Lingerie School: What I’ve Learned About Luxury Lingerie

By: Karolina

Jean Paul Gaultier for La Perla, $605 at Net a Porter

The topic of whether or not luxury lingerie is worth the price tag is not exactly original.  Yet, as my first year of teaching at lingerie school draws to an end, it’s made me reconsider the relationships of value and quality.  More and more have I been disappointed with recent lingerie purchases – high-end lingerie where you’d expect a little something extra in exchange for the hefty price tag.

However, this is not to suggest that quality control in the luxury sector has magically disappeared. It’s simply that, having been introduced to the finer details of lingerie construction, I’ve begun to view my lingerie with a much more critical eye.

Images by La Perla

Recently, I considered myself one of the luckiest girls on the world when I got my hands on a piece from the stunning Gaultier for La Perla collection.  Having been a huge fan since the collaboration’s inception, there was a time where I would have offered to trade a limb for one of those bras. Imagine my excitement when ‘Createur’ balconette bra arrived.  Unfortunately, this excitement was not going to last.

Upon first trying it on, I was pleasantly surprised.  Although I’d bought the wrong size (I rarely come across my first choice of 30D), the fit was surprisingly good.  This surprise was dampened when I inspected the bra closer.

With my critical lingerie student’s eyes, I noticed some faults – the first being that the bra wire had been sewn onto the cup and not the cradle.  In our lessons, we have been routinely told that the purpose of the cradle is for a place to sew the bra wire onto.  The only exception to this is cradle-less bras, for obvious reasons.  I suppose you could argue that this is a design feature, though it’s one that’s left me quite confused!

Nevertheless, that’s not enough of a reason to get upset over the bra.  What did get me upset was the bra wire that they’d used.  Just by feeling it, you can tell that it is entirely too big for its case, with a lot of strain at either end.

When a bra is constructed, approximately 1cm of ‘wireplay’ (extra space) has to be left in each wire case.  This is due to the fact that the wire moves around when being worn.  By leaving extra space, the wire is less likely to wear a hole through the bra.  Designers must also take the washing of bras into consideration – when fabric comes into contact with water, it shrinks.  This puts extra pressure onto the wire, as its container becomes far more constricted.  Add to this the extra movement that washing a garment creates, and a too-big wire faces a greater risk of ripping through its case.

This sole detail is what left me so upset about this bra – with a retail price of £270, I am genuinely shocked about this lapse in good construction. Additionally, I am fully aware that most people would be unaware of this – and would be left thoroughly disappointed should they wear it more than a few times.

I haven’t been left entirely pessimistic and cynical though.  I still come across lingerie that routinely wows and impresses me.  I was recently lucky enough to snap up a Sian Hoffman panty-girdle in a sample sale.

This panty-girdle has immediately become one of the most prized pieces within my collection – even if it is a sample piece! Not only is the design absolutely stunning and original, but the fit and comfort are also wonderful.  It gives the cinch of a corset but with far less constriction (thank goodness for powernet!).

No doubt it’s an expensive lesson to learn for yourself, but price tags are not always reflective of a good piece of lingerie.  Regardless of how much you like the design, it’s important to consider whether you’re really willing to spend that much on a piece you’ll only be able to wear a couple of times. I have expensive bras that I’ve been wearing for near-on 4 years now that are still in good condition, whilst others that I’ve had to throw out after a couple of weeks.

Readers: what have your experiences been with price vs. quality when it comes to lingerie? Have you ever been particularly impressed or disappointed?

Karolina

Karolina

Contour Fashion graduate. Spends most of her time sewing bras and getting excited by shiny things.

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23 Comments

  1. 04/04/12 at 5:20

    Great article Karolina!

    I’ve had issues with the few pieces of expensive lingerie I’ve purchased, and also heard horror stories from others.

    I managed to grab a Roxy Tan bodysuit (http://guilty-pleasures.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Lascivious-Roxy-Tan-Black.jpg) in the sale at the beginning of the year, and was pretty disappointed with the fit. Being a size 8-10 I stupidly assumed that their sizing might make sense, and bought a small. When it arrived I was incredibly impressed with the fast postage, gorgeous packaging… but when I tried it on, the part where my boobs were meant to go came up to just above my waist. The fit was fine everywhere else, but the height of the garment was just far, far too short. I am fairly tall, but no way as tall as their models must have been.

