Disclosure: I received this lingerie free of charge for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
Ayten Gasson have been on my radar for several years now; I’ve always loved their classically pretty combinations of silk and lace and have worn more than my fair share of their lingerie to death. So when I was given the chance to review one of their Nina stretch silk bodysuits, I jumped at the chance.
One of the things that appeals to me most about Ayten Gasson is their dedication to British manufacturing – not just in the sense that all of their products are sewn there, but also in the sense that all of the laces used are genuine Nottingham leavers laces.
Lace is somewhat an obsession of mine and it strikes me as a true tragedy that the British lace industry has died out almost completely. Once Nottingham lace was seen as one of the finest laces available, produced on antique ‘Leavers’ machines. It’s an extremely fine and relatively expensive lace. As the demand for cheap materials and labour rose and clothing and lingerie brands moved their production to Asia, many lace manufacturers found themselves having to close their doors; the bulky leavers machines were either sold overseas or destroyed, for lack of funds to store them.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom – British lace still exists, manufactured by Cluny in Nottingham. It’s this lace that is used in Ayten Gasson’s designs, alongside vintage Nottingham laces. These laces are usually made of cotton and have a much kinder feel against the skin than the synthetics that you’d normally expect.
Lace reminiscence aside and onto the bodysuit, it’s as beautiful as you would expect from Ayten Gasson. The silk satin is a gorgeous soft peach colour and has a fair amount of stretch to it (which makes this bodysuit all the more flattering and comfortable!). The neckline and legs are trimmed in black leavers lace.
The back is finished in a delicate picot edge elastic, with black rouleax shoulder straps with gold adjusters. The bustline is softly gather in, with delicate pin stitch detail and a silk covered button at the centre front. Of course, one problem with bodysuits is that if you’re wearing them outside the boudoir, going to the toilet requires completely undressing. The ‘Nina’ addresses these practicalities of life though with delicate poppers! The bodysuit retails for £97 and is available in sizes small to large. It also comes in a blush pink colourway.
I was impressed with how well the bodysuit fit my body –my shape is not something that’s ever been particularly compatible with commercial clothing, given that there’s up to 2 sizes difference between my top half and bottom half and my torso is longer than average. I found that the size medium was the best fit for me (I normally wear a UK 12 on my bottom half and wear a 30D bra), with the silk stretching comfortably without looking unflattering. The ruched bust also works particularly well – offering gentle support for a range of bust sizes (with room for larger chests than mine too!). Ideally I’d prefer it to be a little more fitted around the waist, but otherwise it’s difficult to fault!
I love the easy fit of loungewear pieces like this bodysuit – it works great even with body shapes like mine that are a little awkward to fit elsewhere. I also love its versatility – it’s great to wear in the bedroom, to lounge in and to style as outerwear –that lace neckline is far too cute to hide.
Readers – have you tried Ayten Gasson’s designs before? Did you love them as much as I do?
‘Ela’ – one of the lingerie sets that my crowdfunding campaign made possible
Crowdfunding is an internet phenomenon that’s exploded in the past few years. Websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Sponsume offer people the chance to raise funds for their projects with the entire internet at their fingertips. It’s no surprise that it’s proven so popular – it means that businesses no longer have to rely on banks or investors to get their project off the ground. Instead they rely on their own fans, their friends and their family –people with a genuine vested interest in seeing the project succeed.
My campaign video – shot by Max Allen
The concept behind crowdfunding is that ‘rewards’ or ‘perks’ are offered in exchange for a pledge of funds. These can vary hugely in content and value, with many starting at £1 and others reaching dizzying heights over £10,000. Many lingerie brands choose to offer presales on their new collections, as well as exclusive items just for the campaign, from pieces of lingerie to prints of illustrations. Depending on the website used, funders face one of two options: either they take the risk of reaching their target within a set time or receiving no money, or if they don’t reach their target the website takes a large cut of the funds raised.
More and more lingerie brands have started to use this method of funding to get their own collections off the ground. After seeing their success, this Summer I too decided to take the plunge and use Indiegogo to fund my new lingerie collection!
Designs from my first collection – their construction and materials mean they could be produced on a domestic sewing machine
When I started my lingerie brand, it was on a tiny scale that involved me buying materials in tiny quantities and manufacturing each garment by myself. I knew this would in no way be practical when I entered my final year of university –I came to the decision that it would be a risky but in the long term sensible business move to make the step into factory production. Of course, there were rather large obstacles in my way. As a student, I don’t qualify for most business start-up schemes, whilst no bank would so much as consider giving me a loan. Crowdfunding was literally my only option to make my lingerie dreams a reality.
