Purchasing underwear is a personal process, and when seeking out the right pieces it’s often a brand’s imagery, as much as the designs themselves, that lure a shopper. This is true at least of four underwear brands we spotlight here: Araks, MARIEYAT, Land of Women and ELLISS. Some are emerging designers where others are established names, but each places importance on the photography and art direction that surrounds their bras, knickers and briefs. For such intimate apparel, these brands open up a conversation on quality, comfort, and diversity through their broad customer base and rich bank of inspiration.
“I wanted to make underwear for women that women feel beautiful in,” says Araks Yeramyan of the beginnings of her eponymous lingerie label, founded in 2000. “I’ve always loved cotton, and I felt that there was no cotton underwear that was pretty and felt modern and also that was a little bit sexier in a feminine way.” In the 16 years since its launch, Araks has become a known favourite when it comes to colourful, chic and comfortable lingerie; pieces that prove ageless and timeless additions to any wardrobe (traits that have carried over into the brand’s swimwear, too). Araks’ four annual collections act as fuel for the brand’s constant evolution – “it just grows and builds and I move with how life moves and how women are going,” says Yeramyan.
Lingerie on Film is a project Yeramyan and creative agent Tony Yumul began in 2011, when Yeramyan “wanted to take away the retouching and the lights and all the things that make something not real, and put it in the hands of my friends”. The concept is simple but incredibly effective: each person in a group of “different people in my life, people I admire, friends, people connected to the brand somehow” is given lingerie, a disposable camera and total freedom to shoot the pieces in whichever way they choose. Made into a beautiful publication – the term ‘lookbook’ just doesn’t seem to cut it here – each spread is then a different person’s take on Araks underwear. For some that means draping a bra and pair of knickers across the branches of a house plant, while others might float a matching set on the surface of a swimming pool. Past participants including Gia Coppola, Alexa Chung and Ana Kraš.
If one of your goals in life – sartorially or otherwise – is to feel a combination of “comfortable, sassy, and quiet”, eco-friendly underwear label ELLISS is placing that goal firmly within reach. “I want to design clothes that make you able to feel yourself,” says designer Elliss Solomon. ELLISS’ core ethos is ‘unconscious clothing’, which Solomon describes as “a play on the idea of the conscious consumer; the women who buy our clothes may not be looking for something eco-friendly, but choose to buy a piece because of the design – to unconsciously be conscious”. A fledgling brand launched in June of 2016, ELLISS is making waves with its organic, low carbon footprint policy and pieces featuring graphic prints or crisp block colours that are consistently elegant in an un-garish and digestible way. Of ELLISS’ most recent printed pieces, Solomon says “they were created from pieces of the body that aren’t overtly sexual, like the knees and feet. They were then placed to flatter but also jolt the female form.” She makes a valid point when detailing why she designs underwear using organic and recycled materials, too: “Underwear felt like a natural starting point for me, because while it’s sustainable to buy second hand clothes, no one really wants someone’s old knickers.”
“The collection is a comment on nudity and what sexualises the human body, specifically the female body,” Solomon continues. “I was really inspired by an early 20th century magazine called Le Nu Esthetique, which references nudity in mythology and vintage erotica.” This plays into the importance of timelessness to ELLISS, which Solomon says is something her stylist, Patricia Villirillo, is always conscious of. ELLISS’ imagery fits into that category. At its most recent presentation, where the featured images were taken, girls stood amongst sculptures by Anousha Payne, interacting with the undulating metal and wood forms to form a distinct dialogue between Solomon’s designs and the art world. The striking simplicity of the images is the exact source of their strength, and is something that ELLISS takes pride in – an option on its website allows you to sign up to emails from them with the promise of “news and beautiful imagery”.
For London-based, Hong Kong-born designer Marie Yat, making underwear was not the original plan. Yat studied womenswear at Central Saint Martins and found that “during that time I was always really interested in underwear because I find it quite difficult to find what I like in shops, and it’s always been a bit of a problem for me”. This interest was nothing to be surprised about, though, as Yat confesses she’s “really obsessed with collecting different types of lingerie”. It was the discovery of a factory in China that works in seamless cotton, coupled with the lingerie and swimwear pattern cutting short course Yat took in London, that led to Yat’s collection featuring “the same cotton jersey – very comfortable but with modern details”; such was the beginning of her eponymous label. Three collections later, it’s clear that Yat is more than deft when it comes to designing underwear that resonates with women.
Imagery has been of central importance to each of MARIEYAT’s three collections, and often assumes the role of cementing the link between the individual pieces and the inspirations behind them. Take, for example, the brand’s most recent collection, which was inspired by Japanese ama divers. “Ama divers do free-diving for pearls and seafood,” Yat explains. “We were trying to direct the girls to look like they are underwater, so that was how the set and the lighting came about. I wanted to bring something modern so we looked at indoor diving pools.” The lookbook for this third collection – which comprised of cotton separates in muted hues with quiet cut-outs, twists, braids and buckles reminiscent of what Ama divers might wear – was shot during its presentation, as women were bathed in an ethereal blue light evocative of chlorinated water and posed with snorkelling fins and goggles. It’s creating a narrative that Yat seems to strive for in her imagery, something that feeds into how she hopes women will perceive her products. These narratives often stem from aspects of Asian culture – be that Japanese ama divers or the Korean Muk-bang videos that informed MARIEYAT’s second collection. “I’m very interested in exploring women in these cultures in Asia. It could be ancient culture, it could be something modern,” she says, “I’m just really interested in bringing that to people – but obviously it’s my interpretation.”
Land of Women
“Our motto is ‘Lingerie for the Sport of Womanhood’,” says Mckenzie Raley of Land of Women, the brand she co-founded with Sarah Belz. “We want to create a space in the market that is approachable, inclusive and subtle. We’re not as interested in overly feminine pieces as we are in considered basics.” The label is based in New York and produces its delectably pared-back yet luxurious lingerie in the heart of the city; its inaugural six-piece collection launched in 2013, initially starting with the classic bra. The duo has tapped into what they describe as “a space for minimalism in the market” – for the woman who understands that ‘basic’ or ‘classic’ underwear need never equate to boring, and who is probably unwilling to compromise when it comes to quality and comfort. The brand uses Italian fabrics that are said to be “soft and sensuous against bare skin”, which is more than enough to convince us.
Raley and Belz are aware of the large part imagery plays when it comes to Land of Women. “Our quality and imagery drives our business in equal measure,” they explain. “We know exactly who our customer is and what she appreciates and we try to capture that in every photo shoot; the mood, the angle, the lighting.” Notable in the photography that forms part of Land of Women’s aesthetic is the soft, natural lighting and the often black-and-white palette, or quiet neutrals at its most colourful. “Though we do take inspiration from old editorials, we typically just go with the feeling on set. All of our imagery has a distinct mood and feeling,” says Raley, highlighting the emphasis that Land of Women places on women feeling utterly at ease in its designs. “It also helps that we’re an all-women company and always have a women-only set, so it feels safe and comfortable for everyone.”