    I sent them an email asking for an exchange, and got a lovely reply from Chloe – the founder. I do understand that the issue might have been that the original sample was fit on someone a lot shorter than I, or with a shorter torso, therefore their “standard” sizing is biased. In the end I got a medium, but it was still only about an inch or so bigger, and for S, M and L sizing, I expected more of a jump between the sizes. I’ve worn the bodysuit but I can’t say it is particularly comfortable – the straps dug into my shoulders and the boning was uncomfortable. I would have been distraught if I’d paid more than £100 for it.

    I’ve also heard people having issues with Bordelle, particularly the dresses, which I’m not surprised about.

    • 04/04/12 at 5:27

      Thanks Anna! It does seem a lot of the ‘luxury’ brands have some pretty bad sizing issues – particularly when it’s lingerie limited to S/M/L – there’s simply no way it’s going to fit more than a handful of women. At the same time though, I do understand how it’s not necessarily possible to have a bigger size range… I’m just going to carry on wishing my body was actually a standard dress size!

    • Jodi
      04/04/12 at 8:45

      Anna, I know exactly what you mean. I’m moderate height, but I have a long torso. Finding a bodysuit, teddy, or bathing suit is a real pain! Nothing is long enough! If I get a smaller size it doesn’t cover my bust, and a larger one hangs and flops. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    • Catherine
      04/04/12 at 12:16

      At the other end of the scale, I’m so short in the torso that I can’t wear Sian Hoffman’s things because the rigid waist band ends up compressing my bottom rib/s rather than my squishy waist :)

      The whole what-do-you-get-for-your-money thing is a bit vexed. I was amused by Black milk’s take on it:
      ” Fact #2: Pricing is not derived primarily from cost of materials

      Another obvious point right? Have you ever drunk bottled water? Do you think the price of that has ANYTHING to do with the material costs of the product itself? Of course not. Have you ever bought a goldfish? What is the material cost of a goldfish!? How about Coke? Do you really think you’re just paying for sugar and water?

      How about a Harry Potter book? What is the cost of paper and ink?

      How about a concert, where there is NO material transaction at all?

      Go to any restaurant in town – you can buy all the ingredients yourself and cook them for a fraction of the price. So why do you pay so much in the restaurant? Becuase, as we all know, it’s not the ingredients that you are paying for!”

      http://blog.blackmilkclothing.com/toomanytights/2012/03/my-black-milkshake-brings-all-the-girls-to-the-yard.html

      Then again I’ve been larger than most super high end brands go up to for the last year or so so I it’s not like I ever try any of this stuff anyways :)

      • 04/04/12 at 13:56

        I understand how pricing often has nothing to do with materials – I find it more of an issue when they skimp on construction though! Those sorts of things aren’t necessarily that much more costly anyway!

  2. 04/04/12 at 12:19

    you just can’t compare a mass produced item with one made by the designer herself in my opinion! :)

    • 04/04/12 at 13:57

      Of course not! :) More people should be realising that ;)

  3. 04/04/12 at 12:27

    As a luxury lingerie designer myself, and a self taught one at that, I am continually surprised by the mediocre construction (and similarly mediocre fabric) of many high-end brands. I suppose if a customer didn’t know what constituted excellent construction they wouldn’t necessarily know the difference and are potentially buying for the “name”. But the name doesn’t really have any value if the piece doesn’t have enough longevity to justify it’s expense. With many luxury labels manufacturing in China, there just isn’t the same attention to craftsmanship as there used to be, back when pieces were meant to be treasured for many years.

    • 04/04/12 at 14:00

      I am often genuinely shocked by mediocre construction with high-end brands – though I also know that most of their customers wouldn’t have a clue over the quality of the garment. I often hear the argument that the target customers often don’t buy the garment for its longevity and that it’s a single-occasion sort of piece, which I think is quite sad – like you said, there isn’t the same attention to craftsmanship. I just don’t think it’s properly appreciated anymore!