As part of my new collection I sourced beautiful vintage kimono silks to upcycle
My previous collection was based entirely around elastic strapping frame pieces. I wanted to push myself as a designer and bring more lingerie-focused pieces into the collection –soft lace bras and knickers, open cup wired bras. I wanted to showcase my love of beautiful materials –I’d sourced some absolutely stunning French couture Chantilly and beaded laces, and my personal favourite: a hand-picked selection of vintage Japanese kimono silks. As well as a collection of lingerie sets that featured contemporary fabrics, I wanted to create a series of knickers that upcycled the kimono silks into pieces of wearable art.
Swing tags and labels: surprisingly more expensive than you’d anticipate.
The fact is, there’s simply no way I’d be able to produce such a collection by myself. No matter how much I scrimped and scraped my money, I wouldn’t be able to buy the materials, nor could I sew my designs to a professional standard on domestic machines. There are also so many costs that you wouldn’t normally consider; items such as custom woven labels and printed tags have to be purchased in bulk to be at all cost-effective. The same applies to fabrics and trims –nylon liners and elastic trims, stretch meshes and cotton gusseting. Everything adds up beyond what was initially imagined.
Exclusive rewards for my campaign: eyelash lace and silk lingerie sets and knickers – these were actually very fun to create!
Preparing and running the campaign was more hard work than I could have imagined – it’s not a case of simply uploading the required information and waiting for the timer to run its course. You have to create a personal video and plan out exactly where the money needs to go. You need to create exciting and desirable rewards for your funders. You have to promote your campaign – and in my opinion this was the most difficult part of the entire project. There’s a fine line between asking for help and annoying people – I fear I may have overstepped it a few times!
Knickers from my first factory delivery – opening the box was such an exciting experience!
My campaign was a success and I reached full funding within the deadline. It is truly an overwhelming experience when you achieve a goal like that – a combination of friends, family and total strangers believe in you enough and enjoy your work enough to help bring your project to life. I can also safely say that ripping open a box containing your first factory delivery is fantastically satisfying!
Whilst it was an overall positive experience, there are certain risks attached (not to mention the barrage of criticism I managed to attract!). You can’t go into a crowdfunding campaign thinking you’ll keep every penny for your project; a large portion of any money raised goes to pay the website’s fees and payment processing fees. I personally used quite a large portion of the money to pay for the fulfilment of my pledge rewards. It’s also very easy to get overly distracted with fulfilling the rewards –after all, you want to make your funders happy but there’s no point focusing on them alone and neglecting the original project!
How some of the criticisms made me feel… And yes I have a lot of hair!
Criticisms can also be harsh and demoralising. I struggled not to take to heart when I saw total strangers discussing my campaign on the internet and calling my new collection a whim and saying I should wait until I graduate before pursuing any sort of serious lingerie business. It’s important to remember that these are the sorts of things you’ll face whatever you do – it’s important not to trip at the first hurdle!
From the lookbook of my crowdfunded collection – ‘Ume’ knickers
The hard work all paid off though – the funds raised by the campaign (as well as a sizable chunk of my own savings!) paid for everything I needed to create my new collection – the beautiful fabrics, labels and tags, the flights to visit the factory, the production costs, the photoshoot. The new collection is beautiful and isn’t something I could have achieved on a similar scale by myself –I’m hoping it will pave the way for more beautiful lingerie in the future and for a successful brand that I can make a living from!
I haven’t been the only one to crowdfund my lingerie brand – here’s a few of the brands who successfully made their projects a reality or who are currently trying to!
Angela Friedman used Kickstarter to fund her SS12 ‘Versailles’ collection- comprising of sumptuous corsetry and lingerie sets, using deliciously opulent silks, brocades and French laces. Her campaign paid for the fabric and production costs, photoshoot, promotional materials and a presentation of the new collection.
Lingerie brand Relique started out selling on Etsy – their success prompted them to use Kickstarter to fund a new collection to present at the Lingerie Journal’s ‘Designer Showcase’ at the Lingerie Collective in February 2013. As well as materials and production costs, the funds raised via crowdfunding helped cover their showcase entrance fee.
Luxury bespoke corsetiere Sparklewren used Sponsume to raise the funds for a pop-up corsetry boutique in Birmingham in the UK. Funds raised covered materials costs and furnished and decorated the shop. The project was so successful that the pop-up extended beyond its initial planned 6 months into well over a year!
Lingerie brand ‘Blackbird Underpinnings’ are seeking $37,000 to fund their ‘Maven’ collection. The brand takes its inspiration from the 1920s and 30s and the inspiring women from this era – Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich and Gabrielle Chanel. Their designs focus on soft pieces with luxurious fabrics, such as silk charmeuse bloomers and rompers.
Ampere are seeking $15000 to launch their second collection, with a focus on every day luxury. It comprises of silk t-shirt bras and matching co-ordinates. The brand focuses on creating lingerie in a wide range of sizes and on improving the overall lingerie shopping experience. Their campaign hasn’t finished yet but they have already gone over their funding goal!
