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Valeria (left) and Silvia Campello of Cosabella.

Each of us owes an incalculable debt to our moms, and Mother’s Day often seems like an insufficient way to pay them back. Still, it’s a good time to celebrate what should be a lifelong acknowledgement of the woman who gave us life and set us on the path toward our own dreams.

This is especially true for people who work in the lingerie industry, a great many of whom were inspired by or worked closely with their mothers to learn their craft and build their businesses.

Lingerie Talk invited lingerie professionals to tell us, in their own words, how their moms made a difference in their lives and careers. We talked to designers, retailers and executives, both men and women, from Canada to California to the United Kingdom.

We think you’ll agree the stories below are heartfelt, inspiring and probably remind you of how your mom helped you!

We begin with a deeply moving story of a dynamic mother who helped create her daughter’s award-winning lingerie label … but did not live to see its launch.

Reenagh (left) and Rita McCall

Reenagh McCall, owner/designer, Embrace

My mother, Rita Kelly McCall, was a lady with style. The youngest of 7 and small in stature, she was affectionately referred to as ‘little Rita’ by my Dad. Once on a transatlantic crossing with her equally petite sister, their luggage never appeared, so ‘the girls’ pooled their money, bought out the scarf section in the gift shop and created different daily outfits for the voyage. This was true to form; she never bought an outfit she didn’t alter in some way to make her own.

But her heart was big, her humour grand and her compassion enormous. A stay-at-home Mom until I entered university and she began her new career as an inventor, Rita had always broken down barriers. Between her strength of character and perfect diction she could convince people to do things they never really intended to. In conflict she always retained composure and her voice was never raised, which was useful when she had to break down so many conservative views.

I fondly remember her convincing a round table of suits that her bra invention was patentable. Arriving with mannequin and prosthesis and pinning away before them, caught up in the moment, she handed a silicon breast to one of the senior partners to hold for a moment. Red faces and muffled murmurs aside, the patent was granted and went on to produce award-winning and top selling bras.

My mother died in 2007 and my daughter, Sophia, was born on what would have been her 80th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary. My inspiration to set up Embrace was to finish what my incredible Mother started. Technology has moved on and the opportunity to enhance, improve and update her concepts was obvious. More importantly I didn’t want the dream to die.

It had all begun with Rita having a dream and waking in the early hours to scribble down the design on a newspaper beside her bed. Now nursing my baby in hospital, I had my own moment of inspiration and saw how the concept could be applied to maternity and breast support now that technology had caught up with the concept. Embrace now has a portfolio of patents and patent applications and our belief in these and courage to develop new ideas was inspired by my Mom.

Rita was a small woman from a small country — but she had a grand idea. We worked together and stood face-to-face with corporations and legal teams, dealt with licenses and assignments, and fought infringers and won. Just little old her and little old me saw the impossible become reality because we believed in the concept and the opportunity to improve women’s lives.

I miss my Mom very much, but there are times when I know she’s with me. Last year, Embrace won the most creative design award at the Ultra Show during the Salon Internationale exhibition in Paris, and in February our new patent pending support and maternity concepts were chosen as one of the top three product innovations in Ireland for the Irish Times all-island awards.

I know she was there to see it all happen; but it’s the small moments when my son Kaelan, 9, chooses colour combinations for our collection or my daughter Sophia, now 4 ¾, pins lace to a mannequin that I think she smiles the most.

Editor’s Note: Based in Connemara, Embrace reached market in 2010 with an award-winning range of bra designs featuring its patented Internal Support System (ISS) that offers floating lift and support — based on Rita’s original inventions from the 1990s. Since then, daughter Reenagh has added the patent-pending Up Cup maternity line and the Move Me strap alternative.

Alison (left) and Gail Rubke

Alison Rubke, co-owner, Faire Frou Frou

Definitely many people owe what they’ve become to their moms, but my career as the co-owner of Faire Frou Frou would not have been possible without mine!

My mom Gail and I have always wanted to be in business together, but years ago when I was still working as a tax analyst, I didn’t see how it would be a possibility.

It wasn’t until one New Year’s Day that my mom and I were discussing resolutions. I had wanted a change in my career, but it was my mom who asked the pivotal question “If you could do any job that you’ve always wanted to do, and if money and a degree were not a factor, what would it be?”

It had been my dream to own a beautiful boutique, but certainly it could not be a reality … that was until my mom kept asking why not. She dared me to live the life I had dreamt about, and she helped me come up with solutions for the roadblocks I imagined. In no time flat, I had arranged to leave my cushy position at a large firm and start on my own business — with little/no experience, but the drive and belief that I could accomplish what I set out to do.

