Don’t be surprised if your favorite British intimates brand isn’t mentioned when the winners of the annual UK Lingerie Awards are announced next month.
Numerous British lingerie companies, including some of the industry’s bestselling brands, are not included in the list of names that consumers can vote for in the “people’s choice” section of the awards competition.
Winners in 20 categories, including three that are decided by public vote, will be announced on Dec. 3 at a gala ceremony at Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden, London. Online voting closes on Friday.
One of the most coveted awards, for Favorite British Designer of the Year, allows voters to choose from just 46 designer labels — or roughly one-quarter of all the homegrown designer brands in the UK marketplace. A separate award, for Favorite Lingerie Brand of the Year, includes 110 brand names from more than a dozen countries around the world. Any brand whose name is not on the list has no chance of winning.
Among the brands NOT included in either list are Agent Provocateur and its sister label L’Agent, the UK style trendsetters whose stunning growth, A-list celebrity clientele and high-profile partnership with actress Penelope Cruz have been the buzz of the intimates industry all year long.
Fans likewise cannot vote for the esteemed Damaris or its ridiculously popular mid-market label Mimi Holliday, or for luxury bespoke label Harlette of Secret Diary of a Call Girl fame, latex pioneer Atsuko Kudo, British heritage label Lucile (featured in Downton Abbey), or fetish fashion trailblazer Darkest Star.
Designer and celebrity collaborations from mass market retailers like Topshop, ASOS, New Look and even Debenhams’ Frost French label are not on the voting list. Bridal favourite Ell & Cee is not included, nor are most of the numerous startup labels that have burst onto the scene in the past year or two.
What’s the reason for so many conspicuous omissions in an event designed to celebrate Britain’s robust lingerie industry?
It’s simple: to be considered for any of the 17 awards chosen by a panel of industry experts, brands are required to nominate themselves. Those that enter ahead of the nomination deadline are also included in the “people’s choice” voting list — which is then beefed up by contest organizers. (The voting area does not offer fans the option of submitting a brand that has been left off the list.)
“All brands who entered the awards have been automatically entered into the public vote. However, we have added some more brands to the list based on recommendations from people in the industry,” Sarah Blackman, editor of Lingerie Insight magazine, which founded the UK Lingerie Awards in 2011, told Lingerie Talk.
“As you can understand, there are hundreds of brands out there so some have slipped the net.”
Most UK brands are eager to participate in the awards because winning can lead to a public relations boost and corresponding sales increase. Some companies engage professional PR firms to assemble elaborate nomination packages that showcase their achievements.
The absence of so many prominent UK brands from the competition, however, suggests that some in industry either don’t have the time or inclination to participate. Additionally, smaller startup labels either don’t have the money to pay for tickets to the £150-a-seat ceremony or might even misunderstand the eligibility requirements.
One new designer told Lingerie Talk she didn’t enter the awards, believing she needed to have two consecutive seasonal collections in the marketplace to qualify. (The UKLA nomination package suggests brands will be evaluated based on the success of their latest autumn-winter and spring-summer collections, but it’s not mandatory to have both.)
“Any brand is eligible to enter the awards as long as they have a collection that is available for buyers to purchase,” Blackman said.
The resulting patchwork of entrants highlights some of the peculiarities of the UKLAs, which frequently see British brands competing against offshore rivals for their national prize.
Although they have called themselves “the Oscars of the British lingerie industry” (and hand out Oscar-like statuettes to winners), the UKLAs will treat 500 guests at next month’s ceremony to a runway show from French boudoir brand Maison Close (which is also an awards finalist).
More than half of the 17 categories in the judged portion of the UKLAs are open to any foreign brand that sells products in Britain, an awkward situation that resulted in Italian luxury brand La Perla being named Britain’s best lingerie brand in 2011. (In subsequent years, UK brands Myla and Gossard beat out offshore brands to claim the top prize, and this year UK stalwart Charnos will join Gossard in a multinational face-off against French brands Huit and Chantelle. Gossard also won the fan-vote Favourite Brand award in each of its first two years.)
Launched in 2011 to “celebrate the glowing reputation and development of the industry in a tough economic environment,” the UK Lingerie Awards dovetailed nicely with a growing Made-in-UK movement that aimed to prop up Britain’s wobbly fashion manufacturing industry and inspire greater nationalistic loyalty among consumers.
Ironically, the current edition of the UKLAs excludes many newcomers — like year-old Rose Fulbright of Wales — who pursue small-batch production in local factories and for whom the Made-in-UK ethos is a critical part of their brand values (and customer appeal).
The 2014 awards also expose the inherent difficulty of covering all the bases in an industry known for its innumberable product niches. There’s a shapewear award but none for corsetry, despite Britain’s abundance of talent in that area; there’s a swimwear category but nothing to cover the broader scope of resort wear; and the booming activewear market — the hottest emerging niche in designer undergarments — is stuck with only a “sports bra” award.
Where the UKLAs do the best job of showcasing the industry’s exceptional homegrown talent is in the competitions for best new designer, best loungewear label, and best “independent directional” brand (a category that acknowledges the fashion-driven, often visionary, designers who can set new design trends around the world).
As an indication of the depth and diversity of Britain’s offerings, the 2014 new designer competition features a luxury swim brand (Sumarie), an edgy indie lingerie designer (Karolina Laskowska), an impressive activewear label (Vevie) and two ravishing new lounge brands (Meng and Holland Street) that entered the marketplace with considerable buzz this summer.
Now, if only they can convince Penelope Cruz to show up next year.
NOTE: After the public voting period, UKLA organizers will release a shortlist of the top four contenders in each of the three voting categories, and announce the overall winner at the Dec. 3 ceremony. Voting closes on Nov. 21.