Grazia (UK) - - Fashion -

MIL­LIONS OF peo­ple tuned in to watch the 2018 Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret show last week­end. That the mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar, bright-lights-and-boobs bo­nanza was a spec­ta­cle, en­ter­tain­ing even, is a given. What’s de­bat­able, though, is how many of those peo­ple watch­ing would have seen them­selves rep­re­sented on the New York cat­walk? And how many of them looked at mod­els, in­clud­ing Bella Ha­did and Stella Maxwell, and felt gen­uinely em­pow­ered?

For some­thing as every­day as un­der­wear, the vis­ual lan­guage tends to be ex­clu­sive and ex­clud­ing. Which is an odd fit, when you think about it. De­fend­ers say that the air­brushed, 0.1% def­i­ni­tion of beauty (which is not ex­clu­sive to Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret, of course) of­fers fan­tasy and in­spi­ra­tion. But for many of us, the end­less stream of cut-and-paste ‘per­fect’ bod­ies serves less as a source of in­spi­ra­tion and more as one of flag­el­la­tion. Rare is the woman who has not at some point looked at her­self and thought her body was some­how ‘wrong’. And nowhere are those feel­ings made more starkly ap­par­ent than in the noth­ing-to-hide-be­hind world of lin­gerie brand­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing.

But the kick­back is hap­pen­ing. Bored of the con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive, a new gen­er­a­tion of un­der­wear brands is seek­ing to cham­pion a ver­sion of em­pow­er­ment that is built on some­thing much more sub­stan­tial than abs, tans and thigh gaps: in­clu­siv­ity.

One such brand is Thirdlove, the lin­gerie la­bel founded by Heidi Zak. Last month, Heidi pub­lished a full-page open let­ter to Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret in The New York Times, as a re­ac­tion to the com­ments (sub­se­quently apol­o­gised for) made by the brand’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, Ed Razek. Ed said that the brand has not to date cast trans or plus-size mod­els ‘ be­cause the show is a fan­tasy’.

‘ Your show may be a “fan­tasy” but we live in re­al­ity. Our re­al­ity is that women wear bras in real life… We’re done with pre­tend­ing cer­tain sizes don’t ex­ist or aren’t im­por­tant enough to serve,’ she wrote. ‘ To all women ev­ery­where, we see you, and we hear you. Your re­al­ity is enough. To each, her own.’

‘ We don’t think in­clu­siv­ity is a trend, we think it’s a move­ment,’ Thirdlove’s chief creative of­fi­cer, Ra’el Co­hen, tells Grazia. ‘ Women are no longer ac­cept­ing the sin­gu­lar vi­sion of fe­male beauty that we were spoon-fed for so many years. Now, women are mak­ing de­lib­er­ate choices about the brands we tie our­selves to’.

That choice is grow­ing – with a host of new mould-smash­ing names mak­ing noise in the crowded lin­gerie mar­ket. Brands like Ri­hanna’s Sav­age x Fenty lin­gerie col­lec­tion, which closed last New York Fash­ion Week with a strong, sexy, swag­ger­ing show in Brook­lyn Navy Yard, that in­cluded women of all shapes, sizes 

and eth­nic­i­ties ( in­clud­ing a nine months preg­nant Slick Woods) slink­ing around a Gar­den of Eden-style cat­walk.

Then there is Amer­i­can brand Aerie, which broke the in­ter­net last year for all the right reasons when it re­leased a cam­paign star­ring dis­abled mod­els and those with chronic con­di­tions – in­clud­ing one with a colostomy bag. Mean­while, Kiwi brand Lonely has been com­mended for in­clud­ing trans and older women in its cam­paigns.

Ser­ena Rees made her name in the ’90s when she founded Agent Provo­ca­teur. In 2016, she set up Les Girls Les Boys, a youth-fo­cused, pri­mar­ily uni­sex un­der­wear line that puts com­fort at the top of the agenda. She sees it as her re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­mote au­then­tic, un­re­touched imagery. ‘ The younger gen­er­a­tion wants to see imagery that feels hon­est, un­pre­ten­tious and “real” – some­thing they can re­late to, rather than an unattain­able pic­ture of per­fec­tion,’ Ser­ena ex­plains. ‘Hav­ing lived sur­rounded by teenagers grow­ing up in this “so­cial me­dia” gen­er­a­tion, I have seen first-hand the neg­a­tive ef­fect this can have on con­fi­dence and iden­tity. I be­lieve in cel­e­brat­ing these dif­fer­ences and so-called “im­per­fec­tions”. Part of the rea­son for start­ing this brand was to help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. We want to ef­fect pos­i­tive change!’