Once that hurdle was passed, my mom then helped develop the concept of Faire Frou Frou. She came up with the name (she was taking French lessons at the time), she created our logo by hand (you see our initials in the crown!), she designed the store interior, she helped pick out the brands we would carry (she discovered our two early favorite brands Carine Gilson and Vannina Vesperini, back when I thought those brands might be too expensive to carry … lesson learned).

These are just a few examples of how instrumental my mom was (and is) in my career. It’s a rewarding experience to be part of a mother/daughter business, and a dream fulfilled for me!

Gregory Gimble, Vice-President, Va Bien

My parents Marianne and Richard founded Va Bien together in the 1970s. I grew up around the business and saw first-hand what was required to grow it from the ground up into an international success.

The dedication that my mother displayed during those formative years – and that she continues to display – are a strong influence on me. It brought home the lesson not just that dedication drives success, but also that passion drives dedication.

She loves Va Bien and cares deeply about the customers who wear our products to their special occasion events; her passion for supporting those women drives her dedication, which thereby drives her success.

Right: Greg and Marianne Gimble today.

Silvia (right) helping out Val in the garage, 1984.

Silvia Campello, VP Operations, Cosabella

It is difficult to be concise with such a transforming topic. Firstly, I watched my mother Valeria live the American Dream. Is there anything more inspiring and ingraining to a maturing child than seeing their parent exemplify the ‘work hard’ philosophy and truly be successful?

Over 30 years, I watched her part-time garage office hobby transform into a globally recognized business that ultimately enveloped my father Ugo and all of her children. This was not simply an American dream come true. It was also a Mother’s dream!

Secondly, she always said that “you need to do a job that you either love very much or a job that gives you the freedom to do the things you love in your spare time.” I definitely took this advice. Not only do I work full time in the family business, I also practice as an acupuncture physician on the weekends.

Thanks to her love, support and guidance I am fortunate enough to have the freedom to love both!

Editor’s Note: That’s Val and Silvia today in the main photo at the top of this feature. Above, a note written in Grade 2 by Silvia that offers a hint at her own future. Now approaching its 30th anniversary, the management of Cosabella will soon be passed on to Silvia and her brother Guido.

Laura (left) and mom Dianne

Laura Mehlinger, designer/owner, Lola Haze

By the 1980s, my mom (Dianne Yee Mehlinger) had elevated the home-ec knowledge instilled in all women of her generation to fiber art. We would visit the Maryland sheep and wool festival where she would buy raw wool. Then, while I watched “Sesame Street,” she would spin it on her creaky wooden spinning wheel, weave it on her loose-limbed loom or knit it into an artisanal sweater for me. I would complain that the sweater was scratchy.

Where other girls had toy kitchens or Lego sets, I grew up in a world of bright fabrics, textured yarns, sewing patterns, embroidery floss. I started sewing when I was 4, and to this day am still playing with fabric.

My mom, now retired, continues to create beautiful fiber art, and shows up to keep me company and act as “Sales Mom” at CurvExpo. Thank you, Mom, for introducing me to my love and my vocation. Thank you for being one of my biggest supporters.

Melanie Heenan (center) and her daughters.

Amie, Leah, Holly and Marnie Heenan, Melmira Bra and Swimsuits

Growing up, the four Heenan girls were used to having a “working mom”. With an entrepreneurial spirit, and inspired by her own mother’s lingerie business out West, Melanie Heenan opened her own lingerie store in Toronto in 1997.

Holly reflects: “We were always encouraged to get an education and follow our dreams. The business was never an option for us.”

The four girls, each with their own interests, pursued educations in various disciplines. One by one, and slowly over time, each daughter decided to join the family business.

“Because of the established nature, we really had to prove ourselves. The learning curve was exponential, and I never worked harder or more enjoyed working than when I joined the family business,” said Marnie.

Leah likes to keep in mind Melanie’s philosophy when she feels challenged or burned out by the now 30-employee medium-sized business. Her mother believes that business was not brain science, but rather involves finding a niche, believing in what you do, and not being afraid to work very very hard. Leah is inspired by this every day.

Amie, Melanie’s eldest daughter and mother of two daughters under two years old, is very proud to be a working mom. She would like for her girls to watch her work hard at becoming a successful business woman, and hopes that one day they two will be inspired by their mother.

