I had an argument with a random (and very arrogant) guy on the train recently about lingerie. I know that seems an unlikely scenario, but given the profession I am pushing into, I seem to end up talking about a variety of colorful subjects with strangers by accident. I was on my laptop, and beading, or something, onto a pair of undies I was making. Curious, said random guy asked what I was doing. Being the nice and friendly-looking person that I am, I set about telling him about Flimsymoon — my lingerie brand, which I am developing towards retail. As most men are when I mention that I am a lingerie designer, he was keen to engage me in conversation. (Postmen and local politicians seem to be especially interested, I've noticed; but I digress...) However, what started as lighthearted chit chat quickly escalated into him seriously mansplaining at me — which left me skulking behind my MacBook, ignoring him and seething with rage.
Because he asked, I started to explain my design philosophy, as simply as possible. I told the eager stranger that I create pieces that are sexy without being overt; that I play with subtleties. I described my revealing and concealing fabrics and embellishment placements and referenced the folk stories that I find useful to discuss femininity and male/female relationships in my imagery. He looked puzzled — perplexed even. He asked for the brand name, and I told him — Flimsymoon. Most of the time when I tell people, they are intrigued by the wordplay and ask to hear the story behind it. Not this guy. He latched onto the phrase "Reveal and Conceal" and kept trying to push me to change the name. I gagged at the cheesiness of it and tried to explain, in the most diplomatic way possible, that my current name evoked the imagery and fantasy world I wanted my brand to encapsulate. I wanted a name that was not blatant, as my work is not sexually obvious.
Sitting up straighter in his bland (yet blatantly overpriced) work suit, the guy started lecturing me on my obvious lack of knowledge. He clearly had all the knowledge of the lingerie market, being — I dunno — a banker or something. "It won't work," he said. "Lingerie is either innocent and cutesy or super erotic. You seriously need to go back to the drawing board, do your market research!" "Thanks, Lord Sugar of Lingerie, I will bear that in mind," I thought, as I gave up trying to argue back and sipped on my Americano through gritted teeth. I mean, I obviously hadn't been developing my artist practice for over four years, reading both academically and researching existing brands or anything.
I mention this particularly irksome encounter because it goes to show the lack of imagination in what is available in mainstream, high street lingerie retailers. Mansplaining Train Man clearly wasn't the type of dude who'd think of going anywhere other than Agent Provocateur or Victoria's Secret for his SO — and that's cool. His black and white thoughts regarding what sexual personas women want to have (and actually have) access to through lingerie, reflects that there does seem to be a bit of a "light and fluffy" versus "sultry sex kitten" divide in the designs such brands offer. (With a few "color pops" — I despise this term — or nude basics thrown in for variety.) It seems a bit archaic that the whole Madonna/Whore thing is still affecting the majority of our panty drawers. It's kind of, boring, man. There are so many grey areas in sexual fantasies. Sometimes you simply don't want to choose between going crotchless and black or lacy and pure.
Now, whilst I think it's kind of amazing that — thanks to the trend for all things kink — you can now buy subtly BDSM-influenced separates from ASOS without having to head down a dodgy alleyway to a semen-stained sex shop, the whole whips-and-chains phenomenon has become a bit tired. There are only so many black leather and chain harnesses and cut-out bras you can see before they all start to look the same. The shock factor disappears, and so does some of the naughtiness. Likewise, there is only so much sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice you can deal with.
As a designer (and lover of lingerie), I spend a lot of my precious time looking out for brands that play with these boundaries. I would say that on a scale of Rhianna to macaroon, I personally fall towards the more sugary side of the spectrum. I am, however, interested in Japanese Shibari, dark fairytales, Angela Carter, sheer fabrics and peek-a-boo detailing. Contrary to our friend on the train's beliefs, there are lingerie companies out there that cater to women who are not sure they want to dress like a dom, but who would rather not look like Sexy Little Bo Peep either. They are just not as well known as Ann Summers. For your convenience, my lovelies, here are my seven favorites, from haute couture to budget treats:
1. Strumpet & Pink
Producing only bespoke pieces, Strumpet & Pink is more a fine art project than a lingerie brand. A collaboration between artists Lisa Z. Morgan and Melanie Probert, each piece is painstakingly hand produced, and conceptually inspired. Morgan and Probert investigate the dualities of feminine sexuality, exploring the boundaries between innocence and sensuality. "The pieces were sexual in a slow burning way," Morgan explains (she incorporated layers, tiny buttons and petals that spill out as the garments are undone).
