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Victoria's Secret, American Apparel, And The Death of Retail's Male Gaze
The conception of Victoria’s Secret came after its founder Roy Raymond wandered into a department store in the late 1970s, looking for lingerie for his wife. But the selection was reportedly underwhelming and deeply unsexy. “I was faced with racks of terry-cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns,” Raymond told Newsweek in 1981. “I always had the feeling the department-store saleswomen thought I was an unwelcome intruder.”

He decided then to make a lingerie store for women, stocked with lingerie that appealed to him, and designed with men in mind. “Part of the game was to make it more comfortable to men,” he told Susan Faludi in her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. “I aimed it, I guess, at myself.” And he was especially careful to frame Victoria’s Secret’s wares, frilly, lacy, decidedly uncomfortable pieces of underwear for the average woman, as a means of empowerment for women. “The effect it had on the men was secondary,” he said. “It allowed us to sell these garments without seeming sexist.”

When Leslie Wexner, yet another man, picked up the brand in 1982 for L Brands, it was nearing bankruptcy. But he had a solution: he really thought more women in his life should be wearing more lingerie. “Most of the women that I knew wore underwear most of the time, and most of the women that I knew I thought would rather wear lingerie most of the time, but there were no lingerie stores,” he told Newsweek. The store expanded, but a large part of that expansion was designed to reach men nearly as much as it was to reach more women.

Wexner redesigned and glamorized Victoria’s Secret catalog, casting supermodels, remaking it as an almost softcore magazine with a cult audience of its own. In 1999 the brand placed an ad for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show pointedly during the Super Bowl. “The Broncos won’t be there, the Falcons won’t be there, you won’t care,” the commercial teased, before highlighting the breasts of models walking down the catwalk. It couldn’t have been clearer that Victoria’s Secret was catering to the gaze of straight men.

...Victoria’s Secret may have sold customers the fantasy that they too could look as sexy as the models, but the men designing these brands knew differently. The men behind Victoria’s Secret vocally built their entire businesses around the idea that only certain people belonged in their stores. It’s no surprise that Victoria’s Secret and similar brands are now flailing; neither their image nor their clothing reflects the bodies or desires of their customers, but relied instead on base fantasy and the spending power of the male gaze; its own limited ideas of what female sexuality could and should look like. They may be stores that sell to women, but they are built for the pleasure of men.
lingerie  Victoria's-Secret  male-gaze  American-Apparel  bras 
21 days ago by thegrandnarrative
How the lingerie industry is shifting its focus to female empowerment - The Globe and Mail
Nathalie Atkinson



Canadian-made Bullyboy lingerie is trying to subvert the conventions of lingerie marketing.

Carine Zahner/Bullyboy Lingerie

“Women should be wearing lingerie for their damn selves,” Rihanna told Vogue when she launched her Savage x Fenty lingerie brand in the spring. Accordingly, the label’s 17-minute romp at New York Fashion Week in September was set up as a series of interactive installations – more like performance art than a runway. It celebrated a diverse mix of models with many body shapes and sizes, including two visibly pregnant models. Women cavorted and posed in the lingerie, presenting the pieces as something to empower women.

The show is part of the movement that has slowly been unfolding over the last half of the decade, one that’s putting the focus of the lingerie industry on the wearer and her point of view.

Vanessa Warrack, designer of the Canadian handmade lingerie collection Bully Boy, is also intent on subverting the cultural, sexual and social conventions of lingerie marketing. Her company’s latest artistic campaign explores the role of the seen and the unseen and challenges the muse and maestro relationship – the historic idea of masculine creative genius and passive feminine muse.

Warrack commissioned the new short films from filmmaker Nadia Litz, and the five Canadian women who star in the ads are all creators themselves, from comics artist Misbah Ahmed to singer-songwriter Ralph. All were chosen, according to Litz, “because the idea of casting female creators as ‘my muses’ meant that we were already trying to rearticulate the status quo.”



Bullyboy's artistic campaign challenges the muse and maestro relationship – the historic idea of masculine creative genius and passive feminine muse.

Carine Zahner

Contrast that with the model lineup revealed for the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, later this fall, all archetypes of tall, thin and leggy coquettes who work a slick, snappy strut. It’s increasingly out of sync with both the prevailing cultural mood and other marketing campaigns around diversity and female empowerment, and consumers have noticed. It’s no secret that the retailer has been losing ground in sales in the past year, and ratings of 2017′s televised catwalk extravaganza were down 30 per cent from the previous year to fewer than five million viewers. The lingerie giant’s narrow vision of sensuality, which has historically focused on what men find sexy, is clearly in need of a change.

It’s the last bastion in a tradition long overdue for disruption – if the corset was a long-time instrument of women’s oppression, so was the industry’s advertising. In her book on the cultural history of the corset, for example, Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, considers advertisements from the 19th century in which the images are “almost certainly directed at a masculine gaze.” An 1880s corset advertising image by Landauer Brothers of New York, for example, depicts a woman in her boudoir putting on her lingerie and comes with instructions on how to fold it for best viewing, making it an erotic Victorian-era trading card for men. And even in cases where advertising images presume a female viewer, Steele says the subject has still “internalized the vision of herself as a spectacle for others’ eyes.”