      • 04/04/12 at 14:26

        Karolina, I don’t know if I agree that customers who have the disposable income to splurge on high-end lingerie on a regular basis necessarily believe that these items are disposable. They perhaps haven’t been exposed to comparable brands that do have a commitment to quality. I have customers that in the past have done their splurging at one of the high-end chains and have come to me for something custom, then recognize the difference in quality and become my ardent fans. I’m hoping with the resurgence of smaller luxury brands keeping their manufacturing local will help to introduce more “craft” into the market. I mean craft in an artisinal sense. Of course this does make the manufacturing costs higher, but nowhere near the price tag put on some of these large luxury labels that are produced in China. The customer is paying for the “prestige” associated with these large labels (and subsequently their advertising budgets), not necessarily for product.

        • 04/04/12 at 14:54

          Laurie – I do agree with you there. It’s an argument I often hear justifying low quality products but not one I agree with myself – I do think if more people were exposed to brands like yours then they’d be converts rather than sticking to big names that advertising has tricked them into patronising!

      • Catherine
        04/04/12 at 15:04

        Can we please stop peddling this notion that Chinese made goods are be definition lower quality and worse constructed? Its such arrant nonsense. The reason China is cheaper is because of variations in the global economy that make the cost of wages and the cost of materials there vastly reduced. The reason people manufacture there is because there’s a ton of factories with the skills!
        Stitcthing quality – you get what you pay for, sure take it to the cheapest factory and grind them down on price and don’t do your QA, you’ll get some badly made tat. Ditto fabrics and components.
        Patterns, fitting and construction? well, create a bad pattern, don’t spec it out properly, don’t check and double check and again, send it to the lowest cost factory and sure, you’ll get badly made tat again. Work with a good factory, do your own fittings, and made a detailed spec with all the right construction, and you’ll get a fabulous product. The skills are there – in fact arguably more so than in the UK, if only because most people’s performance leveles are based on practice, and the workers there are getting LOTS of that, whereas here in the UK, many factories are no longer training people and don’t have enough work to give people full time jobs, so you get people with outdated skills (the guys I work with are really struggling to learn how to make underwired padded bras over the last year, and have never done any swimwear over the level of triangle bikini’s), or who haven’t had enough practice.
        It’s an absolute fallacy to assume that because someone uses local labour or makes it themselves it will automatically be great quality. Take a brand new designer straight out of uni stitching their own stuff vs an establsihed factory overseas where workers have had a decade or more to establish their skills and are using the right machines and working with experienced technicians and believe me, you will vastly prefer the product from the latter. That’s not to say there aren’t highly skilled workers and designers who can make things beautifully, but it’s not a given at all.

        • 04/04/12 at 16:12

          Catherine, I absolutely agree that it is unfair to make gross generalizations as to quality. There are many designers, at all price points, that are creating quality product out of China. I also agree that is challenging to find skilled local labor. In the interest of the article, is a luxury bra (whether it is made out of China or out of the US or UK) worth the price tag? Are customers educated as to what good “quality” is (whether it be out of China or elsewhere)? This is the bigger issue. Perhaps it’s less about the product and more about how the consumer is shopping and what their expectations are.

          I am happy that there has been more of a dialog about trying to resuscitate the skills to manufacture locally. Especially since many customers are starting to move away from the disposable goods mentality and care more about “investing” in nice lingerie (whether this be at a lower or higher price point) which in turn has them caring more about “where” and “how” it’s made.

  4. 05/04/12 at 11:35

    Karolina, I just checked all of the wires in the La Perla’s in the boutique I work in. All of them are fairly tight in the casing, so it may be a la Perla thing. I am thinking that it may explain somewhat why the wires in La Perla bras always hurt me so much, as it is the only brand that ever do!

    • 05/04/12 at 16:39

      Hi Alicia – thank you for that comment! It may well be a ‘La Perla thing’ but I’m still quite surprised by it – it does severely reduce a bra’s lifespan!

  5. Marika
    06/04/12 at 10:02

    Thanks Karolina for a very informative article.

    As I have a large cup size and a fairly narrow wallet, I do not have much experience with really expensive designer lingerie. I have used for quite many years the high-end French brands and noticed that there has been a drop in quality for some of their products since they all moved their factories abroad.

    I don’t think the lower quality is due to the seamtresses’ ethnicity, but when companies try to save on costs, moving the factory is just one thing, they might also try to save on other things. For some of the bras the designs and the materials do not seem as good as they used to be.

