Lingerie Insight attempts to uncover the secret ingredient that has made French design so sought after for the past three hundred years.
Lingerie may be global but the word is French.
The term comes from the Old French lingerie, meaning ‘linen.’ Originally introduced into the English language as a euphemism for scandalous underclothing, it is now used almost universally to describe items of intimate apparel.
And, it is not just the name that has been exported. French lingerie can also be found now in stores around the world.
Responsible for a large part of this is the organisation Lingerie Francaise, which represents a series of the nation’s best known brands.
Founded in 1950, Lingerie Francaise has membership of 17 iconic French lingerie brands. Its object is to promote knowledge of the country’s lingerie both in France and internationally, combining tradition and modernity, craftsmanship and creativity, history and innovation.
Tradition still plays a significant role in modern French lingerie design. The current collections of lingerie brands such as Aubade or Lise Charmel reflect this retro theme, incorporating vintage lines, high-waisted briefs and sculpting shapes that work perfectly beneath a pencil skirt, high-waisted trousers, twin sets and cardigans.
And, centuries after the end of 19th century, Chantelle’s latest collection still utilises the brand’s corset-making expertise, reflected in hand-sewn details, small stitch needlework and special embroidery techniques.
One of Lingerie Francaise’s priorities over the next year will be the organisation of a lingerie exhibition. The exhibition will run during 2012 in four different cities: London, Paris, Dubai and Shanghai.
It will takes a look back over one century of French lingerie and examine brands’ history, beginning with the first corsets in stretch fabrics created at the end of the nineteenth century, the bras and split slip dresses of 1920’s and the first satin bras and lycra bras of the 1950’s, and finishing with the moulded bras and shapewear of the twenty first century.
French lingerie is, after all, not all about tradition. Many French lingerie brands are now following the latest trends within the fashion world.
Microfibres have recently confirmed their presence and active, sports lingerie has made it to the mass market. The second skin effect has emerged in the sector, as displayed through seamless, invisible bras with moulded cups and almost-transparent bandeaus.
Lingerie Francaise ambassador Ulyana Sukach says: “I am deeply convinced that in the next five years we will speak about ‘intelligent lingerie’. Even now, among the last innovations of Chantelle, you can find ‘Memory Form’ fabrics which enhance the fitting and the ‘Spacer’ concept which makes the skin breath.”
And these are not the only changes to have taken place. According to Lingerie Francaise, there have been a series of new offerings coming from French brands over the past five years.
In 2007, Simone Pérèle created new brand Implicite, targeted at young, executive women looking for ‘sexy and confident’ lingerie. Lise Charmel has also just given birth to a brand, Epure, which combines pure and light design with high technology products.
Lise Charmel group sales manager Xavier Laurette says: “French lingerie is based on tradition and creation at the same time. Tradition, because in the French culture, lingerie should be very seductive and feminine, and should have exceptional quality. And creation, because France is the haute couture country, always working on new designs, materials and colours.”
French brand Princesse tam.tam has made big waves in the market recently with its new fashion lingerie concept. And, following in the footsteps of Natalia Vodianova and Elle MacPherson, Bar Refaeli is about to be the third international top model to go into fashion lingerie design. She has already created her first Capsule collection for Passionata, which will be available in 2012.
Running alongside its best selling ranges, the brand’s SS12 collection will present two new lines to consumers, So Pretty and Charm.
So Pretty is a very visual line with the combination of lace and satin ribbon creating a two tone effect. It comes in milk, bronze and a pumpkin colour.
Charm is the season’s more ostentatious line, with its ornate floral print in Jaipur and Blossom. Soft, ultra fine microfibre is used to ensure easy ‘wearability’ and is combined with contrasting tulle and lace. Finishing touches include little satin bows and personalised ‘Made with Passion’ straps.
Passionata’s sister brand Chantelle will also be kept busy for 2012, during which it will be developing its new Chantelle Training Academy, launched this year.
