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Remember the name Sophia Graydon. It just might be America’s next great specialty designer label.

But before that can happen, Monica Nassif has to convince women to start treating themselves a little better at bedtime.

Nassif is the CEO and founder of the Minneapolis-based Sophia Graydon, a premium sleep and loungewear label that made its debut last month with a world-class collection of luxury pajamas, robes, nightshirts and other lounging apparel.

To get a sense of the new label’s aspirations, and what it’s capable of, have look at the midnight-blue French lace pjs from Sophia Graydon’s Odessa line, below. Prepare to gasp.

Most women wouldn’t dream of draping themselves in such breathtaking finery before climbing into bed — which is both the challenge and opportunity facing Sophia Graydon.

“There are not a lot of options for those consumers who invest in their day fashions to do the same in their relaxing hours,” Nassif told Lingerie Talk this week.

“Before this, I really had only three choices for sleepwear. I could put on my granny flannels, or wear swatches of polyester, or put on my yoga clothes again.

“But who said style has to end at dusk?”

The concept for Sophia Graydon — the brand name is an amalgam of names of two family members — evolved while Nassif was running her previous business, the Caldrea/Mrs. Meyer’s brands of homeopathic home products.

While attending wholesale trade shows in Europe, she saw a connection between how consumers invest in their homes and in themselves — and a gaping market opening.

“Here were women spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on bed sheets, duvet covers, pillows, etc. … but what they are putting on their own skin doesn’t compare. I thought, ‘Why is she sleeping in $1,000 sheets but her pajamas are a polyester blend?'”

Nassif sold Caldrea in 2008 and began developing a plan for Sophia Graydon, based on the European atelier model of small teams of artisans working together on luxury products. At the same time, she scoured the world for the finest (and sometimes unexpected) fabric options.

It’s a committed made-in-USA brand with a team of eight employees plus contract sewers, working from two ateliers in Minneapolis and New York City. Its first collection, which has already been showcased in Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily, offers artistic, exquisitely crafted garments in lace, cotton and silk charmeuse as well as — prepare to gasp again — the Grand Marais robe (below) made from Scottish cashmere overlaid with a silk floral print.

Sophia Graydon isn’t shy about declaring its “singular mission”: to create the most beautiful women’s sleepwear in the world. You’ll see evidence of that commitment in the small details in each garment: finished petite French inside seams, deep hems, silk binding on outside seams, shell buttons and expertly constructed waistbands.

“We believe a garment should be finished as beautifully on the inside as it is on the outside,” says Nassif, whose uncompromising standards come from growing up in a “family of seamstresses.”

Where the brand really makes its mark is in its Sophia line of cotton pjs — not the sort of garment you normally consider a luxury investment. Sophia Graydon’s approach is to use the same kind of tailoring and materials seen in men’s tuxedos for this typically lowbrow product. They use a breathable woven cotton from Switzerland that is normally used in premium men’s formalwear, add a unique cuff design, and produce a men’s-look ensemble suitable for both day and night wear. Have a look:

“No one’s thought about cotton as a luxury product,” notes Nassif, who shopped fabric exhibitions in New York and Paris to find materials that matched her vision.

Sophia Graydon’s approach to cotton is indicative of its overall approach to the luxury sleepwear market. It’s an apparel category, Nassif says, that is both “everywhere and nowhere.”

“Everybody does sleepwear. But at the same time it’s nowhere in terms of trend, fashion, elegance.

“We see a real opportunity to elevate the blandness, the tiredness of the entire category.”

Sophia Graydon isn’t for everyone: that French lace pajama set costs more than $1,200 and the exotic cashmere robe goes for nearly $4,000.

The label is targeted at women aged 30-50 and will be prominent in the luxury gift market come Christmas, Valentine’s Day and other romantic holidays.

For now, the only place you’ll find Sophia Graydon is through its online webshop. The company will be pursuing other direct sales channels next year and aims to have a boutique one day, but for the moment it’s not looking for third-party retail partners.