Melanie Heenan’s four daughters own Melmira Bra and Swimsuits, a women’s boutique in north Toronto.

Pom Lampson, owner, Sexy Panties and Naughty Knickers

My mother Melita has the most incredible eye for style and has taught me to look at the world in a certain way.

I used to travel all over the place taking pictures to show her visually what I had seen, as opposed to describing it on paper. This translated into a meticulous eye for detail in all my designs, and creating knickers that people would want to show off to all of their friends, rather than just telling them about their fabulous colour.

Most of all my mother taught me the bravery I needed to succeed at setting up a lingerie business from scratch with no formal design background.

Right: Pom in her hot pink Monroe nightie.

Patti (left) and Sarah Platt

Sarah Platt, owner, SF Showroom

My mother has always been my best friend, mentor and inspiration. Upon retiring as the Chief Clerk of the District Courts of Maryland, my mother Patti decided to open up a lingerie boutique that focused on bra fitting and hard-to-fit sizes. Being a larger busted woman, she hated bra shopping because she could never find a place that carried her size or, if she did find her size, the bras were ugly and not supportive. She thought that if she felt this way, there must be many other women with the same frustrations. She was right and 10 years later, A La Mode Intimates is still catering to women of all shapes and sizes.

I was planning on traveling to Thailand to teach English when my mother decided to start her business. To be honest, I was more passionate about traveling than I was about teaching. So, when she asked if I would like to help her start a lingerie business instead, I jumped at the opportunity. I had always wanted to know how to start a business and what could be more fun than starting a lingerie boutique with your best friend and mentor?

I learned so much over the years and I fell in love with the lingerie business. I was a buyer, marketing manager, event planner, certified bra fitter, shop manager and I learned the importance of mastering inventory levels of a bra fitting store that carries 104 sizes! (Not an easy task).

As much fun as it was to work with my mother, I missed the Sierras and the Pacific Ocean, so back to California I went. I started managing retail stores, including the first H&M’s on the West coast and I went back to school to earn my Masters in Marketing. In 2008 the economy took a fall and I decided to go back to Maryland to help my mother with the boutique. A la mode got back on track and once again California was calling me.

I didn’t like working for big corporations and I loved the lingerie world, so I decided try my hand as a brand representative. I represent fabulous brands and I still get to work every day with my mother; this time as her rep! Whenever I need a boutique owner or buyer’s perspective, she is just a phone call away with helpful suggestions and answers. Although we are not working in the store together, we are still working together every day.

I feel so blessed to have found a job I absolutely love and am passionate about; a job that doesn’t feel like work, but fun. I owe my happiness in work and life to my mother. She always taught me to follow my dreams and to not be afraid to take risks. She taught me this invaluable life lesson not just through words, but through her own actions. I couldn’t be more proud or in awe of her.

I am the luckiest woman in the world to have such a strong, independent, and supportive mother. Although we are on separate sides of the country, I feel closer to her than anyone and the best part of my job is it’s a good excuse to call her multiple times a day.

Sarah is an executive account manager for intimate apparel, accessory, clothing and maternity lines.

Lydia (left) and Tiffany Ajmo

Tiffany Ajmo, vice-president, Blush Lingerie

My brother Justin and I have been involved in the family business Blush ever since we were teenagers … working summers to help out in the shipping room, and as soon as we graduated from university, plunging into full-time work.
Our father Edward was always very involved in the business, thus not very present at home. Our mom Lydia was and continues to be the backbone of our family, making sure we were always well fed, well dressed and helping us through the difficult school years. She was  by our sides through it all!
Once we both started families of our own, along with our full-time careers, running the business presented many challenges. But our mom always came to the rescue! She was the one who would help out in all areas. She would be present in the business, but always available and so willing to help us with our children. The business is so demanding on our time; along with long hours at the office and very frequent business trips, without our mom’s support and help all this would not have been possible.
She is truly the sunshine of our lives, along with her outstanding smile and very positive attitude, she gets us through every aspect of our careers! This is a very volatile business, with many ups and downs. It is very difficult emotionally, but our mother is present in our lives on a daily basis and is there to pick us up when we feel down and to celebrate with us when we feel happy!
The hardest job in the entire world is being a mom and she truly has shown us that for her, it is not a job, but the biggest pleasure that life has to offer. We are forever grateful to our mom who we adore to pieces!

Founder Edward Ajmo handed over the management of Montreal-based Blush to Tiffany and Justin in 2001.

