The Unlikely Return of the Doily

In fashion as well as products for the home, lace — once seen as the fustiest of fabrics — is suddenly looking fresh.

Article by Emilia Petrarca

20-TMAG-DOILY-RETURNS-1A look from Diotima’s fall 2024 collection. Photograph by Deirdre Lewis.

When you think about lace, “modern” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. The centuries-old fabric, made by looping, twisting or knitting thread into various open-weave patterns, is more likely to evoke images of quaint cottage curtains or your grandmother’s bridal veil. But now, more and more young designers are incorporating the ethereal textile into their work, motivated by both personal nostalgia and a longing for the tactile and handmade in our increasingly virtual age.

Gohar World, the New York-based tableware brand founded by Nadia Gohar, 34, and her sister, Laila, 35, sells a delicate lace bib for champagne bottles and an Italian lace bonbon “bonnet” — essentially a doily with compartments meant to hold individual chocolates. And Levant, a Middle Eastern home goods company and arts and culture journal run by the New York-based designer Süreya Köprülü and the Milan-based designer Naz Muessel, both 33, will offer two different white lace-trimmed linen place mats on its e-commerce site, which is set to launch next month. One features a fish design and another was inspired by patterns popular in the Ottoman courts of the 16th century. In their own homes, Köprülü and Muessel often use the mats atop silver breakfast trays or place them in the centre of a dining table as decorative elements. “But you could frame them and put them on the wall,” says Köprülü. “They’re really works of art.”

A lace place mat from the home goods brand Levant. Photograph courtesy of Levant.

Köprülü, who is half-Turkish, and Muessel, who is half-Iranian, remember seeing similar pieces in the homes of their grandmothers, “so there’s a nostalgic aspect for us,” says Muessel. “It’s a traditional craft that feels old-school, and I think, in a world that is ever more fast-paced and technology-reliant, people are gravitating to that. They want objects with stories. Where was the product made? By whom? What is the cultural context?”

Rachel Scott, 40, the New York-based designer behind the women’s wear line Diotima, was also inspired by the lace doilies she saw growing up. In her native Jamaica, the frilly pieces were a constant in her relatives’ houses. “It was everywhere,” she says of Jamaican crochet-work, which is thicker and less delicate than traditional European or Middle Eastern lace. “I’ve never seen these specific stitches elsewhere or the way that they’re treated with starch to preserve them.”

Another look from Diotima’s fall 2024 collection. Photograph by Deidre Lewis.

At Diotima’s fall 2024 show during New York Fashion Week this month, a lacy white top was styled under a sharp blazer, and ornate crochet-work stood in for cutouts on dress shirts. “I really wanted to subvert what femininity is supposed to be,” says Scott, who earlier made a ready-to-wear harness by adding elastic straps to a traditional doily. “People have always played with the sexiness of lace, but I feel like there’s a haphazardness to the way that I work with it. It’s less polished.”

The “tension between the exposed and the covered” is what makes lace so appealing, says Scott. “You can be highly sexy but modest at the same time.” And that dichotomy, she says, is perhaps best summed up by the women who produce her pieces in Jamaica, most of whom work out of their homes, turning out both grandmotherly tabletop coverings and sexy beachwear. “Some of them are in their 60s, and they’re like, ‘Here’s this lovely doily — but also, look at this crotchless bikini!’” says Scott. “That pushed me to play with [lace] even more. There’s some mischief to it.”