And now the question that everyone will want to ask: what does Monica Nassif wear to bed these days, now that Sophia Graydon is on the market?

“I don’t know you well enough to answer that,” she says, laughing. “But it has improved.”

This Hallowe’en, I’m Dressing Up As Miranda
Posted by richard | September 26, 2012

Victoria’s Secret might be the first clothing retailer to turn ITSELF into a Hallowe’en costume.

Yes, this year you can dress up as Miranda or Candice or any of the other VS supermodels, simply by splurging on the Sexy Little Angel costume (above) that’s included in this year’s Sexy Little Fantasies collection of adult costumes.

This isn’t the same “angel” costume that appeared in previous collections — that was a more conventional take on celestial angels, complete with halo and miniature wings. Instead, the new version is inspired by those earthbound Angels who are familiar to millions of viewers of the annual televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

The outfit — which promises to help you “sparkle up the runway” — is a sheer mesh teddy embellished with rhinestones and designed with revealing cutouts and a “cheekini” backside profile. It comes with an accompanying feather hairpiece and strap-on wings, but you’ll have to supply the 5-inch heels yourself.

It’s unclear where it might be appropriate to be seen in such a get-up, but if you’ve always fantasized about joining the high-voltage runway parade that is the VS Fashion Show — and inevitably dating Adam Levine — this might be your best chance.

The Angel costume ($136) is one of a handful of new pieces in the popular Sexy Little Fantasies lineup. There’s a Prohibition-era Sexy Little Mobster outfit and a Sexy Little Sergeant that will no doubt offer some comfort to military personnel returning from overseas duty. The company has also updated past bestsellers like the sailor and Santa outfits.

You can see the full collection and a brief intro video here.

What you won’t find this year in the VS Fantasies collection are a couple of dubious costumes that could be construed as racial stereotypes. The Sexy Little Geisha outfit (below) disappeared quickly, possibly due to this blogger’s complaints, and last year’s Sexy Little Senorita is likewise MIA.

Fashion designers who draw inspiration from the rich heritage of the Arab world should proceed with caution these days.

Given the nationalist passions, hair-trigger cultural sensitivities and rapidly evolving gender politics in countries from Morocco to Iran (and everywhere in between), the fashion industry needs to think carefully before appropriating traditional ethnic styles to satisfy Western fashionistas hungry for exotic new looks.

At the very least, that means understanding the history, purpose and social context of Middle Eastern apparel and respecting those traditions. A keffiyeh print doesn’t make for a cute bikini. A chador is not a sexy nightgown.

It’s easy to forget that, in many parts of the world, fashion and politics are inseparable. To ignore that truth is not just insensitive, it’s potentially dangerous, as Aussie swim label Lisa Blue found out last year: it used a digital print of a Hindu goddess on one of its swimsuits, triggering angry protests across India.

These cautions are especially relevant to the lingerie industry, since women’s undergarments have become a potent symbol in the Arab world of repression or liberalization — depending on your gender and which country you live in — and of the increasing commercial colonization of the Middle East by Western brands.

And lingerie brands have frequently turned to Arab and Middle East history for design influences. From the folkloric tales of Aladdin and Scheherezade to the exotic sexual culture of royal harems, the Arab world has given lingerie designers an enduring archetype: veiled femininity and the promise of inevitable, obedient submission.

You don’t have to look hard to find examples of how designers embrace that archetype. Below, we look at three recent collections that draw their inspiration, in very different ways, from Arab culture.

Jeremy Scott

You won’t find much cultural sensitivity in the 2013 collection that American enfant terrible Jeremy Scott debuted at New York Fashion Week, just a lot of the blind smugness that so often fuels the Arab world’s anger against the West.

Scott’s latest is called Arab Spring and his recent runway show was, apparently, inspired by the populist uprisings across the region over the past year.

