Power, not fantasy: young designers who use lingerie as inspiration

Power, not fantasy: young designers who use lingerie as inspiration

Written by Helen Jennings, CNN

From Vivienne Westwood’s Victorian corsetry to Calvin Klein’s bias cut briefs, lingerie has always had a place on the catwalk.

And while it has a reputation for pleasing male fantasy, lingerie has also been used to fuel more liberated ideas of how women can proudly display their bodies and express their sexuality. (Madonna thinks of her Gaultier cone braor Coco Chanel entertaining in pajamas).
In recent years, the industry has gone through a dramatic change. Many Women have moved away from ‘Hello Boys’ push-up bras in favor of brands like Marieyat and Les Girls Les Boys, which reflect cultural attitudes about diversity, body positivity and gender fluidity. The fanfare that used to accompany Victoria’s secret shows has decreased a lot following controversies over his narrow – and often culturally inappropriate – representation of feminine beauty, while Rihanna Wild x fenty has been celebrated by its inclusive casting and designs made for every shape, size and skin tone.

Solange with a look from Elena Velez’s Spring-Summer 2019 collection. Credit: Elena Velez

All of this speaks to today’s new visual language and its growing focus on diverse natural beauty and what fashion can do for our well-being. Now more than ever, this is a message that resonates with women who, instead of eroding their mental health by unattainable images of perfection, demand to be represented by the brands they choose to wear.

This is not lost on today’s coolest fashion talents. By taking notes on how lingerie is constructed and responds to the human form, they create garments that are both revealing and stimulating.

Here are three young designers whose lingerie-inspired fashion outlook is leading the charge.

Chiffon and steelm

With three collections to date, American designer Elena Vélez has dressed Grimes, Charli XCX, Solange and Ariana Grande, and has performed at the New York and London fashion weeks.

But it is not the glamor of fashion that inspires Velez, but he turns to his hometown in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for design ideas. Her mother was captain of a boat in the Great Lakes and is the type of strong woman that Vélez now hopes to dress.

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However, growing up, he felt differently how his mother looked and dressed. “I wanted her to be pretty: nail polish or heels,” she said in a phone interview. “I didn’t understand the importance of her wind-worn jeans, knotted hair, or patched flannels. But now I appreciate her brand of utilitarian beauty.”

Elena Vélez often uses reused nautical materials such as ropes and boat sails for her creations (Spring / Summer 2020)

Elena Vélez often uses reused nautical materials such as ropes and boat sails for her creations (Spring / Summer 2020) Credit: Elena Velez

Now based in London, Vélez returns home regularly to create her collections of reused candles, rope and leather. What she calls her signature, the “aggressively delicate” pieces are characterized by their fragile shapes reminiscent of barely existing brackets and chemistry, joined by a corset-style steel rod architecture made in collaboration with goldsmiths in Milwaukee, an area that once It was known for its steel. manufacturing.

“It has such a heavy blue neck connotation,” Velez said. “I use these local materials to investigate the relationship between femininity and strength. What more powerful way to bring you into my world than to drag you into a candle from my mother’s shipyard?”

Vélez studied at Parson’s School of Design in New York and is currently completing her master’s degree at Central Saint Martins in London, where she continues to immerse herself in her romantically compelling vision of future femininity. For her, from vulnerability comes strength.

“Every day is a bloody battle to defend the delicate. Sometimes I feel like a scarred warrior protecting a fragile and sensitive heart. Gauze and steel make a lot of sense to me as a woman right now.”

Embracing complexity

Nensi Dojaka has always adored the art of lingerie and its ability to empower its wearer. This is evident in her intricate designs that envelop the feminine form in a web of twisted and transparent textiles, exuding raw and uncomplicated sensuality.

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“I am interested in the way lingerie is constructed to contour the body – for example, how some delicate straps can hold and create the dynamics of the entire piece,” Dojaka said in an email. “I love working with the same amount of detail and scale as the lingerie and with the same fabrications, allowing me to play with layers of transparency.”

Nensi Dojaka show at London Fashion Week, February 2020.

Nensi Dojaka show at London Fashion Week, February 2020. Credit: Stuart Wilson / BFC / Getty Images

The Albanian-born designer developed her now-characteristic draping technique during her master’s degree at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2019. For her Spring-Summer 2020 lookbook, Dojaka asked her models to shoot on their phones, a comment on how Feel like women should control their own image. For fall-winter 2020, she debuted at London Fashion Week with Fashion East, showcasing a confident collection of deconstructed camisole mini dresses, circular bra tops, and drawstring skirts in dark, neutral tones. These delicate pieces were worn with men’s shirts and blazers.

“I want my clothes to embrace the strong and smooth duality of modern women,” he said. “The unexpected details and color palette work together to create a sense of mystery around the woman’s image, which is attractive and untouchable.”

Bodies make clothes

Sinéad O’Dwyer is pushing the envelope of lingerie-inspired fashion with his concept designs that promote body positivity, and has made pieces for Björk, Arca, and Kelsy-Lu.

She grew up in rural Ireland “making strange garments”, and graduated with a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London in 2018. It was during her time studying fashion that she faced her own struggles with body dysmorphia and the outdated approach of Fashion. .

Sinéad O'Dwyer creates custom molds from the bodies of his models for his pieces (Spring / Summer 2020)

Sinéad O’Dwyer creates custom molds from the bodies of his models for his pieces (Spring / Summer 2020) Credit: Ottilie Landmark / Sinéad O’Dwyer

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“I began to recognize my eating and body control behaviors and why they had such negative control over me. I also thought about how the industry has chosen a size and proportion of person to cut pattern blocks, which means that when you fit that shape into your own body you think there is something wrong with you. I started talking to other women and it soon became a universal story. “

His experience forced O’Dwyer to start broadcasting the bodies of his friends live and making portable sculptures with them. It is an intensive process and can take weeks to make a single piece. Start by painting the skin in a gel that hardens and then coated with clay. This becomes a detailed mold from which another form of fiberglass is made. The results are a fusion of silicone, silver and silk, which expertly recreates the figure of each woman. Breasts and stomachs of various sizes, and natural folds are gloriously displayed. “An important element is to insert corsetry and underwear into the molds,” he said.

“Historically, these were elements that shaped the female form, but now the body shapes clothes.”

For its Spring-Summer 2020 collection, which debuted at London Fashion Week, O’Dywer featured silky straps, rolled-up bands, boxer shorts, and “under the boobs” bras roaring around the flesh.

Sinéad O'Dwyer Spring / Summer 2020

Sinéad O’Dwyer Spring / Summer 2020 Credit: Ottilie Landmark / Sinéad O’Dwyer

“I am exploring the themes of nudity and eroticism through my work, which comes from considering how I personally wear lingerie. I want to show the bodies of beautiful, sensual women as they are,” she said. “I also want to develop some knitted pieces in a full range up to size 30.”

“Representation is super important,” added O’Dwyer, warning that ideas and images are not enough. “The images are changing the mental health of young people now, but they must follow the product with real bodies in mind, or else this is all just a trend.”

Top image: Sinead O’Dwyer Spring / Summer 2020

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Cary Douglas

About the Author: Cary Douglas

Wayne Ma is a reporter who covers everything from oil trading to China's biggest conglomerates and technology companies. Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program.

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