Celina Kimelman Is Bringing Sex & Body Positivity Back To The Lingerie Industry

Shana Gohd

Combining the delicate, lace world of luxury lingerie with a BDSM aesthetic shouldn't be rule-breaking, and yet, it is. Using a diverse range of models and body types to sell that lingerie shouldn't be rule-breaking, and yet, it is. And bringing this all together to create a brand that has a name that takes inspiration from sex workers shouldn't be rule-breaking, and yet — you get the picture. Lingerie designer and Celina Kimelman is doing all these things, despite the societal "rules" that suggest she shouldn't.

Her brand Belle De Nuit boasts "multi-faceted lingerie for multifaceted women" and embraces styling and photography that largely feels, well, real. The brand only launched in October 2017, and already, she's seen her one-woman operation grow by leaps and bounds. She even launched a limited edition swimwear line this summer.

To learn more about Kimelman — one of Bustle's 2018 Rule Breakers — and her success, we got her best friend (since they were 2 years old!), comedy writer Shana Gohd, to help us get to know this certifiable rule-breaker.

Shana Gohd: Growing up, you were surrounded by a family of engineers, scientists, and lawyers. Did your parents have expectations for you to pursue a similar career path, and how did you manage those expectations?

Celina Kimelman: My mom is an immigrant from Iran; my dad is first-generation. And I think that they both, when they became parents, they purposely didn't want to [pressure] me. And so they've always kind of just pushed me into doing what I enjoyed, and what I was good at. And the funny thing is, is that I wasn't really that good at math. And I'm maybe the only one — I'm kind of the black sheep of the family. I was really more interested in art, and kind of visual things. ... The more right-brain stuff. I'm so grateful that they really just supported my journey up through now. I wanted to be an actress at first, then once I started moving into fashion, they've always been supportive.

... the stereotype is that, we go into fields of science, being a lawyer, or doctor, or engineer. But I'm like, 'Nope, I'm making crotchless panties.'

SG: How did your cultural background inspire your brand?

CK: I think because of the unfortunate stigma around Iran and a lot of these Middle Eastern countries, especially growing up during 9/11, I think I kind of pushed it to the side, and I would rather just kind of be like, "I'm just a Jewish girl." It's just sad, but I think that's an experience probably a lot of American-Iranian first generation people have. But then once I started to embrace it — just in the last, maybe, I wanna say five years approximately — I just started to slowly do more research on ancient Persia [and it] is such a historically, culturally rich place. There's just a lot of music, and art, and poetry from there. So I started doing more research, and I try to incorporate it in my brand as much as possible. I think being an Iranian lingerie designer alone is already kind of funny, and I think in a way, I just wanna challenge people's ideas of what an Iranian person is or does. As I mentioned before, in your last question, the stereotype is that we go into fields of science, being a lawyer, or doctor, or engineer. But I'm like, "Nope, I'm making crotchless panties."

I find beauty in people who aren't just Eurocentric, heteronormative featured models.

SG: Your main statement for your brand is multifaceted lingerie, for multifaceted women. What does that mean to you?

CK: Yes, multifaceted. Love that word. I think it's [a good way] to describe how I've always felt, and my brand. ... Society and the world tend to make women especially feel like they have to be this way or that way. It's sort of — you choose one box, and you have to stick to it. I mean, I know I'm not unique in this either. Every woman, everyone feels ... you have so many facets to your personality, and to your interests. But I think it's, for some reason, still kind of a weird concept. I just wanted to use that also in a way to then describe my lingerie. My first collection was lingerie with pockets. When I was designing that, I didn't want it to be completely utilitarian. I wanted to make something that was still sexy and cute.

Shana Gohd

SG: I know that you're passionate about inclusivity and that you make lingerie for people of all shapes, ethnicities, abilities, orientations, and identifications. Why do you think [the industry] has taken so long to catch up with an inclusive mentality?

My size range is, as you know, extra small to triple extra large. I was able to add the double extra large and triple extra large sizes because I used two of my friends who are those true sizes.

CK: To me, the inclusivity thing, it's just like, "Duh,” ever since I wanted to design my own line. It was just always such an obvious thing to me to use models that come from all different backgrounds and that look differently and identified differently. That's just what I've grown up with. These are just people that I see in my everyday life. I find beauty in people who aren't just Eurocentric, heteronormative featured models. Literally it's just like, "Duh. Why wouldn't you use them?"

SG: Obviously, the more that I see these models who look like me, the more I'm inclined to buy the product. It's like, "Oh, this person is working this swimsuit. I probably could, too."

CK: Absolutely. My size range is, as you know, extra small to triple extra large. I was able to add the double extra large and triple extra large sizes because I used two of my friends who are those true sizes. I didn't want to make the patterns for those sizes for my pieces until I had an actual fit model to use just because I make myself a size medium in my line. I didn't want to just make up measurements or go off Google.

It was really nice to be able to use friends for that. When I posted pictures of them, the amount of orders I got for those sizes — and I still continue to get because of those pictures — [it’s] because they see it on someone that looks like them. It's just so awesome. It's like, "Yeah, they look sexy. I'm going to look sexy, too." It's so much positivity and light. Oh my God. It gives me tingles just talking about it. It makes me so happy.

Shana Gohd

SG: The name of your line is the French term for “sex worker,” a career that's often perceived with a stigma or a negative connotation. Why did you choose this as your brand name, the forefront of your entire line?

CK: I think in a way, I do try to always support and uplift sex workers. I think just having my brand name be based on this book and movie, the story about this French housewife who becomes a prostitute [is about just] always making them feel like they are accepted and loved and respected because I don't see what the other option is. Again, just an obvious thing to me. Work is work. It's just another thing, and a lot of people don't understand.

SG: I know that you worked at a sex shop for a while. How did that influence your decision when designing and meeting needs of a wide clientele?

CK: It was so fun. I learned so much. It was amazing. It was very validating, and obviously I learned a lot because I was always interested and inspired aesthetically as well as just personally. So in my designs, I have a joke of just when I'm designing something, I'm always like, "Can I attach a leash to this?"

SG: Who are some of your influences, lingerie-wise and business-wise?

CK: Oh yeah, I'm rubbing my hands together. So I'm going to start with who I always say [is] my president, my pope, my Jesus prayer, Rihanna, Robin "Rihanna" Fenty. Now I can say, not only business-wise, I can say lingerie-wise because of course, she went and made her lingerie line. Wouldn't expect anything less. She's my phone background. I admire that woman so much. Just everything she does. The way she has built herself as a brand and as an empire, is just so inspiring. Oh my God. I'm not going to get into it, but yeah, I love her a lot. You know this.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.