What he delivers, though, can only be described as warlord chic: metallic corsets, customized combat helmets, sheer harem pants and veils that are like an ironic response to traditional Muslim burqas, chadors and hijabs. There’s even a top embellished with tiny machine gun brooches and a revealing wrap dress that uses a see-through keffiyeh motif — the symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

This all seems pop-art cool and very boundary-pushing to Westerners who are far removed from the daily realities of life in the Middle East. It’s hard not to wonder, though, how Scott’s pieces would be received in Damascus or Tehran or Riyadh, where dressing like this could get a woman stoned to death.

Jeremy Scott is ordinarily a great young design talent, but this misguided collection may be the worst fashion insult against the Middle East since Sex and the City 2.

Pleasure State

The deliriously design-centric Aussie label loves nothing more than creating elaborate prints that hint at their source material while remaining completely original and unique.

Several pieces in Pleasure State’s Couture and White Label collections for fall 2012 draw their inspiration from the Arab world, although this time they skip the politics and focus on familiar storybook romantic references. The result is an exceptional blend of old and new; one gets the sense that Pleasure State needed a tapestry as rich and varied as that of the ancient Middle East to accommodate its fondness for detail and ornamentation.

The highlight is the Cleopatre range from the PS Couture collection, shown in the main photo at the top of this article. It’s an exclusive print in coppery desert tones, embellished with crystal baguettes and eyelash lace and it creates a kind of modern belly-dancer look. A stunning tribute to Middle Eastern style, and one of the year’s most gorgeous lingerie designs.

PS White Label, meanwhile, comes close to matching Cleopatre‘s artistry with a series of new Arab-influenced styles. The Flying Carpet set offers a gorgeous original print that mimics the intricate patterns of woven Persian carpets, while the Persian Garden series combines an exotic floral print and pink beadwork, all inspired by 1,001 Nights.

The collection includes an iris-hued Lantern set, the bridal range Hidden Veil with its pearl-like motif, and the black-and-copper Spice Bazaar range with its crystal and copper bead embellishments. That’s Spice Bazaar in the photo above showing the model served up on a Persian rug along with a plate of fruit and a tea set — an image with mixed (but historically authentic) connotations.

Fred & Ginger

The luxury independent label from Britain doesn’t try to copy Middle Eastern history for its glamorous new collection, Arabian Nights. Instead, designer Victoria Holt was captivated — like everyone else for the past several hundred years — by the sheer romance of 1,001 Nights, with its tales of love, heroism, magic and eroticism.

It’s a lush collection of monochrome peach-hued satins and silk chiffon, playing off against mesh panels with gilt trim and Swarovski jewel adornments. The overall effect is to capture the veiled femininity that we spoke of earlier, and which is central to allure of Arabian style.

Holt creates a few new looks that convey the fairy-tale Aladdin influence and wouldn’t look out of place in a harem: unique panataloons, a bed jacket with billowing wide sleeves and a dashing cape.

(It’s worth pointing out that most designers, including Holt, who find inspiration in 1,001 Arabian Nights focus solely on the romantic fables while overlooking the grim undertones of the framing story, about a vengeful king who deflowers a new virgin each night after learning of his wife’s infidelity.)

Holt told Lingerie Talk that she wasn’t trying to make any political or cultural statements with her new collection, she was simply inspired by the region.

“Having traveled around the world for a year solo, I spent the time taking inspiration from all the countries I visited,” she said. “I found the Middle East a fascinating and beautiful area of the world and their culture is unquestionably unique, which I find both intriguing and inspiring.

“If I had my way, we would all live in unison with one another and respect one another’s cultures and beliefs. Perhaps it’s me that lives in a fantasy world!”

Now that‘s an approach that’s hard to argue with. Maybe fashion can be a tool for diplomacy after all.

Where In The World Is Fleur?
Posted by richard | September 24, 2012

It’s awfully hard to keep track of Fleur of England these days.

The independent luxury label releases a steady stream of new lingerie styles — it’s averaging five new mini-collections each season now — and somehow never repeats itself.

