Models, Pervs and Factory Girls
A lingerie designer must have a very specific understanding of the female form. We must work in unison with nakedness; we can enhance, but hide little. We must sculpt, uphold and create smooth lines. We know a woman would prefer to be comfortable but she will sacrifice this for effect, when choosing the expensive ‘dress-up’ kind of lingerie as opposed to the ‘day-wear’ sort which lovers reel from. Working with fine silk to make basques, satin teddies, silk cami-knickers and balcony bras, my collections have always been expensive and so must combine elegant aesthetics with immaculate fit to earn their worth.
Fittings are the most important part of the lingerie design process. A new bra will need to be fitted at least six times and alterations to the patterns are made in millimetres. A bra is not just a garment, it is a technical tool, which must support, reinforce and shape. Novice lingerie designers do not initially understand this, creating diaphanous; fly away pieces out of chiff on and tulle. These delicate triangles may look good in the hand but they do not improve the figure. Unsupported a full breast will drop and a small one will be left undefined. A style of bra must flatter the small, medium and full bust across an average range of twenty sizes, running from a 32AA to 38DD. As the cup size goes up, straps get wider, the cups close in and underwires become sturdier. And beyond the DD commences the fuller bust market; ever expanding as women’s breasts inflate with silicone implants.
When I first started my lingerie business, I did not have the money for professional lingerie models. Fit alterations were made on the factory girls who were making up my pieces in a small manufactory in rural Wales. Lovely though these ladies were they were not Gisele. Most were middle aged and homely, despite sewing crotch-less panties for Agent Provocateur. They had long since given up wondering what was the front and what was the back and what it was all in aid of. The younger ones were kind enough to try on my barely-there silk pieces, giggling at the extravagance of wearing a silk demicup bra which only skimmed the nipples. Trevor would run a mile if he saw me in this! He’d be scared to death! They asked how much it would cost in the shops and I told them about £140. Betty was thunderstruck. She could buy pack of three bras for ten pounds down the market. But my lingerie was aimed at a vainer, leaner, fashion crowd.
That first season I also needed a pretty model who I could photograph in my pieces, to show the buyers and to sell the collection. I found an alternative website specialising in amateur models and chose a young Goth girl with crudely dyed black hair, cut with a short fringe and the smooth white limbs which I was looking for to enhance the black in my collection. I paid her train fare from Brighton to London, off ering lunch and photos for her portfolio in exchange for her time. When I met her at the station I worried she might be unattractive. Models can be unrecognisable from their photographs, especially in the daylight, and I would be too polite to send my girl home. She arrived head and shoulders above the rest, made taller still because of those thick rubber-soled Goth boots. She was youthful, clear skinned, with that striking black hair to her waist and so I was pleased. I took her to my flat since I did not have a studio at that time and having never supervised a lingerie fitting before, I was a little nervous. I muddled over tea and biscuits and even off ered the girl vodka, which she declined. She looked through my collection. She was very calm and had her clothes off and was naked and waiting for me to dress her even before the kettle had boiled.
While I was adjusting straps, tying ribbons and tucking in labels around her supple body I was surprised to find that her bare-skinned company did not feel strange. Girls like to be naked in front of other girls. I have noticed this before on photo shoots and in changing rooms; women choosing to appear naked before other women. It seems, when you remove the male presence and the selfserving manner of his appraisal, women naturally feel quite tender toward their own bodies, and toward other women’s bodies and assume a gentle, feminine curiosity when left amongst themselves.
As I took my pictures, my Gothic model arched and twisted for her own pleasure or my pleasure or for the pleasure at being young, very pretty and owed a free lunch. She told me she was a stripper. Her fresh face and tender age absolved her from all the sleaziness associated with her chosen career. She said she loved to be naked and the creepy, loitering customers weren’t that bad, once you got used to them. They weren’t allowed to touch you. She showed me her pierced clitoris, before anything like an appropriate moment. I pretended to be casual and asked her how strippers worked around their period. I learned that you can dance naked in public any day of the month by cutting short the string of your tampon.
