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The inaugural UK Lingerie Awards seemed like a timely idea when they were announced a couple of months ago. There’s been a tremendous explosion of creativity in the British lingerie industry over the past decade, fueled by an intensely competitive market and college programs that routinely turn out skilled and ambitious graduates. The big high street brands keep refreshing and expanding their offerings, and a vast number of fashion-forward indies and luxury labels are setting style trends around the world.

In short, there’s a lot to celebrate and a deep pool of talent in Britain worthy of recognition.

Imagine our surprise, then, when the short list for the Ukies was announced last week, identifying three finalists in each of 19 categories. Fully one-third of the finalists are non-British brands or multi-nationals with headquarters abroad, while a huge number of Britain’s most celebrated brands (and individuals) were simply shut out. (Here’s the list.)

According to Lingerie Insight, the magazine that created the awards, they are “the most important annual event in the British intimate apparel industry … [and] recognize the achievements of the companies and individuals that have excelled over the past 12 months in this most glamorous part of the fashion business.”

The awards, they say, will showcase “the leading lights from the British lingerie industry, including designers, wholesalers, agents, department store and web site buyers, and the best independent and nationwide retailers in the country.”

But when the Ukies (what else should we call them — the Brundies?) are handed out at a glamorous bunfest in September, don’t be surprised to see names like Calvin Klein, Maidenform, Armani and even Spanx walking off with the hardware for their contributions to “British” lingerie.

Even the top prize, Lingerie Brand of the Year, has German-based megabrand Triumph going up against Italian luxe label La Perla, with Curvy Kate as the only UK label on the list to act as defender of the realm.

And that’s only one of many problems with this initiative. The UK Lingerie Awards are deeply flawed, with its apparent good intentions undercut by disingenuous media hype, goofy eligibility rules, and some glaring conflict of interest.

Let’s break down the issues that should cause people to scratch their heads — and ask some tough questions:

  • 19 of 57 finalists are brands based outside of Britain, including many multi-nationals available worldwide. Names like Seafolly, La Perla, Wolford, Triumph, Emporio Armani, Calvin Klein and Maidenform‘s Flexees. The New York label 2(x)ist is up for best men’s underwear line in Britain — go figure. HOTmilk and Cake (both from New Zealand) are slugging it out for best maternity label, although the lovely UK brand Amoralia isn’t. Many of Britain’s growing number of eco-lingerie labels were left out to make room for France’s G=9.8.
  • Who didn’t make the list of finalists? Stella McCartney. Elle Macpherson. Ultimo. Theo Paphitis’s new luxury retail chain Boux Avenue. Marks & Spencer. ASOS. Topshop. Nancy Meyer. Mio Destino. And that’s just the start. (Bizarrely, Scottish entrepreneur Michelle Mone of Ultimo was awarded an OBE this year by the Queen for her contributions to Britain’s lingerie industry — but she didn’t make the cut for the Ukies.)
  • Numerous highly accomplished independent design labels are ignored. Damaris. Myriam Girard. Mint Siren. Fleur of England. Strumpet & Pink. And on and on and on.
  • Although there are many niche categories (swimwear, sportswear, maternity etc.), there’s no award for vintage labels or corset-makers. Does that mean Velda Lauder, Ayten Gasson, What Katie Did, Kiss Me Deadly and others like them are simply not considered part of the industry? (None of them made the finalists list.) Likewise, there’s no loungewear category, which excludes a clutch of British brands that really shine in this area.
  • Some names on the short list look like they were attempts to “find a place” for worthy brands. Thus, the endlessly creative Made By Niki finds herself going up against Spanx in the shapewear category. Agent Provocateur gets nominated for its stores but not its products or its wildly inventive marketing efforts. And Myla made the cut for its bridal line, but not the rest of its exceptional collections.
  • Four British brands that are either owned by or employ a member of the judging panel were chosen by the judging panel. Likewise, one of the awards’ sponsors made the short list too. Someone should explain that to Stella, Michelle and the others on the sidelines.
  • These really aren’t “UK” awards at all. As far as I can tell, every British label on the shortlist is from England.

The reason so many offshore brands are competing for British recognition is that the rules allow it. You don’t have to be British to be eligible for the Ukies, you just have to sell to the Brits through a “retail channel”. Anyone with a store, a website or a distribution channel qualifies. This policy undermines the awards’ goal of celebrating unique British talent, and it handicaps “local” labels that suddenly find themselves competing with the likes of La Perla and Lise Charmel for a homegrown prize.

In fact, given the mystifying eligibility criteria for the Ukies, we have to wonder why there aren’t more foreign brands on the short list, since you can buy just about anything in London. If Triumph made the list, why not Etam or Pleasure State or Simone Perele or Eres or Ritratti — all of which have “retail channels” there?

