Home / Bettie and Me: Why A 1950s’ Film Icon Still Inspires This Lingerie Designer
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By Carrie Russell,
Owner, With Love Lingerie

For over a decade, I have made a commitment to thick, black bangs.

Every time I look down into the sink and see tufts of black hair in the basin I am reminded of my allegiance to one of my style icons: Bettie Page.

As you are probably aware, I’m not the only one influenced by Bettie. She has legions of fans, and many famous names have tipped their hat to Bettie’s influence, including Beyoncé, model Rebecca Romijn and lingerie designer Chantal Thomass.

On the occasion of the legendary model’s birthday, I am very excited to be asked by Lingerie Talk to reflect on what Bettie Page meant to me as a designer.

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Bettie truly can’t be categorized or labelled. So many models or female icons fall into a type, but Bettie Page was such a mix of many things. She was simultaneously the girl next door, the bad girl, the exotic beauty and so much more.

Bettie came across as a dynamic person through her photographs and film clips. I think her ability to express different parts of her personality throughout her body of work is the most inspiring for me as a designer.

When I design from collection to collection I like to play with the idea of different aspects of a woman and how she isn’t a one-dimensional character. Though my styles from season to season can appear drastically different, I’m still designing for the same woman, a woman who is confident and comfortable expressing the numerous sensual things about herself. Sensuality isn’t static. Sexy is not just black lace and stockings on a Saturday night, sexy can be a floral bodysuit on a Tuesday or a sheer robe on a Sunday.

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Bettie’s poses are so energetic and convey an overwhelming sense of freedom. Even in her bondage series there is no unease, fear or judgment in her expressions. She approached her modelling with such a sense of play and happiness that you can see in her photos.

I really try to take that same uninhibited approach to designing and creating. To see your work as something positive and enjoyable, unencumbered by drudgery or expectation is a truly a gift.

There is also something really D.I.Y. about Bettie that appeals to me both as a designer and an entrepreneur. She wasn’t able to sign with a modelling agency due to her height and hip size so she struck out and got her own gigs. She branded herself with her bangs, and did her own hair and makeup for shoots as well as sewed her own lingerie and swimwear. It is great to imagine her hair tied back, pins in mouth, sewing up her next design.

Thinking about what Bettie must have had to overcome as a self-starter in the 1950s inspires me as an indie business owner. Without even realizing it she was a pioneer in so many ways, and when asked about it I like that she was quoted as saying,

“I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer. I wasn’t trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time. I didn’t think of myself as liberated, and I don’t believe that I did anything important. I was just myself. I didn’t know any other way to be, or any other way to live.”

And I love how she views lingerie and sexuality as an everyday thing to be enjoyed.

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Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Mark Mori’s film, ‘Bettie Page Reveals All’. The film is gracefully done and explores the life and times of the model and is narrated by Bettie herself.

After the screening, it struck me that beyond her controversial appeal, I am most drawn to Bettie’s honestly, attitude and strength. I think her truth and her confidence is what makes her a truly timeless icon and muse, and cements her as the the Queen of Pinups.

[Editor’s Note: Bettie Page passed away in 2008. Today would have been her 91st birthday. The documentary Bettie Page Reveals All is being released on DVD and VOD today to mark the occasion. You can purchase it, and other Bettie Page memorabilia at the film’s official website.]

Carrie Russell is the founder and designer of With Love Lingerie, based in Toronto. You can view her latest collection here or learn more about her label and background here.

Photos courtesy Mark Mori and MusicBox Films

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