As my lingerie brand grew a little, so followed a period of commercialism. I was working with a pattern technician who was mean and conservative and used to bully me into making my balcony bras and panties roomy. She insisted we used a real fit model, a woman called Sheila, working as part time fit model for Debenhams. Sheila, replete with standard measurements, had a talent for making any design look mumsy. As a lingerie designer you will discover that it is not measurements that make a good body, it is the quality of skin, the roundness of curves and a self-respecting posture. My short-lived technician was also responsible for drawing my attention to the Marks and Spencer’s standard knicker gusset width, which is depressingly wide. You would not notice this on the M&S lingerie model in the television advertisement, the one who springs about like a tawny, fine-boned bambi. But if a spacious gusset is what you have been in need of, you will find the largest selection at M&S.
With that phase behind me and my business doing well, I had the money for a real photo shoot. So entered Natasha, my beautiful Russian model. I had travelled to Copenhagen to join my photographer and make-up artist in a rented studio space. When Natasha arrived we could not believe our luck. A fledgling supermodel, it was like finding Natalia Vodianova the famous supermodel from the Calvin Klein campaign, who was discovered working on a fruit stall in the poorest district of Russia. Tall, grey-eyed with soft blond hair Natasha was slender but without hard edges, no obdurate, jutting bones. She had purity about her, apparently having no idea of her own beauty, or else being indifferent to it. I asked her what she was listening to on her iPod and she became shy, embarrassed to admit it was obscure Russian folk music which reminded her of home. We put make-up on her, mussed her hair, dressed and undressed her and arranged her long limbs in languid positions. It was like playing with a compliant, sleepy doll. She had a very full mouth, exquisitely shaped, which she held very, very still, charging all my photographs with her distracted type of sexiness. I had brought my own thigh length black leather boots to use in the shoot; they only came up to her knees, depressing, but fascinating, Natasha.
A friend of mine, Lilly, was a lingerie designer for one notorious lingerie line, told me how she was forced to be her own lingerie fit model. Though her boss was an impressive businessman he was also a brothelfrequenting sex-addict. The lovely Lilly really was the type of girl who stopped traffic. The first time I met her we were crossing the road together and a man on a bicycle was so unable to tear free his gaze from Lilly that he ploughed into some street cones and hurt himself quite badly. Apart from her sexy pinup smile and chestnut curls Lilly’s breasts seemed to be three times the size of anyone else’s. You had to be feisty to work where Lilly worked, or you didn’t last five minutes. Lilly would find herself being bullied into her own lingerie designs, on the grounds of proving their worth to her intimidating boss. Humiliated and quivering in her lacy pink creations, Lilly said it was always a struggle to maintain an air of professional sobriety; talking about costings and fabric minimums in a flimsy babydoll with bows at the nipples.
There are quite a few pervs in the lingerie industry. They usually find there way in through the gateway of Lingerie Trade Shows. Every season lingerie brands, fabric suppliers and buyers come together under one roof in Paris to do business. Fabric manufacturers surface from windowless factories around Europe in a waft of cigarette smoke, pallid, hairy and hungry for the lingerie models roaming around the exhibition centre in bra and panties. These near-naked, well formed girls are brought in to act as sirens to draw buyers onto stands. Some lingerie brands, I do not know why, employ clammy-handed male sales representatives. Unpleasant is the man who leads you through a lingerie collection, fingering a lace crotch whilst telling you about the fabrics properties of breathability. To lift spirits every so often, loud, hollow music will sound up somewhere in the Hall, signifying a brand has organised its own little catwalk show on one of the exhibition stands. You never arrive in time. The pervs have already surrounded the area, climbing on top of each other to find peepholes through slats in the partitioning. When the lingerie models come out in the latest bridal suspender sets, or black lace basques with their amiable smiles you understand that this is the closest that these men will get to a girl of this calibre. Freshly waxed, toned and in high heels these girls are real. Their little bottoms wobble just within reach, close enough for a slap, a last glimmer of good sex before all the pervs have to trundle back to dreary factories with their wheelie suitcases.
Even the most refined gentleman will assume a kind of slack grin when you tell them you are a lingerie designer. Most straight men will take this disclosure as an invitation to make any possible connection between yourself, himself, and sex. They will begin to superimpose their fantasies upon your character. You may find yourself being cajoled into the persona of an artful seductress with lesbian tendencies. However, their agitation is not wholly unjust. In truth, you do share with them an interest in the female body, an appreciation of the art of seduction and are surely wearing the most exquisite lingerie.
Photographs courtesy of the author.