If someone calls you “fundipendulous,” it likely means you’re working up a sweat somewhere, having a ball and looking f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s. And probably wearing VPL.
It’s also something we’ve been seeking for a long time: a single word to describe the New York brand and its radical, utterly unparalleled approach to active underwear.
It’s been a year since Victoria Bartlett‘s trend-setting label pivoted away from its experiments in high-fashion womenswear and funky undies and plunged headlong into the realm of fashion-forward performance gear. That move triggered a creative renaissance for the much-loved brand which, as the images below show, is brimming with new ideas.
“Fundipendulous” is also the title of a new 12-minute film released by VPL last week to coincide with its in-store Fashion Week presentation. Shot in a quarry, a barn and under a bridge in upstate New York, the film (below) features limber aerialists and acrobats giving their SS15 VPL gear a poetic workout in some dramatic (and dangerous) settings.
VPL took its cameras outdoors as way of emphasizing the point that this is a new fashion hybrid that needs to be appreciated in a new context, with a new visual language, outside of a gym and away from the urban streetscapes where VPL products are usually found.
VPL calls its new stylistic vision “Fashion Active” — a phrase that doesn’t properly indicate how revolutionary this is, nor how far it is ahead of competitors in the burgeoning activewear market.
Absolutely everything gets a rethink in the company’s vivid spring collection: waistbands, bra bands and straps, shoulder pads, pockets, even zippers. There are loose-fitting sweats layered over snug tights, tops and unitards, cover-ups and jackets and some wicked accessories like open kneepads, heel-less dance socks, off-kilter visors and finger-tape bands. All impossibly chic and perfectly functional at the same time.
Stylistically, it’s a riot of vivid color-blocking and overlapping patches and lines reminiscent of abstract painter Piet Mondrian or masking-tape street art. You can still see evidence of VPL‘s long-time signature look — wide elastic bra straps — but even that look, once so novel, has been eclipsed by the brand’s reboot.
What makes it so promising is VPL‘s commitment to both the performance qualities of its garments as well as its fashion appeal. No sense in being the best-looking thing in the gym if your outfit doesn’t stand up to your workout, right? But Bartlett’s vision extends beyond the locker room: she’s aiming to create a wardrobe that travels easily from spin class to city streets, a point that was driven home when she put models in platform wedges for the athletic photoshoot for VPL‘s Pre-Fall 2014 collection (below).
It’s no insult to other brands (and there’s an amazing amount of creativity in this fashion category these days) to say that VPL has become the Cirque du Soleil of the sportswear world: a brand so advanced in its vision and execution that it’s almost meaningless to think of it in terms of what came before this.
As for “fundipendulous”, it’s probably too much of a tongue-twister to go viral or survive beyond next season. But that’s okay: VPL doesn’t need a made-up word to help it stand out in a crowd.
You can check out the evolution of VPL‘s high-concept activewear by comparing its current Pre-Fall 2014 line (below) with the next collection for Spring-Summer 2015.
The artistic collaboration between New York brand VPL and photographer Dane Shitagi feels like it was meant to be.
VPL is the renowned pioneer behind the underwear-as-outerwear movement, and recently reinvented itself as a high-fashion activewear label. Its name stands for “visible panty line”.
Shitagi is the Manhattan photographer behind the stunningly creative Ballerina Project, a growing portfolio of dance imagery that has been more than a decade in the making. His Japanese surname translates, literally, as “underwear”.
So it seemed inevitable that the two would meet and marry their respective artistic visions.
The results of the VPL-Ballerina Project’s pas de deux can be seen on both their websites, with the fashion label supplying its graphic activewear fashions for Shitagi’s recent additions to his ballet portfolio.
“We have known about the project for a while, as the photographer Dane loved VPL products and used them in his shoot,” Kikka Hanazawa, VPL’s president, told Lingerie Talk. “I wanted to find out exactly how we can help his artistic pursuit, and we met up finally. We needed to find a way to work together.”
Shitagi has created more than 1,000 images for The Ballerina Project since it began 14 years ago as a way to showcase the complementary crafts of dance, photography and fashion design. It’s enormously popular with balletomanes — the project’s Facebook page has more than 800,000 likes, the most of any ballet-themed account on the social media site.
And the appeal of the Ballerina Project is instantly obvious: Shitagi uses professional dancers, active or retired, from major American companies and shoots them in graceful, athletic poses against unexpected urban and rural environments. Masterpieces of composition, the images typically contrast the expressive human form with the built environment that envelops it, and often have a powerful emotional impact.