In addition, it will focus on developing its new Chantelle Shapewear category. The brand has reportedly received great feedback’ on its Basic Shaping and Sexy Shaping pieces and is keen to expand the line.
Chantelle managing director Mary Cameron says: “The UK is a well developed market and we are a leading French brand in the UK… Every Chantelle piece is made in respect to tradition, yet with modernity, creativity and innovation in mind. It’s the perfect mix of corsetry savoir-faire and ‘French Allure’. The result is that Chantelle women have that feeling of being chic and feeling confident at all times. And, for some reason, a woman wearing French lingerie will always feel more confident.”
Lejaby brand manager Helen Masson also believes that the importance of French lingerie lies beyond simply its function. She says: “For French women, lingerie is not only a functional need, but also a way to express their personality.”
For its SS12 collection, Lejaby has drawn inspiration from nature for all of its styles, with both the colours used in the collection, as well as the choice of prints.
“Through the colours, materials and graphics in the SS12 collection, there’s a light fresh breeze felt throughout the new season range,” Masson adds.
Modernity will be the key word for AW12. In reflection of this, next year, Lejaby will be introducing a new team to focus on technical and creative innovation.
With the standard of technical and design experience in the French lingerie sector, the competition to create a truly ‘intelligent’ product
For 2012, Nina Ricci brand manager Sophie Cardon believes there will be a huge progression in the use of technical fabrics, bringing ‘comfort and modernity’ to styles.
During the year, the brand will be proposing a one shot exclusive line for Nina Ricci and, for AW12, a new range will combine strong Nina Ricci colourways with graphic embroidery.
Cardon says: “Focus will remain on the Nina Ricci ready to wear spirit by using visual prints, elaborated textures and strong colours, which together are keys to our positioning in luxury lingerie.”
Luxury lingerie brand Simone Perele is also continually experimenting with new materials and ‘innovative’ fabrics to enhance both the quality and feel of its lingerie.
Simone Perele UK managing director Carol Launchbury says: “We want to continue pushing the boundaries, as seen in our Caressence line, and this is the way forward. Our philosophy is about designing beautiful lingerie without sacrificing great fit or comfort.”
For SS12, Simone Perele is aiming to introduce innovative designs within five new lines: Trocadero, Pompadour, Opera, Divin and Celeste. The collections come in plush blues, reds and greens, alongside softer nudes and whites.
The business is currently expanding and the aim for next year is to focus on various new growth initiatives. According to the brand, increased support from the UK media has led to a series of new stockists. It is now stocked in independent stores across the UK and in department stores such as Harrods, where it launched just two months ago.
Simone Perele plans to continue growing its presence in the UK, with more regional department stores. It also aims to support all its stockists through strong editorial and third party link-ups.
With 2.48 billion Euros worth of sales in 2010, the UK market is reportedly the second biggest lingerie market in Europe after France. According to Lingerie Francaise, English women spend about 90 Euros per year on lingerie articles.
Sukach says: “Our main mission in the UK market is to educate English women about the right sizing of lingerie (8 women out of 10 do not wear a good sized bra), suitable fit for each kind of breast, and of course about the seduction and comfort! As Hubert Lafont, the Managing Director of Barbara says, ‘your shoes dictate the way you walk. Your lingerie determines what kind of woman you are.’”
The UK market continues to be dominated by local brands such as Marks & Spencer, which occupies a 27.4 percent market share. Competition is also extremely high in the low and medium grade lingerie segment, which is occupied by discount retailers, supermarkets and chain stores.
Yet, Lingerie Francaise believes there is still room in the high-end lingerie segment for growth of French lingerie brands, which the organisation considers provide a unique take on the sector.
Sukach says: “The first and essential ingredient is the historical art of lingerie. A chic, free spirit, Parisian elegance and that inexplicable French touch continue troubling the world by a random gesture, an attitude, a glance, a so French ‘je ne sais quoi…’ and we will jealously keep this secret for a long time to come.