When lingerie imagery wasn’t about erotic entertainment, it was about conforming to the dictates of style (as shaped by men). “Without foundations, there can be no fashion,” is how Christian Dior put it a century later. The designer had a vested interest: He had a side business selling women the undergarments designed to suit and support his radical new silhouettes that required modifying underpinnings (what a 1947 Life magazine called “waist-pinchers”) to flatten the abdomen and cinch the silhouette.

Diversity, inclusiveness and female empowerment aren’t limited to the marketing imagery; it’s also about the assortment of items on offer. Comfort is key in brands that directly counter the body insecurity of push-up bras and Spanx by touting that they don’t compress or reshape. Intimates brand ThirdLove tackles diversity not only in breast size but breast shape – with algorithms to help women find the perfect bra fit. Size inclusivity is a key message for brands, such as the Nude Label and Toronto-based Fortnight. What’s sexy now is body positivity.

And positivity is more important than ever with lingerie sales on the rise. According to a recent Zion Market Research report, the global lingerie market will reach US$60-billion by 2024. In Canada, sales of women’s lingerie are also increasing, last year hitting an estimated $2-billion.

“Lingerie is an opportunity for the seduction of self,” Cora Harrington declares in the pages of In Intimate Detail, a guide for how to choose, wear and love lingerie. The burlesque performer turned lingerie designer’s new book includes chapters on each component – bras, underwear, hosiery – demystifying each piece, from explaining seams and sizing methods to care and storage.

Harrington likens underwear to a powerful secret identity. “Unlike all the other things you may need to wear to make others happy, lingerie can truly be about dressing for yourself,” she writes. “It is a signal that you love yourself enough to take out the good stuff and feel special even on the most mundane of days.”

This reckoning with representation and inclusion not only challenges the cycle of product and marketing that’s been built on the priorities of the male gaze, it takes it out of the picture. What’s left is for and by the women who wear it.
lingerie  bras  female-gaze  lingerie-advertising 
9 weeks ago by thegrandnarrative
Are women's breasts getting bigger - or is it just our bras? | Life and style | The Guardian
https://www.facebook.com/theguardian/posts/10156972823106323

In 20 years of doing this, I’ve probably fitted about three 36B ladies who actually said they were a 36B,” says Kelly Dunmore, chief lingerie stylist at Rigby & Peller. It’s one of those ambient truths; we all know that what we think is our bra size is probably wrong. Josie Fellows, Kelly’s bra-fitting apprentice, walks me through this tactfully. “It’s often, 85% of the time, a big shock in the fitting room.” We are in the fitting room. “People think E is the biggest size there is.” That’s more or less what I thought. “They think of D as such a full size and they’ve been buying a B for 20 years.” Yup. “And to compensate for the fact that their cup’s too small, they go up in the back and think they’re a 36.” OK. “So you’re a 32D.” She fits me in a bra, and I have to hand it to her, they do look different, more like breasts, less like a sideways banana in a Waitrose bag. But this is absurd. I’m a 36B. Fellows says ruefully: “If you say to a client they’re a G cup, it’s like saying to someone who thinks they’re an 8 that they’re actually a 14.”

We will consider in due course what has led generations of women to think their breasts were a size they categorically weren’t. But this is also a story about a mistaken market. Bras have been misfitting for years; suppliers failing to approximate women’s actual shapes. Perhaps in the olden days, when materials were less yielding and there was a strong call for structure and upholstery, the lack of range was more explicable, the way you don’t expect to get a sofa in 90 different varieties (although … Loaf?). But more recently it has been hard to escape the sense of a generalised market failure, driven by fashion, which sees breasts as an impediment to design, not so much a secondary characteristic as a nuisance.

As for the mass delusion among bra-wearers themselves, it’s partly cross-pollination: “All the glamour models say: ‘I’m a 34 DD.’ Well, they’re not, I can tell you – they’re probably an F,” says Dunmore. Plus, there are a lot of women simply changing shape and not keeping on top of it, because who would? But it’s no accident that we think of D and E as mega-sizes, F and G as outsize and H to K as non-existent, even though that is miles away from the truth. These F, G and H sizes have long been part of the high-end market. “They’re our bestselling sizes,” Dunmore says. “Marks & Sparks have just started to talk about F, which is what we’ve been doing for 75 years.” But on the high street, until 20 years ago, they were non-existent; even now, you can only get them in Bravissimo. Ellie Corney, a director of Bravissimo, says: “If you think about 1995, before the internet, it was such a negative experience for someone with big boobs having to find bras. There would be 200 really pretty bras in John Lewis and you’d say: ‘What’s available for me as an F cup?’ You’d be led to this dark corner and there’d be this horrific, flesh-coloured, thick-strapped granny bra.” I have a friend of one of these outlier (yet, in reality, incredibly common) proportions and, in the old days, when we were young and still bought stuff, it was like a group mission to find her a bra. I remember triumphantly finding one in a market in Uzès, in the south of France, only to discover it was actually €32, not a 32E.