Many of Shitagi’s images are shot in the New York area, but he’s also traveled to Toronto, Seattle and Hawaii to capture his unexpected compositions.
The Ballerina Project supports itself by selling prints (many of them in black-and-white) and a subscription-based website that features the most recent work.
Working with Shitagi was a perfect fit for the trendsetting VPL. Not only did it give the company an unparalleled showcase for its new style direction, which it calls ProAction, but it allows VPL to immerse itself once again in the world of modern dance.
Launched in 2003, VPL has enjoyed a mutual love affair with dance in general (founder Victoria Bartlett once worked as a stylist for Madonna), and the ballet community in particular, for a long time.
A 2008 VPL collection was inspired by the work of dance greats Martha Graham and Vaslav Nijinsky, and the company has been dressing dancers for New York City Ballet promotions and magazine editorials for several years (that’s the NYCB’s Ana Sophia Scheller above, in a 2010 image used on the cover of the NYCB brochure).
And while it was ostensibly an underwear brand, the fashion- and function-conscious VPL always seemed to be evolving into the sporty, dancewear-like brand that it has now become. Early signs of the company’s new direction were evident in another of VPL‘s many collaborations, a 2011 gig in which Bartlett dressed New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet company (above) for an avant garde touring production.
It’s most memorable love letter to the ballet world, though, was the highly theatrical vest made from pointe shoes (below) that models wore to close VPL‘s 2006 runway show for New York Fashion Week.
“We think images of ballet dancers in VPL shot by Dane really echo the VPL fan’s ‘inner ballerina’,” Hanazawa said. “Our fall ProAction film captures the passion of modern women loving various sports, from tennis to spin to skateboarding. They are VPL muses [and] we wanted to transcend the norm of casting only fashion models. Our collaboration with Dane is another important step forward for our ProAction direction.”
VPL helps Shitagi not only be supplying outfits, but by recommending unique locales for his memorable shots. In fact, the dramatic image below, overlooking the Manhattan skyline, was shot from the balcony of Hanazawa’s West Village apartment.
Hanazawa said VPL has “many future plans” to support The Ballerina Project, including a possible exhibition at the brand’s Mercer Street store in SoHo. The company also plans to incorporate feedback from ballet dancers into the design and development of future fashion collections.
But VPL isn’t the only fashion underwear label collaborating with The Ballerina Project these days.
The youth-centric Australian brand Black Milk, famous for its pop-art graphic tights and bodysuits, is featured in numerous recent photos, as is the new KamaliActive line from legendary womenswear and swimwear designer Norma Kamali.
In a recent post on the Black Milk Clothing blog, Shitagi explained why he works with contemporary fashion brands in styling his photoshoots:
“It has been our goal and direction over the last 4-5 years to not play up on the stereotype of a ballerina,” he said. “Ballerinas are often depicted along these stereotypes and often become caricatures of what the public expects them to be.
“Because of this direction we have stayed away from leotards and typical ballerina-type costumes. We prefer to use fashion that is more organic or stated to the actual subjects that we work with.”
[ED. NOTE: To see the VPL x The Ballerina Project photoshoots in action, VPL has posted several short videos on its YouTube Channel. For a longer look at the brand’s new direction, watch the Pro Action film that highlights its fall collection.]
[IMAGE CREDITS: The main photo at the top of this article shows Isabella Boylston, a soloist with the American Ballet Theater in VPL. All images below feature VPL clothing, unless otherwise indicated. All © The Ballerina Project and Dane Shitagi.]
Photo: The Last Magazine
VPL, the sporty lingerie and womenswear label, prefers to establish trends rather than follow them.
Once the leader of the urban underwear-as-outerwear movement, the New York label has undergone a dramatic reboot and today finds itself out in front of a different trend: the rapidly evolving designer gymwear market.
It’s a top-to-bottom reinvention of one of America’s most admired fashion brands, one that will see VPL carry its bold design aesthetic and refined corporate values into the high-end gyms, spin classes, Pilates studios and boot camps where more women are spending more time these days.
But that’s not all. VPL’s new spring collection, the first in what it’s calling a ‘Fashion Active Movement’, is intended to work as daily streetwear, too. There’s a lot of stylish activewear in the new line, but you’ll also find an impressive collection of coordinates like maxi and midi dresses or hip jackets like the $400 Capulete Neo-Tux sweatjacket.