This spirit is also trans­lat­ing to the prod­uct, though. Not only are these new-gen un­der­wear brands pri­ori­tis­ing com­fort and wear­a­bil­ity, but also of­fer­ing ex­tended siz­ing. New brand Cuup wants women to stop feel­ing ‘too big’ or ‘too small’ – a re­sult, they say, of it be­ing eas­ier and cheaper to squeeze women into the 15-20 sizes typ­i­cally of­fered in the in­dus­try than pro­duce the 30+ sizes women ac­tu­ally need (they have had an ‘over­whelm­ing re­sponse’ from women on so­cial me­dia, since launch­ing this year). Fur­ther­more, brands are also cot­ton­ing on to the fact that nude no longer means a sin­gle peachy-pink tone: ASDA and ASOS have both ex­panded their nude tones re­cently.

This di­ver­sity-em­brac­ing spirit makes sense com­mer­cially. Ac­cord­ing to Min­tel’s 2018 Un­der­wear UK re­port, 49% of Bri­tish fe­male un­der­wear shop­pers be­lieve the range avail­able at a lot of re­tail­ers is too sim­i­lar; 78% of them think cam­paigns should fea­ture mod­els who rep­re­sent the av­er­age per­son. That’s 78% of the mar­ket up for grabs. ‘ We’ve seen an in­creas­ing aware­ness and de­mand for a wider range of sizes and are con­tin­u­ously work­ing on ex­tend­ing our of­fer­ing to be more in­clu­sive,’ says Net-a-porter’s global buy­ing di­rec­tor El­iz­a­beth von der Goltz. ‘ We get such a pos­i­tive re­ac­tion by widen­ing our range of sizes where brands can of­fer smaller back sizes with big­ger cups as well as pro­vid­ing a larger va­ri­ety of skin tones, which we will con­tinue to grow over the next few months.’

So why is this hap­pen­ing now? Ac­cord­ing to Caren Downie, the high-street dy­namo who was in­stru­men­tal in the suc­cess of ASOS, founded Fin­ery and has now taken on the role of fash­ion di­rec­tor at new un­der­wear brand Le­mon­ade Dolls, it’s down to a more vo­cal cus­tomer. ‘Cus­tomers are so well in­formed now com­pared to 10 years ago. That means they have be­come more ex­act­ing and de­mand­ing in ev­ery­thing and they re­ally know what they want,’ she says. ‘ They also have a stronger voice and are more than will­ing to ex­press it. Un­der­wear is the area that has lagged be­hind in this re­gard but is now be­ing forced to make rapid changes. Cus­tomers are also much more en­gaged and are happy to tell you if the imagery is un­re­al­is­tic or if the siz­ing is lim­it­ing. It is ac­tu­ally re­ally healthy and is a very marked change that is forc­ing re­tail­ers to lis­ten.’

It’s also no co­in­ci­dence that these brands are run by women for women. ‘ The lin­gerie in­dus­try has been dom­i­nated by men for too long,’ says Thirdlove’s Ra’el. ‘His­tor­i­cally, women have been told what is sexy by com­pa­nies that are run by men.’ In­deed, when the founder, CEO and de­signer all ac­tu­ally wear bras, they un­der­stand what we re­ally want: com­fort, ease, sup­port, con­fi­dence. They un­der­stand that we don’t want un­der­wear de­signed with a teenage boy rather than a busy woman in mind. They un­der­stand that we all – AA or GG – just want to feel good.

As Chloe Hay­ward, one of the mod­els in Cuup’s de­but cam­paign, puts it, these new brands ‘make women who have felt in­vis­i­ble and there­fore ashamed of their bod­ies vis­i­ble in the lin­gerie mar­ket. The idea of the “per­fect” body and “per­fect” boobs is be­ing turned on its head be­cause these brands aren’t ask­ing women to change, they are show­ing women that they are al­ready per­fect. The prod­uct needed to trans­form to fit the cus­tomer, not the other way around.’

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