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Couture Coup

by Bethany Hopkins
1st Page Headline for The Santa Barbara News Press
Monday, June 4, 2007

The laces of Solstiss, the French company that traces its origins back to the 19th century techniques, are not usually easy to come by. Seen on runway models and in high-fashion pohotos, its collections are shown to designers but never to the retail public. Until now....... Susanne Chess, owner of Fine Fabrics of Santa Barbara ..... has achieved a notable textile coup. Her store will show the ..... Solstiss collection of laces ..... with pieces on display at Fine Fabrics of Santa Barbara, 715 Kimball Street, Santa Barbara ........ and on-line at prive' (request permission to access) .... The reception... features 200 to 300 pieces of the collection, most of them with intricate details such as beads, metal, leather, even pearls and crystals added to the lace. The textiles range in price from around $[100] to [$6,000] per yard....... "It's the best," Ms. Chess said. "That's why this is so exciting.... It's a real fashion event."

"The Solstiss company was created in 1974 by four lace-making families from Caudry in the north of France. The high-end designs of Solstiss are the descendants of first lace, an open-worked, patterned fabric, which began appearing in Europe in the 16th century. Thin threads of materials like cotton, silk, linen, or even silver or gold are twisted and crossed, either by machine or by hand, to create intricate designs. Solstiss uses Leaver looks, based on the machine created by Englishman John Leaver in the early 19th century, top produce its high-end lace.....

"It's a difference of craftsmanship," Ms. Chess explained. She turns over a piece of less expensive lace with beading to reveal an untidy criss-crossing of threads and visible stitches. She turns over a piece of Solstiss lace for comparison, noting its neat and far less visible threads.

A glance through the Solstiss .... magazine reveals glossy photos of the company's lace on the recent runway shows of Paris, Milan, London and New York. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Chloe and Roberto Cavalli are just some of the top fashion designers who make use of Solstiss for their creations. Celebrities who have worn Solstiss include Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, who wore a gown embellished with the lace on her wedding day.

When people say lace, they think bridal," Ms. Chess siad. "They think feminine. You can't separate 'feminine' from any of these".....

She added that she hopes to plan more events like the Solstiss reception in the fuure at Fine Fabrics, a store that she first opened ... in 2004 to fill what she saw as a void in the community.

"When I moved to Santa Barbara, there were nine fabric stores," she said. The number has dwindled since she came to town 30 years ago, but she has seen people's image of such stores remain stuck in the past. As someone who has sewn all her life, making her very first dress at the age of 5, Ms. Chess is trying to change people's idea of the craft.

"It's fashion -- it's just taking fashion to a creative level," she said. When community members come to her for private sewing lessons, she doesn't start them on patterns for pillows or curtains -- she hands them a fashion trends book and asks them what they want to make. Then, stp by step, she takes them through the process of creating their own version.

"We want people to think of it more as a creative process than a technical process," she said. It's more of a design center."........