Yes, the company that once dared women to show off their bra straps in public is now doing the same with gym clothes.
VPL‘s makeover has been the subject of considerable buzz in NYC fashion circles since last September, when the company staged its Fashion Week runway show in the New School gym in Chelsea, with models cavorting on gymnastic rings and parallel bars. (Coincidentally, a week later Stella McCartney — who may be VPL‘s closest peer in this emerging market — held her London Fashion Week show in a gym and swimming pool to show off her latest collaboration with adidas.)
VPL‘s sudden change in direction was ecstatically received — Fashionista said the Spring 2014 line “might just be the answer to our prayers” — but longtime fans will likely see it as a logical transformation, more evolutionary than revolutionary. It might also have been necessary to keep the brand relevant.
Founder Victoria Bartlett launched VPL (which stands for “visible panty line”) in 2003 with the idea of creating fashion-centric, functional underwear that would help women shed their inhibitions about undergarments and, ultimately, show them off with pride. VPL‘s bold designs helped usher in the underwear-as-outerwear movement that saw women everywhere teasing onlookers with fashionable flashes of bra straps and other undies once intended for private viewing only.
In recent years, though, the market caught up with VPL and the trendsetting brand found itself smack in the middle of a style revolution that it helped create. Their signature looks — wide elastic bands and geometric color-blocked patterns — were widely imitated, often in cheap knockoffs aimed at young urbanites. VPL stayed ahead of the pack by plunging into the womenswear mainstream and applying its aesthetic to new categories: stylish knitwear, dresses, jewelry, bags and even shoes.
But one thing stayed the same: VPL‘s sporty aesthetic always looked a bit like futuristic gym outfits.
Flash forward to 2014 and that future has arrived (after being hinted at in the 2013 spring line, which VPL called ‘Game Changer’.)
What made VPL‘s new focus possible was the ongoing revolution in technical fabrics that is transforming the underwear, swimwear and activewear markets. VPL has always been an eager innovator in working with elastane, but today’s breathable, wicking and odor-repelling fabrications introduced a broad new set of possibilities.
Its spring collection, which offers innovative new looks in running shorts, leggings, tanks and sports bras, blends technical and ecological materials in some surprising ways. There’s a lot of cotton spandex and cotton modal, along with fabric formulations that provide UV protection and even seaweed-infused knits that release vitamins that nourish the skin.
“I feel as though today’s VPL is transforming its already fashion athletic look, and boosting it into a wear that is technical conscious and functional,” Bartlett says on her website. The company, which previously has collaborated with ballet companies, consulted with sports experts in yoga, spin, Pilates and barre in developing its new line of hybrid separates “for before, during, and after your workout.”
Last month, VPL offered a variation on its runway shows by presenting its Fall 2014 collection, called Pro Action, in an 11-minute video (above) of athletic performers modeling VPL while doing yoga, skateboarding, running, cycling and other sports.
The fall RTW collection, which is not yet available, takes the “fashion active” concept to a new level with a range of bulky-but-design-conscious wraps, coverups and what we used to call track suits, alongside an expanded range of activewear separates.
VPL‘s reinvented self is probably not as far ahead of the sportswear market as the company’s original designs were when it entered the lingerie field more than a decade ago. But in its proactive determination to expand the boundaries of contemporary women’s fashion, VPL has revealed another key facet of its corporate identity: like the women it serves, this is a brand that is never, ever satisfied standing still.
You can learn more about the fall Pro Action line at a special website here. VPL’s spring line is now on sale at its webshop and its New York boutique.
VPL SPRING 2014
VPL F/W 2014, ‘PRO ACTIVE’
There’s a whole lot of change happening at VPL, which is surprising given that the New York brand has such a distinctive signature it could coast on its catalogue styles for years to come.
Instead, designer Victoria Bartlett continues to explore new frontiers like someone seeking the perfect fusion of art and fashion. It’s as though she’s not content with her legacy as the person who more or less invented the lingerie-as-outerwear look and is aiming for greater glory — like redefining how casual womenswear is meant to work.
Here’s an example, from VPL’s pre-fall 2013 collection: a defiant inner-outerwear look that almost dares women to express that inner bravery we keep hearing about. It’s smart, comfortable, contemporary and can be worn a dozen different ways.
Meanwhile, the Spring 2013 collection from VPL illustrates how rapidly, and how deliberately, the brand is evolving. It’s a big collection of RTW and underwear pieces, all meant to work together.