Bravissimo is the entrepreneurial dream scenario, the gap in the market that turned out to be a chasm. Sarah Tremellen was 25 when she had a baby and set it up, according to the manager of her Oxford Circus store, Jess Jaddour, 28, “out of her own frustration. Ladies with average body size but big boobs just couldn’t find a bra.” (Note to prospective parents: the opposite can also result.) It started as a mail-order company in 1995 and opened shops in 1999, of which there are now 21. “It came from this really authentic place,” Jaddour says, “and right from the beginning we had this very clear objective, which was to give women the best choice possible, but also to have this celebratory tone, your body is absolutely great. Because women were being made to feel so bad about themselves. It was all: ‘Your size is really difficult, your body is the problem.’” The success of the mail-order operation was mostly on the demand side: it remained extremely difficult to get suppliers to produce what women wanted. “We’d say: ‘We’ve got all these customers, and they’d really like a plunge bra.’ And a lot of the suppliers said: ‘They’re not suitable. It’s really complicated. They won’t be supported.’”

It is true that bra engineering, or brarchitecture, if you prefer, is complicated: “The bigger your cup size, the more work it’s doing,” Jaddour says. “It is a job. It’s not a T-shirt.” The couture brands have historically been better at big sizes, because there are more layers of complication; a bra that costs £80 will have twice as many components as one that is £40. “There’s a lot of engineering that goes into it, and the ones that do it well, they’ve been doing it well for centuries,” Dunmore says.
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But there is also a patriarchal backstory (isn’t there always?) that stopped the market evolving to suit the people it was for. Corney ascribes Bravissimo’s success to the fact that “we’re women and we’re talking to other women. A lot of lingerie retailing in the past has been very much talking to men. It was ‘Hello Boys’ on the Wonderbra advert.” The consumer was conceived as a man buying underwear for a woman. And men do buy underwear for women, but you couldn’t subsist on it. It is a running Bravissimo joke that they have a rush on lacy red sets just before Christmas and they are all returned in January.

Bras do not have to be fantastically expensive in order to work (although you would struggle to get a well-structured bra for less than about £30). “I don’t agree that you should be buying your underwear where you’re buying your cheese,” Dunmore says waspishly. But you do have to specialise. Bravissimo, hitting brick walls with suppliers, started to design its own bras, and the logistical stock challenge is enormous: one bra, in one colour, running sizes 28 to 40 and D to L, as they do, would come in 90 SKUs (that’s a stock-keeping unit, or a single item for sale); if you do that in three colours, that’s 270. And if your USP is that you want to make every woman, whatever her size, able to find the bra she wants, that is an epic number of SKUs.

The modern bra-fitting happens by eye, not with a tape measure, and nobody uses the historical plus-four method, where you measure the under-bust and deduce back size by adding four inches (so if your under-bust is 28 inches, you would be a 32). This fit isn’t firm enough, and the backstrap, which should provide 80% of the support, can’t manage it, kicking the weight on to the straps and the cups, which, for anyone over a D, will give them sore shoulders, bad posture and back aches.
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“There has definitely been an evolution,” Dunmore says. “We never in the UK or anywhere in Europe did a 30 back: the French thought we were mad when we asked for those. As a nation, we are smaller backed and fuller cupped than they are, and they also don’t fit as firm as we do. We are historically known as firm fitters in the back band. As soon as a 30 came on the market, they were selling out in days.” The cup should have no gaping but also no squishing, so if any part of the wire is sitting on your actual breast tissue, that’s too small; and if you’re spilling over the top, so your silhouette looks like four breasts, that is also too small. There is a residual superstition around the “big” letters, as Jaddour says: “Society tells us that G is massive, but a 28G would be a pretty small woman, and a 32H would look completely different on five different women.” Since properly fitting bras have come on the market, women have started to flag up other things that have never worked on boobs: fitted shirts, various dress styles, an array of pretty standard clothes that have never been designed to accommodate breasts. The working fashion assumption is, to put it bluntly, that women with a larger cup size are most probably fat, and this simply isn’t true. Most Bravissimo customers are size 8 to 18 – and the company sells a range of dresses, tops and sportswear alongside lingerie.

Women are changing, too – Dunmore says that younger girls are much fuller-breasted than they were 20 years ago; she sees 13- to 15-year-olds wearing a G-cup (“There’s no scientific evidence for this, but I’m sure it’s down to hormones, the prevalence of the pill”). Technology is changing faster. Materials have more movement, more breathability, more strength, and styles that may once have been impossible in bigger sizes – the bralet, which is, broadly, a bra that is also a top – now aren’t. But the real revolution has been the normalisation of sizes that were, in real life, already normal.
bras  bra-size  breasts 
june 2018 by thegrandnarrative

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