Here’s looking at you

Should you be targeting your brand imagery at the women who wear lingerie or the men who sometimes buy it? Holly Rains explores the challenges of photographing intimates.

When it comes to branding, lingerie and photography have something of a complex relationship. Get the imagery right and the outcome is a beautifully shot and highly effective campaign; get it wrong and you could end up with a series of images that misrepresent your brand and, at worst, diminish the value of the product.

Of course, when dealing with lingerie, which is inherently an intimate product, the lines of decency can often become a bit blurred. By their nature, lingerie brands advertising their products can get away with more risqué imagery than commercial womenswear campaigns – although even the mid-market likes of Marks & Spencer can find themselves unintentionally ruffling feathers, as with the relatively chaste images of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley that caused such a furore that the Advertising Standards Authority got involved (the complaints were rejected and the ads ruled “not too sexy”). But flashpoints like this do raise a question about who the lingerie trade’s images are aimed at: are they to entice the women that wears it, or seduce the men who look at it?

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With Valentine’s day this year came the sudden, predictable onslaught of lingerie gift guides for men suggesting that lingerie advertising, seasonally at least, is targeted towards them.

Yet despite this focus, an independent survey conducted by the online luxury lingerie boutique Fox & Rose at the end of last year showed that of the 1,000 adult British women surveyed, one in five had never worn the lingerie bought by their partners, suggesting that the imagery with which these men are presented is not actually motivated by what women want.

“We wanted to find out how satisfied women were with the gifts they were getting,” explains Amanda Lorenzani, Co Founder of Fox & Rose. “We were curious if the ‘metrosexual’ image that many men are enjoying had filtered through into buying habits.”

The results clearly show that a number of women are dissatisfied
with gifted lingerie, so where does the problem lie? “I think it’s about communication. If we as women told men that we’d like a certain style and what our size was then half the battle is already won! That’s not always the case so there is still a lot to do on the education front and I think that brands are responsible for making sure they do as much as possible to assist with buying decisions,” she points out.

Re-educating men aside, companies also need to think about the target audience for their campaigns, with brand imagery being one of the key factors in influencing buyers and customers alike.

“I think around 70% of lingerie imagery is aimed at men,” says Lorenzani. “Some campaign imagery really gets it right, telling a story through wonderful images that have been thought out to capture the imagination – Lucile, Maison Close, La Perla and Fleur of England
all have amazing imagery.

Yet not all brands get it right, she warns, highlighting the importance of strategic planning and research when it comes to lingerie shoots. “Some lingerie campaigns can be quite alienating for customers especially when they are not well constructed and use clichés to attract an instant male appreciation without focusing on the quality of the lingerie.”

Emily Hoyle, a lingerie stylist and founder of online magazine Nineteen13, is one person who understands the importance of imagery. Combining her fashion background with industry knowledge, Hoyle is successfully carving out a niche in the lingerie industry with her high-fashion-inspired, lingerie-led editorials – a style that has, for the most part, eluded the lingerie industry. And when it comes to the shoots, she is single-minded about her vision.

“There seems to be a confusion when some brands are producing their campaigns because they want to appeal to women but they are producing imagery that appeals to men – the outcome is different,” she says. “You have to go in with a clear idea and visualised concept of what you want. “Most brands have the intention to aim at women, but the lines get a bit blurred; it could be because the sources where most of these brands are getting their inspiration from, visually, are aimed at men.”

For Hoyle, it is all in the prep, from conception through to production. “You should see the amount of moodboards that are created!” she laughs. “It all starts with a concept – something I have dreamt up from music, photography, magazines or film, then work out how it is all going to come together as a shoot.

“I think about poses beforehand, and I do moodboards for them too, so everybody who is working on the shoot on the day has a clear picture of what they are trying to achieve.”

It seems that so easily an idea can get lost in translation during the production stages – which is, in fact, the exact time brands need to be unafraid to give direction to the photographer and stylist and be open to trying something new – these are, after all, professionals who have been employed on the basis of some expertise in their field.

An example of when lingerie imagery can begin to step into the realms of indecency is the use of multiple models. While brands such as the newly launched Studio La Perla expertly used two female models to showcase their AW13 collection in a beautifully whimsical campaign, some brands miss the mark by straying into lad-mag territory. Hoyle, who is well aware of this potential risk, explains how she got around this issue: “On one shoot, which was partly inspired from an old issue of ID, it was all about friendship, so before we went on set I said to the two models,‘You’re not lovers, you’re friends’.”

It is our near-insatiable appetite for celebrity culture that has helped lingerie traverse into mainstream fashion editorials, with celebrities like Rihanna and Kristen Stewart spearheading the trend for underwear as outerwear and making lingerie as much a fashion choice as an everyday necessity.

“I feel that lingerie has been perceived in a certain way for a long time, that it isn’t fashion forward, but it is. I hate the perception that lingerie is for men and for the bedroom,” asserts Hoyle.

“Women buy lingerie for themselves: it’s a lifestyle product and I wanted to create editorials that inspire women as well as push the boundaries of the lingerie industry and make consumers and brands sit up and take more notice of how it can be presented.”

The shoots have garnered a positive response from both brands and PRs, who view the editorials on Nineteen13 as a way of appealing to a broader, fashion-led audience. “People like what they are seeing,” says Emily. “The readers are into fashion, so if they see fashion-related imagery using lingerie they will take more notice.”

Kelvin Barron, a fashion stylist and image consultant who has styled countless lingerie shoots working for FHM, takes a different stance on the subject of lingerie imagery.

“I think most lingerie campaigns are directed at women – we now work in a day and age where women are powerful consumers, make their own decisions, are independent and know what they like,” he states.

“People will at times be alienated by provocative lingerie imagery, but brands should have the confidence in that – if it doesn’t appeal to a certain customer, it’s not their target market anyway, so is no great loss.”

Instead of working against him, Barron asserts that it is his gender that has aided his ability to style, allowing him to view the shoots from a wholly different perspective.

“I think the advantage of being a male stylist is being able to detach from personal preference, as I don’t wear the lingerie; I look at it more for what works for the model, celebrity or shoot.” He does, though, admit that it “takes a certain confidence and trust for women to work with men on lingerie shoots.”

Cleary passionate about the lingerie industry, Barron is quick to praise those who are making their mark on the visual side, with shoots that truly reflect their brands: “I know so many amazing lingerie designers such as Fifi Chachnil, who put so much passion and effort in to their brand and it’s something that should be celebrated.”

“I think lingerie is in a really good place, I think the next stage is for brands to show on schedule at London Fashion Week. We have had brands such as Toni & Guy showcase hair, Philip Treacy showcase his hats, and it’s time for brands like Agent Provocateur to showcase their lingerie. In America, they have Victoria’s Secret; in the UK, there is a clear void.”

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