The images above and at the bottom are from Fleur’s stylish new Tiger range, a very contemporary set that combines mesh Lycra, silk, lace and sheer Italian tulle, all in a fall-friendly burnt orange hue. There’s even gold-plated rings in the bra straps to give the look an added touch of glamour.

What’s most remarkable about Tiger is that it’s nothing like the other offerings in Fleur’s latest seasonal collections. Designer/founder Fleur Turner seems as comfortable working with luxurious silks and delicate laces as modern stretch fabrics, and moves easily between conventional European luxury styles and the more fashion-forward contemporary looks you see hear.

In fact, if it weren’t for its name, it might be easy to forget that FOE is a British label. In addition to expanding its catalogue over the past few seasons, Fleur is also expanding around the globe. It’s available in more than a dozen U.S. boutiques and in more than a dozen other countries world-wide.

Fleur’s PR team is keen to draw attention to the label’s expansion, which explains the amusing promo campaign it launched this week.

Every day this week, Fleur will post a “postcard” photo on its blog and Facebook page, showing a set of FOE undies in some far-flung location (that’s Monday’s contest photo above). The first person to identify the city and country will win a free Tiger ensemble. The contest runs until Friday, with a new photo each day. You can post your answers on FB, Twitter or by emailing info@fleurofengland.com.

Now, if only someone would send in a postcard showing Travelocity‘s globe-trotting garden gnome in some sexy lingerie, this thing could really take off!

A Luxurious Tribute To Frederick’s Girl
Posted by richard | September 21, 2012

You might never have heard of Harriett Mellinger, but she probably had more influence on the 20th Century lingerie industry than Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page combined.

Harriett wasn’t a model, actress or fashion designer; she was the “muse” and “style adviser” to her husband Frederick, who revolutionized women’s intimates in the post-war period with his massive mail-order business Frederick’s of Hollywood.

Throughout the freewheeling ’50s, the swinging ’60s and the sexy ’70s, Frederick’s led the industry by introducing American women to black lingerie, push-up bras, thongs and those sheer, flowing nightgowns you see on Mad Men.

Its erotic innovations turned the family business into an American institution and a cultural force, too. The company’s ubiquitous catalogues brought the sexual revolution to the doorsteps of middle America and its celebrity marketing helped foster the cosy relationship between Hollywood and the fashion world.

Through it all, Harriett stayed out of the spotlight, an otherwise typical California housewife whose husband happened to spend his days thinking of new ways to flatter and reveal the female figure. Her influence, though, was enormous, as Frederick routinely ran his provocative ideas past Harriett for approval and input.

Both Frederick and Harriett (above) have been gone for two decades, but their legacy endures. And Frederick’s of Hollywood — now a publicly traded company with little connection to its founder’s family — has chosen to acknowledge Harriett’s pivotal historic role with a new luxury collection of glamorous, silk-and-lace intimates named for Fred’s girl.

The Harriett label (which has its own website and online shop) consists of three style ranges that offer loungewear, sleepwear and foundations in two-tone black and teal shades with gold and crystal accents. To round out the collection, there are matching open-toed shoes, a clutch and a necklace — all dripping with rhinestones.

According to Frederick’s, the new label is intended as “an ode to the love story behind the legend” and a way to honor a woman whose “insight helped Frederick’s become one of the most recognized brands in the world.”

Harriett is also part of the company’s ongoing effort to revitalize its brand after years of well-publicized financial struggles, and gives Frederick’s an entry into the vintage-inspired lingerie boom as well as the lucrative luxury market. It also adds some much-needed polish to the company’s occasionally lurid history (its founder liked to titillate customers by marketing his goods as “the latest SIN-sation“).

Mostly though, it’s a way to correct a historical oversight, give credit where it’s due, and remind Frederick’s customers of its rich, colorful heritage.

We’ll never know what Harriett herself might have thought of the Harriett line 50 years ago, but it’s presented so tastefully she probably would have been tremendously flattered. And insisted that Fred bring home some samples.

Here’s a look at Harriett. This being Frederick’s, it’s all affordable, with no single piece selling for more than $150.

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