    I am still wearing at home a Simone Perele bra that I got back in 2006, but of the newer ones, some do not make it past 6 months now.

    The style of bras produced may also make a difference. It seems that many bras for full-busted girls are now designed for silicone implants and to make the most of the cleavage, and do not provide the best support. Padded bras seem mostly of low quality, I never find any good ones.

    I would love to know if there are good designer bras for full-busted women…. as it is increasingly difficult to find good bras I have also been dreaming of having bras made to measure, but haven’t yet done anything about it. Well, I probably need to win the lotery first. :-)

    • 06/04/12 at 23:36

      Marika,

      At the top of the blog is a link for 10 recommended brands for full-busted women which is helpful. Also, one of The Lingerie Addict’s regular columnists is Holly from The Full Figured Chest. Her blog specifically covers full-bust topics. She often posts full-bust articles here on The Lingerie Addict, which will you definitely want to check out. Her blog may also be a good resource for you.

      Luckily there are more and more independent brands that are catering to full bust which is exciting. I’m sure with a little research (and some persistence) you’ll find something perfect!

      Good luck!

    • Lily
      23/06/12 at 9:33

      I’m glad someone brought up Simone Perele as I recently bought 2 of their bra’s for $90ea. This is a big spend for me… My bust is a size 34E/F, anyway… One of those bra’s only lasted 4 WASHES! (hand wash of course) I was so appalled I sent an email to Simone Perele expressing my severe disappointment.

      They never replied, what a surprise. I will never buy from them again.

      I also have memories of a Freya bikini I bought when I was 15, being a D cup back then… I’d only had it for about a month when the underwire came out of it…! Being 15, and the swimsuit set costing around $200 I wasn’t happy at all.

      So…. I’m finding it hard to be loyal to the whole “You get what you pay for” thing, which is what I was always brought up to believe – my grandmother is a bit of a fashionista but something tells me clothing in general was better constructed when she was my age

      • 24/06/12 at 16:36

        Oh my goodness…How interesting! I also own several Simone Perele sets (all from the Nina range), and I’ve never had this problem. It’s terrible that had a less than stellar experience. Would you mind sharing which range you purchased from? The more reviews, the better.

        • Lily
          21/07/12 at 8:06

          Hi Treacle :) love the website by the way :P

          Both bras were from the Andora line… The one that the underwire poked out of was a soft cup, the other was more of a mesh cup with fuller coverage.

          I’ve noticed that they’ve since made some tweaks to the design (at least the look anyway) so not sure what’s going on there… Either way, it would have been nice for them to reply to my email.

  6. Marika
    07/04/12 at 15:56

    Thanks Laurie, I will try to follow Holly’s posts as I have already gone through the 10 recommended brands and they do not really work for me.

    Just went today to the main lingerie shops here where I live and did not find any brands suitable for me, so I must buy on-line or travel abroad to buy lingerie.

    • 08/04/12 at 19:58

      Marika-
      What bra size are you, and what brands have you tried that haven’t worked for you? If you see this and let me know, I can give you some advice! I’m a big fan of shopping online for larger bust sizes, and there are some great but not so well known yet options out there (mostly from Poland). One is even pretty budget friendly!

      • Marika
        10/04/12 at 8:31

        Hi Holly! So nice of you to comment!!

        The probelm is my body shape, I am short with fairly narrow back and shoulders and short torso. Breasts are full and tight together, so I need more depth than width. American size about 32-34G-F.

        The style I look for is underwired classical cut full cup or plunge with deep but narrow cup, low and tight in the middle and with shoulder straps that are not wide set(!). So no balconettes, nothing padded. Smooth material, no itchy lace. And of course, nothing ugly :-)

        The bras that do not work are Aubade, Freya, Primadonna, Fantasie, Fauve, Chantelle, Curvy Kate Panache and Change and so on. The best brands used to be the French ones, such as Lejaby Elixir, Huit, Simone Perele, Lise Charmel, Antigel and Eprise.

        And I said “used to be” because when I was still E cup, it was easier to find stuff. Now good brands don’t make my current cup size or their F+ bras have the much too high and wide part between the cups. And it seems that all bras have now the wide set straps .

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