This image — a pretty 20-something lost in her own thoughts in a uniform of worn jeans and fashion lingerie — tells you a lot about the brand behind it … and the girls they are trying to reach.
It’s a promo shot for the new Zippora collection from Lonely, the lingerie spinoff of the quirky New Zealand streetwear label Lonely Hearts.
Since its debut in 2009, Lonely has been something of a cult brand favored by slender young Aussies and Kiwis who adore its soft lace-and-mesh co-ordinates with the widely-imitated geometric cutouts. Lonely quickly grew beyond its New Zealand base thanks to word-of-mouth endorsements, style blogger testimonials, flattering magazine editorials and the fervent embrace of the alt-culture crowd Down Under.
At the same time, Lonely frustrated a lot of girls who heard about the label but couldn’t find it overseas, or for whom Lonely‘s soft styles weren’t a realistic option.
But that’s all changing. Lonely has expanded its distribution network substantially in Canada the U.S., and has added several online retailers including Shopbop and Nasty Gal. Anyone who still can’t find Lonely close to home can take advantage of the free worldwide shipping deal from the company’s own webshop.
The colorful new collection, Zippora, doesn’t stray far from Lonely‘s proven formula for success, but there’s one important addition: this time, Lonely adds a discreet underwire to many of its bras and bustiers, opening up this label to a whole new group of customers who need more structure and support than your typical 32A.
As Lonely branches out around the world, it’s also been busy searching for the independent, style-conscious girls who are its obvious market.
A year ago, the label asked photographer Zara Mirkin (right) to seek out and shoot Lonely customers as naturally as possible in their home environments and their own clothes. The result was The Lonely Girls Project, a continuing photo diary that has swelled to nearly three dozen portraits of women from Sydney to London.
The concept borrows from a number of contemporary cultural touchstones: the rise of social media ‘selfies’, the inexhaustible fondness of young fashionistas for personal style blogs, and the trend among fashion brands to use ‘real’ women in their promotions.
Unlike many ‘real women’ campaigns, though, the LG Project focuses not on the sponsoring brand’s products but on the girls and their lives. The result is an almost anthropological study of a very particular kind of young 21st Century women, caught in the act of creating their own lives and finding their own sense of style.
Whether the photo subjects are in New York or Auckland, commonalities abound: cheap apartments filled with second-hand furniture and decorated with music posters, lots of jeans, and a taste for outdoor exhibitionism. The rock music tie-ins are abundant and, collectively, all these girls look like they’ve recently run away to start an indie band. In one shot, a young waif stands in front of a wall of posters promoting concerts by The Runaways, Hole and other seminal bands, while in another a bra-clad blonde stands next to a wall of album covers including the controversial (and banned) nude Lolita cover from Blind Faith‘s debut record.
“The collaboration is about Zara shooting intimate moments, about being relaxed and comfortable in Lonely. Capturing people in their own spaces and in their own way is how we feel people will be most natural,” Helene Morris, co-founder of the brand, told Oyster magazine. “I love the relationships we have with these amazing women from all over the world because of this project.”
For the most part, the subjects are solitary and a bit contemplative, but otherwise comfortable in their own skin. Still, many of the girls in these pictures are caught looking away from the camera or hiding all or part of their face, giving the series an overall sense of both the vanity and vulnerability of young women. These are girls who may be comfortable walking around in their lingerie all day, but they’re still a bit shy about everyone knowing it.
While most fashion advertising projects a lifestyle for women to covet and aspire towards, Lonely shows girls as they are. This kind of low-pressure alternative marketing exudes authenticity and gives potential customers the idea that there’s a community of like-minded wayfarers who share their values, ambitions and fashion sense. Plenty of other youth-oriented brands have tried this sort of thing (Wildfox, for one, does it well), but it often comes across as contrived and manipulative.
But that’s not true of the Lonely Girls Project. One gets the sense that the brand’s global growth is driven by its own customers, not by suits in a boardroom, and that the label exists merely to serve the needs of a pre-existing community.
Since launching its photo diary, Lonely has taken the look-and-feel of the LG Project and applied it to the brand’s commercial marketing, too. As a result, it’s hard these days to distinguish between its studio lookbooks and its LG models (especially since both are now shot by Zara), or to know whether you’re looking at professional shots of paid models or candid snaps of customers. There’s a subtle, strategic message in this: the distinction is irrelevant, because the amateurs of the Lonely Girls Club are just as lovely as the brand’s models.
Lonely‘s international expansion still faces some challenges, though. The brand’s size range remains limited (you can find a 32DD but there’s no band size above 36) and its product selection is small. But that shouldn’t overshadow its achievement to date: persuading young women who can barely afford rent to drop $100 or more on a bra.
Lonely Hearts has its own concept shop in The Department Store in Auckland, and in North America you’ll now find them in Journelle, Lille Boutique, Azaleas, Free People, Brooklyn Fox and many more boutique retailers. Check the website for a full list.
Now, here are some of our favorites from the Lonely Girls Project.
All Photos by Zara Mirkin