This is the story of how Cora, the absolutely stunning lingerie maven behind The Lingerie Addict, found herself working on the project of a lifetime: shooting a tea party-themed lingerie campaign alongside her lovely peers with a handful of beautiful, ethical indie brands. But you must hear her tell it in her own words!
Note: Some photos may be NSFW
Truth be told, I’m not quite sure where to begin with this article. I feel like I should start by thanking Sweets, the lingerie blogger (and awesome human being) who came up with this whole idea, but a simple ‘thank you’ doesn’t quite convey the depth of my feeling here. Sweets reached out to ask if I’d be a part of a blogger collaboration with several indie lingerie brands; she’d noticed quite a few designers coming out with all black or all white looks for Spring/Summer 2016, and thought it would be fun for a few of us to meet up, style some looks, and hang out before the start of market week.
The photoshoot in this article is one of the most special experiences I’ve had since starting my blog – and I don’t say that lightly because I’ve done a lot of cool stuff as the face of TLA — but this… this was extraordinary.
Four bloggers participated: Sweets of Sweet Nothings NYC, a fuller-busted and fuller-figured blogger, Me (Cora) of The Lingerie Addict, a queer woman of color, Elisabeth of The Breast Life, a 59-year-old doing her first boudoir shoot, and Rose, also of The Lingerie Addict, a genderqueer, non-binary writer. The brands invited to take part were Between the Sheets, Evgenia Lingerie and Harlow & Fox. Kristen Blush handled photography, while Lily Sage took care of hair and makeup.
After sharing our size and garment preferences, the designers coordinated one white look and one black look for each blogger. Though I’ve been a fan of Evgenia, Between the Sheets, and Harlow & Fox for ages, I don’t think I’d quite appreciated the versatility inherent in each brand before now. Collectively, we covered a wide range of sizes, ages, heights, and body types… yet there was something for each of us. On a practical note, Leanna Williams of Harlow & Fox put it brilliantly when she said, “Showing how styles can be mixed and matched with other independent designers is a great way to see how pieces can fit into your wardrobe and be worn in so many ways.”
Yet our teatime shoot, while fun, was also a bit of a statement. The four of us – Sweets, Elisabeth, Rose, and myself – are not models. In fact, we’re all, in some way, quite far from what the lingerie industry considers ideal. I asked Sweets her thoughts on this while coordinating the event (since obviously, the four of us together in one room is no accident), and she had this say:
I’ve been so inspired by some of the fantastic conversations you, Holly, Jeanna, and others have been leading lately about the intersection of issues of diversity in the lingerie world and diversity and social justice in the larger world. I’ve felt like lingerie is inaccessible or intimidating in the past, but even though I’m larger than many (most?) brands’ target customers, surely it’s more likely I’m in the majority of consumers, not the minority. I want to see lingerie imagery that better reflects, celebrates, and illuminates the full range of people who wear it. I mean, hell, I turned 30 and immediately started to feel “too old” in the industry, but I plan to continue wearing awesome lingerie for the next 30 years too. So why shouldn’t there be imagery out there that reflects all of us at different stages of our lives?
As a fellow thirty-something lingerie blogger (who’s also frequently sized out of brands, to be perfectly honest), those thoughts resonated with me. Later, I asked Sweets about the designers she chose, and what made them, in particular, a good fit for this project, and she shared these insights:
They are all accomplished artists who work with precision and clarity on bold design choices in beautiful, feel-good fabrics. They pull inspiration from rich and varied sources to create designs that are timeless and uniquely their own. They also practice ethical manufacturing and have actively sought to showcase diversity and support social justice movements, whether in their lookbooks, their social media channels, or their press kits.
The willingness of everyone to leave their comfort zone and work together on a project like this cannot be overemphasized. We all contributed to the cost of the shoot. We all had to make an effort to be there and present during one of the busiest times of the year for the lingerie industry. We all had to take a risk in trying something new and different.
What would make a brand take the tremendous step of putting their garments on such a wide range of sizes, bodies, and people, especially when such representation is not the norm? Well, as Leanna said, it’s about showing lingerie is for “everyone to enjoy.” Stephanie Bodnar of Evgenia Lingerie revealed her motivations in our post-shoot interview by stating, “I hope that this shoot helps to show that indie designers are capable of creating pieces that work for a variety of body types and personal styles.” And I love what Layla L’obatti of Between the Sheets said about how this collaboration intersected with her own identity as a woman of color who’s also a lingerie designer:
As a brand owner I’ve been really vocal and actively trying to select models that are not as visible within the industry, the fact that we had such a diverse range of women modeling in this shoot totally aligned with that. Growing up I did not see a lot of myself represented in fashion industry ads, the diversity that I did see (Benetton ads) excited me, and as I’ve developed my own line has become a cornerstone of what it means to be socially aware. Young girls who do not see themselves represented grow into women who do not understand their own value and beauty. Women who have passed a certain age are also rendered nearly invisible by an industry that chases youth and ableism – you rarely even see glasses in ad campaigns. I think this shoot is an opportunity for women to be inspired by other women, to see themselves represented, and for brands to be inspired to think outside of the box for marketing if they aren’t already.
While Sweets and I are “old hands” in the sense we’ve both done several editorials for our respective blogs, this was the first professional lingerie shoot for both Elisabeth and Rose. Lest anyone think that’s easy, please remember: It’s no small feat to pose in your underwear on the internet, especially when you’re genderqueer (as Rose is) or over the age of 50 (as Elisabeth is). Rose wrote a beautiful long-form piece on this photoshoot and her queer identity which you should absolutely read, while Elisabeth had this to say about the experience in her interview:
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that excited about doing the shoot. But as a more mature woman (turning 60 in a few months) who adores lovely lingerie, I felt it important to represent my generation. Older women are mostly invisible in today’s fashion world. That’s why I decided to participate. But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t know and trust everyone involved.
Leanna of Harlow & Fox, who dressed Elisabeth exclusively, followed up with similar sentiments:
I was so excited to shoot with Elisabeth, as she’s very much the woman we want to show wearing our collection. As your recent article (by C.Bigelow, on age in the lingerie industry) showed, there’s such a lack of age diversity in mainstream lingerie advertising, and to have the chance to illustrate how beautiful she looked to other women, who may think more luxurious lingerie isn’t for them, or who are so used to seeing only younger women portrayed in this way, was a great honour.
While I agree with Elisabeth who said, “I’m not sure if one shoot can do anything to change commercial ideals of beauty, especially in the mainstream lingerie world,” I think shoots like this are a start. In my final interview question, I asked Sweets what she hoped the takeaway for this shoot would be, if there was a message she hoped to send to other brands and bloggers and industry professionals. She said:
I hope it encourages more and more people to make their own imagery! The more cool, smart, interesting people I meet and whose work I read, the odder it seems that brands and advertisers seem to design for such an absurdly narrow demographic. I’d love to see the definition of what’s “commercially appealing” expand exponentially.
So say we all.