Is America ready for a Christian lingerie brand?
Suzy Black, a new designer label from New York, will make its debut next Friday during Lingerie Fashion Week with a sexy collection of boudoir apparel that is rooted in fundamental Christian values — specifically, the importance of keeping marriages and families together.
There’s nothing preachy about Suzy Black and nothing puritanical about its designs. Where the brand’s faith-based orientation reveals itself is in its marketing.
A “manifesto” on the company website declares the fictional Suzy character to be “the new face of the contemporary Christian wife … devoted to Christ [and] committed to honoring and esteeming my husband as my head.”
Founder/designer Diondra Julian makes no apologies for mixing secular and spiritual influences into one seductive package.
“I want to create a space where we can feel connected to who we are and who we desire to be, without shame, without doubt, without girl-on-girl hate,” she says on her website.
The brand’s self-appointed mission is to promote and celebrate the Christian paradigm of marriage — including the female’s traditional role as a homemaker who cares for her husband.
That theme is expressed in the company’s colorful lookbook (shot by renowned fashion photographer Keith Major), which showcases a “happy homemaker” in vintage-style images of women dressed in barely-there lingerie fashions while doing household chores.
“No, I don’t feel objectified,” reads one of the photo captions. “Why? Because I belong to you … but mostly you belong to me.”
The photoshoot is an attempt to redefine the familiar ‘Suzy Homemaker’ stereotype of the 1960s, mixing traditional images of domesticity with the kind of erotic assertiveness associated with modern-day feminism.
“I don’t think it diminishes me as a wife or a businesswoman to have a moment where am I a fantasy,” Julian told Lingerie Talk. “I should still be able to feel like someone’s dream, even if my body does not look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
“When you are doing something for the person you love, there’s no shame in that. Do I feel like (my husband) is trying to make me a whore or a slut because he likes it? No. He belongs to me and it’s important that he is cared for in every way.”
The photoshoot, she added, was meant as “a little bit of a laugh” to drive home the message that “underneath it all we are dream girls … we can buy these things that transformative.”
Julian’s husband Ronald is a pastor and one of the models featured in the lookbook is a worship leader in Julian’s Pentecostal congregation. Her church family, she says, is mostly enthusiastic about the new brand.
“The women love it, and the husbands give me a behind-the-back thumbs up,” she said. “I’m sure there are naysayers, but they’d never say it to my face.”
Because it is commonly associated with erotic pleasure, lingerie is the most secular of fashion products — and it can sometimes make devout Christians and followers of other religions uncomfortable. Three years ago, former Victoria’s Secret lingerie model Kylie Bisutti made international headlines by quitting her job, saying it conflicted with her religious faith and her marital obligations.
And one fashion industry insider says Suzy Black can anticipate some negative reaction — from other people of faith.
“I can see where she is going to have an uphill battle,” said Tyron Barrington, a veteran fashion producer and author of The Lord Is My Agent … And He Only Takes 10%, a memoir of his experiences as a Christian in the American fashion industry. “The judgment this young lady might encounter is from the Christian community. Christians can be very judgmental.”
Barrington, a former model agent and casting director, now speaks to teens and other groups about the challenges that people of faith often face in fashion careers. One of his early clients was supermodel Coco Mitchell, who sometimes struggled with conflicts between her work assignments and her Christian values. Even Barrington’s memoir was at first rejected by publishers who felt the fashion industry was in perpetual conflict with the Christian community.
“Being a sheep among wolves is a very common thing in the fashion industry,” he told Lingerie Talk. “Sometimes people sneer or question you. A lot of (fashion people) don’t talk about their faith because they are afraid people won’t work with them again.”
He applauds Julian for creating a brand that proudly wears its faith on its lacy sleeve.
“Power to her for standing before the world and saying she’s not afraid to say ‘I love God’,” he said. “She’s following her call.
“I would tell her that if this is what God has given her to do, keep her eyes focused on Him. We never know who she might empower through her business.”
And just because Suzy Black produces a product associated with sexuality doesn’t mean it contradicts Christian values, he pointed out.
“She’s done it the right way because she’s looking at marriage and keeping marriages alive. Sex is not the first and foremost thing, but it’s still a part of marriage,” he said. “She has been given this gift to help more women to feel beautiful before their husbands. More power to her.”
Ironically, Julian borrowed the name “Suzy Black” not from scripture but from a Court TV show.
In one episode, two competing boyfriends took a woman to court to make her choose which one she loved. She refused, saying ‘I love them both’.
“She was so unapologetic, so bold,” Julian recalls. “For me, Suzy Black was like a superhero name.”
Julian, 35, spent over two years developing the Suzy Black brand (she modified the court defendant’s name slightly) and has an impressive professional pedigree. Her first job after graduating from the Chicago Art Institute was interning for Anna Sui 13 years ago, followed by gigs with DKNY, Sean John, hot urban brand Public School and womenswear icon Diane Von Furstenberg, where she has been a technical designer since 2010.
The Michigan native grew up in a conservative household and was inspired by her mother, a pastor’s daughter with a fiery independent spirit and a taste for glamorous, flamboyant fashion.
The motivation behind Suzy Black, Julian says, came from her growing realization that married women are “underserved and excluded” by the fashion lingerie industry.
“We beat it into our own minds that lingerie is only for girls who are young and free,” she said. “You have this lingerie drawer when you’re single but it gets dusty after you are married.
“Let’s continue to celebrate this part of us. There’s still sex in the city after you get Mr. Big! Now you have a permanent date that you have to wow, night after night.”
And while it’s a Christian brand, Suzy Black‘s designs are anything but straight-laced: slinky see-through bodysuits and teddies, lace bralettes and gilt-embossed “flutter panties”.
“It’s definitely occasion wear,” Julian said, “with the hope that your occasions are more frequent than anniversaries and birthdays.”
The Suzy Black brand, she says, isn’t meant to be a throwback to pre-feminist roles and stereotypes, Julian says. Instead, it’s intended to appeal to modern career women who juggle numerous roles and responsibilities, including their marriages.
“Please don’t think I’m this champion of domestic life,” she said. “Just call me conflicted. I work a real job, I bring home real money, but I’m still a real girl. I’m not going to apologize for that.
“Who is the Suzy Black woman? She’s a hard-working go-getter who understands that fullness of life is the true balance, whether as a mom, as a worship leader at a church, as a CEO, as a priestess at her temple. She doesn’t need anybody ‘s permission to do or say how she feels. She’s grown.”
Watch for Suzy Black‘s online shop to open in early November. In the meantime, here are more images from the label’s debut lookbook, “The Happy Homemaker”.