Finally, A Holiday We Can All Celebrate
Posted by richard | April 26, 2012

If you missed National Lingerie Day on Tuesday, don’t feel too bad — you weren’t alone.

Most people (like me) were completely unaware of the occasion and found out too late in the day to throw together an all-undies party, squeeze in a celebratory shopping trip, or at least organize their bra drawer.

Feel free to blame the media for this one. Most people who cover the intimates industry were, ahem, caught with their pants down on Tuesday, utterly clueless about NLD until they started reading their Twitter feed.

Those retailers that knew about NLD announced some quickie sales and giveaways and one (Hips & Curves) even put together a nice greeting card (above) to mark the occasion. By midday, all the social media channels were buzzing merrily about the one day of the year when we’re all supposed to pause and give thanks for the indescribable privilege that is silk panties.

That is what National Lingerie Day is about, isn’t it? Or is it?

Umm, yeah, well, not exactly.

National Lingerie Day — which really didn’t exist until now — sprung to life literally overnight after a small bit of marketing suddenly went viral. You went to bed on Monday night thinking nothing special (other than Kelly Clarkson‘s birthday) was on the calendar for Tuesday, and by noon you were surfing for underwear bargains on your lunch hour.

The credit for this happy accident goes to the marketing team at Frederick’s of Hollywood, which announced several sales on its Facebook page early in the week “in honor of National Lingerie Day”. With over 300,000 fans who saw those messages (and the sexy photos accompanying them) on their Facebook walls, the notion quickly spread and morphed into a Twitter hashtag almost immediately. Other retailers jumped in with quick offers, the “holiday” idea seeped into news stories, and bloggers raced to post stories, acting like they’d known about it all along. (Here’s an especially nice post.)

But is National Lingerie Day a real thing or just another one of those Hallmark holidays?

Frederick’s insists it wasn’t trying to fabricate an occasion to promote itself or the industry. A company spokesperson told us that she read about it somewhere last year and a Google search revealed that this was also National Lingerie Week.

“The team thought it sounded like a fun holiday for the leader in lingerie to celebrate, so we took it and ran with it,” she said. “We are thrilled with how viral it went and the amount of exposure the “holiday” brought to the industry.”

In fact, there is some precedent for all this. The Intimate Apparel Council, an industry group made up of U.S. designers, brands and retailers, has been promoting the idea of National Lingerie Week in April since 1989, “to reaffirm the message that intimate apparel is fashion, by having a week-long celebration of in-store promotions, unique prices and fit clinics.” The idea seems to have petered out a few years ago (the IAC didn’t mention it this year) but it got lots of attention back in 2000 thanks to a Saturday Night Live skit, in which Cheri Oteri (above) played the owner of the “Erotic Attic” and showed off some of her special gift items for National Lingerie Week.

And the new U.S. “holiday” comes hot on the heels of the United Kingdom’s somewhat dubious “National Cleavage Day” on March 31. The occasion was introduced this year when a bevy of Ann Summers models paraded down Oxford Street in their underwear. According to press reports, National Cleavage Day is held annually “to celebrate women’s independence and power in their careers and relationships.” Seriously.

Ann Summers was also behind another faux holiday a few years back when it declared May 3 to be “National New Bra Day“, supposedly marking the obligatory spring ritual in which British women toss out their old bras and storm the clearance bins at Marks & Spencer.

But America has a long way to go before it catches up to Brazil in this area: they actually celebrate National Underwear Day in February, giving Brazilians yet another excuse to party in their skivvies all day and night without anyone thinking it’s unusual.

One thing’s certain: however sketchy its origins, National Lingerie Day is here to stay. So mark your calendars for next April 24 and watch for the festivities.

We’re hoping Frederick’s will at least host a parade. Maybe with Kelly Clarkson — in lingerie — as grand marshal.

Few designers could have gotten away with the kind of left-field lunacy that Jean Paul Gaultier brings to his new gig as the celebrity ‘creative director’ for Diet Coke‘s latest European promo campaign.

In addition to dressing up Coke bottles in lingerie, the impish Gaultier turned the assignment into a full-blown vaudeville act — complete with a gender-bending photoshoot and a series of short films featuring Gaultier as a “serial designer” stalking cute young puppets. (This is probably the first genre mash-up to combine slasher films and fashion makeovers, with Gaultier asking at the end of each film, “So, are you going to press charges?”)

