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A Love of Underwear

‘'I love not this world in which thou must not stay but love that treasure that abides away’’

This is a quote that was lovingly stitched to the inside of a pair of silk stockings in the 1750s. To me it perfectly illustrates how in the past design was about the small details, in architecture, interiors and fashion. Sadly I find nowadays that these small details are often lost.
When I worked in film the insides of the costumes were as beautiful as the outsides. I worked on Nicole Kidman’s corset in the film ‘Nine’, for example, which was stunning. I used contrasting coloured stitching, all delicately done by hand, not because it was going to be seen on camera but because it made it all the more special for the wearer.

 In the same way my tweed jackets are all piped on the inside with a bright blue (RTW collection) or pink piping ( limited edition), and my Woolen Socks have contrasting stitching on the toe. This is not to please anyone but the wearer and to make it that little bit more special.

Liberty Kelly, Piping Detail

I remembered all of this as I walked around the ‘Lingerie’ exhibition at the V and A, armed with my sketchbook and fuelled with a coffee.

 It was fascinating seeing the way in which underwear has changed throughout the decades. Groups of ladies going round at the same time as me exclaimed and giggled as they were transported back to their youth. I overheard so many lovely stories from the 50s and before, listening to them recall how itchy and hot the wool underpants were and exchanging horror stories about their first pairs of garters!

 Underwear has to tick several boxes for every individual, whether it’s about modesty, cleanliness, comfort or being the most ‘alluring’. It is also the invaluable under structure for clothes. It can be designed to lift, separate, shrink and exaggerate parts of the female anatomy, particularly the boobs, rear and hips.

                                      First corset made with whale bones

In the 1890s corsets were used to bring a waist in to 48cm or smaller, which is shocking when you think that today’s size 12 is about 71cm! This fashion was so extreme that doctors campaigned about the damage that corsets were inflicting on women! They posted pictures of X-rays showing how the underwear was changing the position of the ribs, restricting the movement of the diaphragm, which in-turn made it very difficult to breath. There were many cases of women passing out at social engagements

                       X Ray showing the damage that corsets caused.

In 1863 ‘Bust Supporters’ were designed to support the breasts from the shoulders, and in 1904 the term ‘Brassier” was introduced.

Some underwear in 1917 was made out of paper as textile shortages had hit Britain. It was considered important ‘for civilian moral, and without them women felt ‘undressed’ but this opinion changed dramatically in 1969 when it was viewed as being a political statement to go without!

The mechanics in underwear are amazing, and this was shown in an amazing outfit designed by ‘Mr Pearl’ for Ditta Von Tesse (a wonderful burlesque dancer).

The stunning pink, diamante encrusted costume must have been made with great knowledge of her anatomy and her routine. It hugged her body tightly moulding it in to an amazing shape whilst not restricting movement and flexibility.

 At the end of the show there were some wonderful pieces on display from some of the great designers of our time, showing that as well as practical, underwear can be used for fun in anyway the heart desires!

Dolce &Gabbana 2013- Wicker      Alexander McQueen 2012       Elie Sabb 2011- Underwear Dress

Featured in the image:

- Dolce & Gabbana, 2013 - Wicker

- Alexander McQueen, 2012

- Elie Saab, 2011 – Underwear Dress.