Each piece is poetically named, constructed with couture finishings and embellished using highly skilled techniques. Rare creatures to capture — the few Ready To Wear Strumpet & Pink panties are only available to buy from a selection of online retailers, and are quite rightly highly priced.
She's A Pussy Willow Crochet Panties, $1,700, ahalife.com
Mimi Gone High And Fluffy Knitted Panties, $1,350, ahalife.com
2. Felice Art Couture
Probably my current favorite lingerie brand is luxe and whimsical Felice Art Couture. Much like Strumpet & Pink, this dreamlike company creates high end boudoir pieces with a poetic sensibility. Sheer fabrics cloak and enswathe, decorated by tiny hints of gold and glass. There is an erotic vulnerability to their collections that feature exquisite wrist restraints, blindfolds and satin tie fastenings. Unlike most BDSM-inspired lingerie, however, their aesthetic is soft, employing a dusky palette. It transcends the boundaries between dominant and submissive.
Muse Kaftan (pictured on model above), $495, boxofgrey.com
Muse Wrist Ties/Blindfold, $245, boxofgrey.com
Morning Dew set, $733, boxofgrey.com
3. Silja Manninen
Being pretty enthralled, currently, by watching documentaries on the Japanese bondage art of Shibari, I was pretty excited to find the work of Finnish designer Silja Manninen. Currently only sold online at the iconic Coco de Mer, Manninen's couture pieces are the only wearables I have yet to come across that reference Shibari in a soft and feminine manner. Her luxe bondage wear is sexy enough for the boudoir, yet refined enough to wear as outerwear. Be quick if you want to snap up a piece, though! This ice blue number is not going to be available at Coco much longer.
Bondage Harness Dress, $1,298, cocodemer.com
Lingerie giant Damaris has a few exciting pieces on sale currently that are both tres femme and erotic. My favorite piece is this crystal embellished sheer pair of panties from their Narnia collection. Ice blue silk chiffon ruffles, siren-like, adorned with Swarovski and silk ribbon detailing. This is sensual, fairytale whimsy at it's very best.
Narnia Silk Chiffon Sea Shell knickers, $235, damaris.co.uk
5. Miss Crofton
Mermaid set, $89, misscrofton.co.uk
Slightly more affordable, newbie Miss Crofton crafts minimal and delicate pieces that are both relaxed and alluring. Skimpy, simple and sexy whilst still retaining a playfully feminine air, Miss Crofton's pieces are youthful without being saccharine.
Sparkle Pants, $31, misscrofton.co.uk
Nina set, $89, misscrofton.co.uk
6. Holloway Smith Noir
In the words of activist, designer, company founder and all around heroine Sophie Holloway, "Holloway Smith Noir is a luxury brand that makes femme centric, pro pleasure, boudoir accessories." With the occasional thong thrown in there for good measure, these guys focus on playful additions to your boudoir ensemble, as well as running the amazing campaign Ladies Come First, which aims to promote the importance and understanding of female sexual pleasure! From their fiercely cute Panther ears, to Wonder Woman-esque collars and cuffs, their approach to sex play is both fun and feminine.
7. The Loved One
Founded by the entrepreneurial and multi-talented muse Hannah Metz, The Loved One is retro inspired, floaty and delicate. Currently on hiatus to work on some exciting new expansion to the brand, her flirty but demure pieces are no longer being produced. (Much to my dismay, I had my eye on a few shell pink pieces and THAT cat hat.)
Metz created jaunty little film lookbooks, styled incredibly natural yet glamorous photo shoots for her light and airy separates with only her ridiculously talented and beautiful friends for help; and created a sex kitten heaven that was all her own making. Let's hope her next endeavor is both as cheeky and bashful as her previous venture.
And to you, grouchy, narrow-minded Train Man, if you happen to stumble across this rather ranty piece that you inspired, please do open your mind. You might find it quite exciting.
Images: Giphy; Courtesy Brands