Lingerie has certain connotations. As a kid growing up in ’80s it meant pink, frilly, high-cut panties and a lilac satin and lace thing called a teddy that I found while nosing around in my mum’s drawer. Nothing epitomized lingerie more than Fredrick’s of Hollywood, whose catalogue you’d sometimes find in the magazine piles of doctor’s offices. This idea of the provocative, pink, frilly bombshell continues today, especially in North America with brands like La Senza and Victoria’s Secret still catering to that specific ideal.
In Contemporary Lingerie Design Katie Dominy challenges these ideas of contemporary lingerie by looking at international labels that approach the work from a design perspective. As she states in her introduction, designer lingerie is a luxury item, and this is what she focuses on here. Nothing is Victoria’s Secret about this book, unless you count the occasional Swarovski crystal or panty jewelry (which, yes, exists even in the upper-echelons of underwear).
The format of the book is straightforward—each designer (or design team, in some cases) is introduced with a short paragraph in which they explain how they got into the business. The rest is written in a simple Q&A style with questions that vary little from designer to designer, covering topics like inspiration, fabric selection and favourite collections.
After a while these answers start to echo one another and the especially dull opening question, “Who is the [insert brand name here] woman?” had this reviewer glazing over (you can only read “romantic, sexy, modern—basically, she’s me” so many times).
With the exception of Filip Arickx, who designs the A.F. Vandevorst label with his wife An Vandervorst, all the designers featured in the book are women, an interesting change from prêt-a-porter where the majority of designers are men. And although we think of lingerie as being “for men,” especially in North America, the designers featured here really make the point that lingerie is about a woman—her needs, her desires and making her feel good about herself, a feeling furthered by the emotional connection many of the designers had with their collections. When asked “What is your favourite collection?” or “What is your favourite design?” there was a real emotional response, with designers like Fleur Turner of Fleur of England relating that her favourite collections were Tiger Lily and Je ne sais Quoi—the first designed while she was planning her wedding, the second while she was heavily pregnant.
Though the designers featured in the book work mainly in Europe, the States and Japan, a vintage theme ran through almost all of their designs, and many of the designers started off as vintage lingerie collectors. In fact, Nuits de Satin Paris by Ghislaine Rayer and the London-based designer Lee Klabin both work almost exclusively in corsets. Overall there was a lot of frou-frou in the collections, a look that was echoed on the runways a couple of seasons ago with the Paris Ooh La La trend. But it was American labels The Lake & Stars (which designers Nikki Dekker and Maayan Zilberman explain is a Victorian euphemism for “great in bed”) with their ’70s style rompers and Jean Yu’s ultra-modern and almost geographic take on lingerie that seemed the most exciting and fresh.
Though you’re unlikely to learn anything new about the history or construction of lingerie this definitely gives you some insight into the current top creators. And if, like me, your entire collection of “lingerie” was purchased at Marks & Spencer’s (not counting the American Apparel lace bodysuit that was randomly sent to your office) then the book might leave you feeling like you ought to invest in some sort of see-through camiknicker (and, you know, maybe some crunches).
Contemporary Lingerie Design by Katie Dominy, Laurence King, 2010.
Reviewed by Sacha Jackson
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