But the centerpiece of the campaign are Gaultier’s three bottle designs, one featuring his signature sailor-boy nautical stripe and two inspired new designs featuring bottles dressed in corseted bodysuits (no doubt inspired by his iconic creations for Madonna way back when).

Gaultier, who is EVERYwhere in the promotional tie-ins for Diet Coke in Europe these days, brings his customary élan to the assignment (which was announced during Paris Fashion Week!). You’ll remember a few years ago he launched his Classique perfume line renowned for bottles shaped like a woman’s torso and outfitted in a corset (below). Then, too, he took that concept to almost ridiculous extremes, creating a variety of costumed bottles that became highly coveted collector’s items.

His Diet Coke (or Coke Light in Europe) campaign might be the strangest thing anyone has ever done to sell soft drinks — and certainly much more entertaining than Karl Lagerfeld‘s designer bottles from a couple of years ago — but it’ll almost certainly be a smash hit when the bottles reach stores next week.

Only downside? These goodies will only be distributed in Europe, so if you live on this side of the pond, be prepared to add this item to your E-Bay watch list.

Here’s a look at the first three episodes in Gaultier’s ‘Serial Designer’ film series. Check back with the Diet Coke Facebook page for more installments.

Lillian Bassman: Portraits in Lingerie
Posted by richard | April 10, 2012

The current wave of nostalgia for lingerie styles of the 1950s and 1960s owes a lot to Lillian Bassman, the legendary New York fashion photographer who passed away in February at age 94.

Bassman shot many of the commercial campaigns for major brands of that era and her intimate, highly stylized boudoir portraits changed the way lingerie was both seen and appreciated.

Now, a trove of 80 of those black-and-white images, collected and curated by Bassman shortly before her death, are featured in the new book Lillian Bassman: Lingerie, released last month by Abrams Books.

To coincide with the book’s publication, an exhibition of Bassman’s lingerie prints will be on display at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York from April 12 to May 26, and at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica until June 9.

Bassman eschewed the lifeless catalogue images that characterized most lingerie photography of the post-war years, focusing instead on the women in her shots and their unselfconscious sensuality. There is a narrative element in many of her portraits: small, oblique stories that hint at the inner essence of women’s lives.

Her contemporary Richard Avedon said Bassman made “visible that heartbreaking invisible place between the appearance and the disappearance of things”. The Guardian, in its obituary last month, called Bassman’s pictures “reveries about the secret lives of women.”

Bassman’s enduring legacy can be seen everywhere today.

Many of her Mad Men-era campaigns boldly showcased lingerie as fashion garments worthy of artistic presentation and meant to be displayed, not just as foundation pieces meant to be concealed and seldom seen. You can see that aesthetic sense today in the elaborate and artistic treatment of lingerie in fashion photography (both in commercial work and print editorials) and in runway shows from many of the world’s leading fashion houses.

Lillian Bassman: Lingerie is her third photo collection in book form, following Lillian Bassman (1997) and Lillian Bassman: Women (2009).

Below are selected images from Bassman’s work, courtesy of Abrams Books.

Sticky Fingers Not Included
Posted by richard | March 28, 2012

Is Easter an appropriate occasion for lingerie gift-giving?

The answer probably depends on who’s giving, who’s receiving and whether your libertine tendencies are more Gingrich than Santorum.

Personally, I think there’s no wrong occasion for sexy presents, although in the name of decency you probably shouldn’t swap intimate Easter gifts until after services on Sunday morning.

One of the coolest in a growing number of Easter-themed lingerie promotions that has crossed our desk recently is the “Bunny Boudoir” online egg hunt dreamed up by London’s Lingerie Collective.

The retail co-operative of independent designer labels came up with the clever idea of combining two guilty pleasures — chocolate and silk lingerie — to create both a gift item and a fun contest.

Renowned chocolatier Paul Young was brought in to create giant chocolate eggs which contain a pair of silk briefs and eye mask from Lingerie Collective member label MC Lounge — sort of an adult version of those Kinder Surprise eggs you buy for the kids.

To enter the contest to win the set, visit the Lingerie Collective website and see if you can find 10 eggs that are hidden among its pages. Send your answers to info@thelingeriecollective.com.

If you don’t want to leave it to chance, you can also buy one of the luxury egg sets containing either a pair of knickers, knickers and blindfold, or a luxury MC Lounge robe.

Of course, if I recall correctly, when we got those Kinder eggs as children we usually tossed the hidden toy aside and just gorged on the chocolate. With the Boudoir Bunny egg, don’t be surprised if exactly the opposite happens.

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