This paradox will prove even more interesting next year, when big-spending outsiders like Victoria’s Secret and Baci come to England and, thus, give British labels more to worry about and compete against.

Another major flaw in the awards setup is the process used to choose the finalists, which was, in a word, deceitful. Lingerie Insight published numerous articles encouraging readers to nominate or vote for their favorite brands, and urged British brands to launch social media campaigns to drum up popular support. (My Facebook news feed and Twitter feed was flooded last month with well-meaning UK labels asking me to “vote” for them.)

Unfortunately, the votes don’t really count. Both the short list of finalists and the eventual winners are hand-picked by the 7-member judging panel alone. Results of the “fan vote” campaign (which drew 5,000 entries) were shown to the judges who, in the words of the organizers, “may use [them] to see if the strength of public opinion chimes with their own views.”

Yikes! That’s like saying Simon Cowell will “consider” the fan voting on X Factor — and then pick the winner himself. After all, he’s the expert, right?

The Ukies are not, as Lingerie Insight says, “the Oscars of the British lingerie industry.” At the Oscars, the votes count.

(In comparison, the winner of the “fan vote” for the recent Triumph Inspiration Award earned a bonus point that was applied to her final judges’ score.)

The culprit responsible for all these problems is the awards organizer, Lingerie Insight, which has turned the event into a self-serving marketing platform designed to a) manufacture some “exclusive” news content; b) curry favor with their advertisers; c) inflate their own credentials (yes, they are on the judging panel); and d) breathlessly proclaim their dominance over their competitors, most notably Lingerie Buyer, the other lingerie industry magazine in the UK.

But sponsors, brands and industry people attending the Ukies gala in September might want to ask their host why other media outlets that focus on lingerie have been excluded from the promotional run-up to the event. Despite LI’s boast that “a PR campaign will make the UK Lingerie Awards a major event for consumer as well as trade press,” I’m still waiting for their first press release.

LI’s own website says the Ukies will be “a world-wide media event” with a publicity machine that encompasses the vast media landscape represented by Lingerie Insight magazine, LingerieInsight.com, the Lingerie Insight Daily News Alert, the Lingerie Insight Twitter account, and the Lingerie Insight Facebook page. In other words, you should expect to read about this branded marketing campaign in one place only.

The short list of finalists for the UK Lingerie Awards includes a lot of very deserving, and very British, labels. Who can argue with nominations for Bordelle, Lascivious, Atsuko Kudo and terrific newcomers like Obey My Demand and Nicole Gill? Likewise, the judging panel includes many of the British lingerie industry’s most esteemed names whose credentials (despite the ethical problem of nominating themselves) are beyond reproach.

But none of this is enough to give the Ukies true authenticity. These awards are in serious need of a reboot, and desperately need an arms-length organizing body that won’t turn the whole thing into one big self-serving advertorial.

Finally, one of the judges was quoted as saying that the UK Lingerie Awards are intended to “increase competitiveness” among British labels and thereby improve quality across the industry. But that seems unlikely in a market that is already ferociously competitive and marked by exceptional creativity.

Instead, the worst thing about the Ukies is that they could become a divisive element in an industry that is also known for the high degree of mutual support, admiration and collaboration among its workers and owners. Almost everyone in the industry has worked for other brands in the past, and retains loyalties and friendships that rise above the daily combat of the marketplace.

The first Ukie awards, which favor a select few and exclude many, can only tarnish that reputation.

Posted in Lingerie News

4 Responses to “A Rocky Start for Britain’s Messy ‘Lingerie Oscars’”

  1. Knit Nurse says:

    Assuming that voters had to register with LI in order to vote, I would also suggest that the ‘voting’ procedure was purely a cycnical means by which LI could boost its own data. Thanks for this thorough and balanced analysis of what seems to be a shameful mess.

  2. Telly ViVi says:

    I don’t really understand what the problem with having international brands is? Yes, it would be nice to champion the Brits but if it is an awards that is supposed to represent the UK market then surely it would not be accurate to ignore international brands that are leading the market there?

  3. sparklewren says:

    Really interesting article. I agree that the claimed purpose of these awards doesn’t appear to have been really fulfilled. Perhaps the format/rules will change upon reflection?

  4. Justine says:

    I understand your stance on how it should be about British labels but then you ask why Elle McPherson and Stella McCartney didn’t make it. They are both brands of Bendon(NZ) unless Stella McCartney has another separate line that she also sells? Licensing a British name to another country for them to design, make and sell doesn’t make it British.

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