Lingerie is still at the heart of VPL’s DNA, but it’s morphed into an unimaginable variety of fashionable streetwear pieces that sometimes look like athletic wear, cosy sleepwear, and semi-formal evening wear all rolled into one. Those familiar color-blocked juxtapositions and broad straps are everywhere, but it’s getting hard to tell where the “inner” ends and the “outer” begins in Bartlett’s utilitarian vision.
But the BIG news in the current VPL season isn’t so much its fashion pieces as what goes with them. As befits any legitimate lifestyle brand, VPL has been expanding its accessories line in recent years and this season it’s got a couple of can’t-miss items that you’ll be seeing everywhere.
VPL teamed up with the trendy (and expensive) Brooklyn handbag label Fleabags to create two original pieces (above) to match its spring fashion line. The first is the Envelope Clutch, a leather and canvas piece with magnetic snaps and that bold elastic wrist strap. A bit pricey at $315, but where else are you going to keep your iPad at your next gallery opening or Lincoln Center event?
For bigger excursions — like a trip to the beach, or laundry day — VPL and Fleabags offer a big canvas and leather backpack that’s roomy enough for your yoga or gym gear … and just about everything else. It’s offered in several color combinations for $285, and will be available on March 1.
It’s not the first time that VPL has sought out collaborators that share both its fashion and eco-conscious values, and which allow the company to create a top-to-toe urban aesthetic. They’ve added distinctive jewelry from both Orly Genger and Brooklyn’s Kria, high-fashion footwear from LD Tuttle, and even some Obsessive Compulsive nail polish that matches VPL’s distinctive earthy palette.
In spite of all this, we’re sorry to report that the single coolest accessory to hit the New York runway in the past year is NOT part of VPL’s new season.
I’m talking about the elastic bungee-strap headbands in the images below, and which first appeared last fall on the models in VPL’s fashion week show. The futuristic helmets add a kind of crash-test-dummy vibe to VPL’s overall look but, alas, they were made just for the show and not intended for the market. (VPL says they will provide quotes for custom orders if anyone is interested.)
Here are some more looks from VPL’s spring collection. Look closely and you’ll spot the undergarments in each of these looks, though it’s often well hidden!
If you’re one of those people who has so far resisted the allure of trend-leading underwear label VPL, prepare to surrender.
The New York-based creator of those sporty color-blocked designs with the uber-cool wide elastic straps takes a slight detour this fall with a diffusion line aimed at expanding its audience.
The new set, called UV_UnderVisibles, is an exclusive collaboration with Anthropologie as part of the retailer’s “Made In Kind” designer series, and it’s only available through Anthro’s webshop.
UV is a gentler, somewhat understated collection by VPL standards, but that’s the point. It targets a younger customer who is more interested in comfortable, individual style choices than in recognizable brand signatures.
To achieve that, VPL design whiz Victoria Bartlett delivers her first collection of unique prints (above), based on a kind of random splatter pattern printed in subtle earth tones on soft stretch cotton.
There’s a reason VPL hasn’t done prints in its main collection — the print competes with the bold angular lines created by the straps and tends to dampen the powerful visual impact that you get from VPL’s color-blocked styles, which often stand on their own as pop-art fashion masterpieces.
The UnderVisibles collection is more versatile, and more conventionally pretty, although Bartlett stays true to her brand’s DNA by incorporating those familiar elastane straps and grosgrain bands in each piece.
The result is something like a VPL starter kit that will introduce a new generation to this brand’s bold styling and its uncompromising underwear-everywhere aesthetic. Here’s a few more examples from the Anthropologie collabo:
VPL is one of those rare lingerie labels that is constantly evolving and expanding its offerings, while staying true to a core vision. It hasn’t been “just” a lingerie label for a long time, producing several RTW fashion collections each year that are rooted in the geometric patterning and impeccable colorways that are the hallmarks of its underwear.
And, as the images below from VPL’s main A/W 2012 collection Manipulate show, its knitwear and other RTW fashions are not just stunning on their own, they are also designed to complement the company’s undies to create a unified overall look.
VPL also offers an eclectic mix of accessories, leather goods (including boots) and memorable jewelry items like the wicked Aurora rope necklaces from Orly Genger by Jaclyn Mayer.
The result is an entire wardrobe of compatible pieces. And the images below aren’t an optical illusion: you can find all of these items (leggings, boots, sweaters, bras, dresses and more) in VPL’s online shop or its amazing store on Mercer Street in NYC.