So there was the famed lingerie company La Perla yesterday, on the catwalk at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, competing for eyeballs and press mentions with the likes of Dior and Valentino and Chanel and begging the obvious questions: What are you doing here? And, What took you so long to get here?
The occasion was the unveiling of La Perla‘s artistic Atelier Collection, an extraordinary and unlikely assembly of couture garments meant to elevate both the brand and the entire concept of high-end luxury lingerie.
It was noteworthy that the Italian luxury label unveiled its latest creations at Haute Couture FW rather than at the Salon Internationale intimates market underway across town, where lingerie buyers huddle every January and talk among themselves.
For La Perla, the Atelier show was a butterfly moment, a declaration to the fashion world that it has arrived at last, and that it belongs here. Move over Donatella, make some room Jean Paul.
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The past year and a half has been a time of profound transformation for La Perla following a corporate rescue by billionaire tech entrepreneur Silvio Scaglia and his Pacific Global Management. They invested heavily (a reported $130 million) to reposition La Perla as a global luxury superbrand, rather than merely the world’s most prestigious undies label.
Menswear designer Emiliano Rinaldi was brought in last year as creative director and La Perla began expanding its reach — this is the most ambitious lingerie brand in the world today — in multiple directions. A menswear collection, stylish and a bit eccentric, reached stores this month and a bespoke Made To Measure program for the uber-rich was rolled out last fall.
Retail spaces from New York to London to Paris were upgraded at the same time as the company began expanding its reach in export markets (notably China). There was also a synergistic bond with Elite Model Management (also controlled by Pacific Capital), which ensured La Perla‘s lavish creations would adorn the world’s leading supermodels, shot by celebrity photographers and gobbled up by a drooling fashion press.
But La Perla‘s Atelier presentation at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild wasn’t just about the brand’s rapidly unfolding future directions. This was also a debut 60 years in the making, and the brand’s heritage was given full and proper respect in Rinaldi’s bold, layered vision for the brand.
The 40-piece Atelier collection shows the collision of history and modernity in the new La Perla, with chic, fashion-forward Eurostyle bumping up against ornate classicism — often in the same ensemble. Traditional girdles were worn over sheer tulle bodysuits, and La Perla‘s familiar brocade embroidery and visible ribbing somehow complemented 21st Century pieces like neoprene shorts and designer hoodies. And the ne plus ultra in contemporary superluxe? Try silk satin basketball shorts (above) bearing a frastaglio lace appliqué … in real gold thread.
Yesterday’s presentation — with a show-ending flourish from a newly re-energized Naomi Campbell — also hinted at La Perla‘s new place in the luxury goods pantheon. And it needs to be said that the company isn’t as far ahead of the curve as it might have wished. Many of the ideas on display here have shown up, sporadically, in recent seasons from Versace, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexis Mabille, to name a few of the show’s obvious antecedents. Illustrious company indeed, but it’ll be a challenge to get ahead of that pack.
La Perla plans to roll out the Atelier line quickly, and there will be tremendous interest in seeing how it is received and how women choose to wear such ensembles. Rinaldi clearly aims to obliterate the style (and gender) limitations of the most private of garments, but it remains to be seen if this is just another expression of lingerie-as-outerwear, destined mainly for fearless style mavericks, or a true revolution in progress.
Whatever the case, one thing hasn’t changed about La Perla: it still sets the bar at a height that most of its competitors can only dream of reaching, leaving others far behind and gasping at the audacity of it all.