Travelling through Calais on your way to England? The port may conjure images of ferries to Dover, but this busy transport hub is worth a stop for its lace museum alone. The name is a bit of a mouthful (Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais, or “International Centre of Lace and Fashion in Calais”), but the museum is much more than an homage to the industry that made Calais famous for more than a century.
Architecturally, the centre is a marvelous mélange of the past and present, designed by architects Moatti and Rivière (who also conceived the headquarters of Jean-Paul Gaultier Couture). Housed in an old brick factory dating from the 19th century, the museum required three years of construction work before making its debut in June 2009.
The exhibitions showcase the industry history of Calais and the tailors and lace-makers who created its wealth starting in 1816. (While Venice and Flanders were renowned for traditional hand-made lace, it wasn’t until the advent of the industrial age, and the first bobbin net machine, that the business boomed in Calais.) On the second floor, visitors can marvel at the mechanical lace looms in the production workshop.
There are also fabulous fashion exhibits—Chantal Thomass is a fan—that showcase lace creations from the 19th century through the Belle Époque to the present day. The collections include 10,000 lace pieces and 3,200 objects linked to the world of fashion.
Much more than a museum, the centre also boasts an auditorium and catwalk for fashion shows; plus a library and a lovely restaurant. What’s more, the Cité hosts textile workshops for both children and adults to learn in a hands-on way. As is often the case in museum gift shops in France, you’ll find all kinds of fun and unusual items in the on-site boutique.
International Centre of Lace and Fashion, 135 Quai du Commerce, 62100 Calais. Tel: +33 3-21-00-42-30. Admission is 5 euros. Open every day except for Tuesday.