at the former, transparent teamed with PVC bralets at the latter. In these designers’ hands, tulle has an everyday feel – it can be worn to the pub or to do the weekly shop.

Other fashion houses indulged the fabric’s floaty ways, too. At Peter Pilotto, it came in rainbow hues; at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s full skirts were peppered with a punky plaid pattern; and it was tiered, ruched and ruffled at Huishan Zhang. “There is a sense of nostalgia and romance in everything I do – soft and feminine,” says Zhang, who was inspired by the starlets of the 50s. “To me, tulle is there to soften a texture or to add this frill and femininity to a frame.”

In construction and styling, it’s a trend moving the fabric on from its slightly saccharine reputation, says Lo, who uses nylon instead of silk tulle. “I want both Hello Kitty kawaii and grownup polish. The plasticky feel gives a more subversive touch to otherwise stuffy old pieces.”

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