Readers: How do you feel about lingerie brands crowdfunding their collections? Have you ever contributed to one of these campaigns?
Disclosure: The lingerie discussed here was sent to me free of charge for review purposes by Debenhams. All opinions are my own.
I normally stay away from plunge bras, as I usually prefer the shape that balconettes give my bust. However there was something about Gossard’s ‘Retrolution Staylo’ bra that intrigued me – I love the dramatic ‘V’ wire plunge, the longline shape and vintage aesthetic. It’s a delicate and feminine looking bra without being overly fussy or girly, and the deep plunge shape makes it a great solution for low front eveningwear. The Retrolution Staylo bra is available in UK sizes 30D-30G, 32A-38G and retails for £42. The range also features a shaping plunge slip, a waist-cincher knicker, low-rise brief and half cup bra. Unfortunately the bra is no longer available on the Debenham’s website but the similarly styled bra-slip is currently on sale.
The bra’s appearance has obvious vintage inspirations – soft blush pink colour palette, longline silhouette delicate darted lace cups and satin panelling. As well as the fairly standard underwires, it also features a V-shaped plunge wire. It’s finished with a soft organza bow at the centre front, ribbon flags at the strap apexes and gorgeous rose gold components.
As far as bra construction goes, I was very impressed with this bra –overall it seems very secure and well made. The cups include some very heavy padding, with additional removable cookies. It gives a very significant ‘boost’ – I felt as if I had gone up two cup sizes when wearing this! The underband elastic is comfortably wide and the top edge of the bra wings feature silicone grips for extra security.
I ordered a 30D (my usual bra size) and found that it fit true to size – the underband is comfortably firm and the cups overall offer a good fit. However, with my shallow breast shape I found I needed the additional push up cookies within the cups to completely fill out the bra, otherwise finding that the cups would gap away from my body. One aspect of the fit that I found particularly interesting was the ‘V’ wire – this ‘opens’ when worn, creating a plunge fit that is deeper and more dramatic than any other commercial bra that I’ve seen.
The bra held up immaculately after several hand washes, though I would recommend laying the bra flat to dry as the extra padding gets very heavy. I wouldn’t want to risk putting this through the washing machine, particularly with the additional wire structures!
Personally, I wouldn’t chose this bra for everyday wear (the push up and boost effects make my everyday clothes sit a little strangely!) but this is definitely a great bra for a night out, if you’re looking for a bit of extra boost and something to suit a low plunge top or dress. I’d love to try the matching waist-cincher brief next – solutions lingerie that actually looks gorgeous is a pretty rare find!
Readers: have you tried Gossard’s lingerie before? How were your experiences?
Moda is one of the UK’s biggest lingerie trade shows – I went along this August to see what’s coming soon in the exciting world of Indie lingerie. It was a little disconcerting to see so fewer indie brands exhibiting this season; luckily those that were had some thoroughly exciting lingerie to share!
Curvy Couture are a brand whose products left me seriously impressed (and a little sad that I don’t fit into their size range!). They specialise in plus size lingerie, with a size range of 36C to 44H for bras and 6-24 for knickers, retailing around £35-39 for bras and £15-22 for knickers. The attention to detail in their products is incredible: super-soft hooks and eyes made of microfiber, garment information being printed straight onto the garment instead of on scratchy labels and padded shoulder straps, to name just a few areas that caught my eye. All of the bras are molded cups and knickers are bonded, giving a seamless finish to all of the lingerie. I also loved their take on a strapless bra, with convertible strap options for virtually any occasion you could possibly think of!
Tutti Rouge’s ultra-girly take on full-busted lingerie is one that’s been met with considerable aplomb online, and having now seen the products in person, I can see why! This is lingerie to get excited about – gorgeous trims, fabrics and an utterly delectable macaroon-inspired colour palette. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the details, from the heart-shaped sliders to the branded hooks and eyes. SS14’s ‘French Bliss’ highlights include ‘Fifi’, a spot-mesh and lace balconette with matching mini brief and ‘Beatrice’, a satin padded plunge bra and short set with ribbon slot trims. Sizes range from 28-44 backs and D-J cups. Prices are £26 to £35 for bras and £9.50 to £17.50 for co-ordinates.
Raine & Bea are a new brand with distinct vintage inspirations: their debut collection ‘Master George’ features a romantic palette of cream, blush and eau de nil with gorgeous details such as quilting and Swarovski crystal embellishments. A lot of the designs are fantastically theatrical, with my particular favourite being the ostrich feather mini skirt – just made for strutting your stuff in the bedroom! All of Raine & Bea’s collections are designed and manufactured In the UK.
Ella and Me
UK lingerie fans are sure to be familiar with Mary Portas’ ‘Kinky Knickers’ television series and her commitment to manufacturing in Britain. Her factory of choice, ‘Headen & Quarmby’ are moving forwards from stretch lace knickers and are launching their own vintage-inspired lingerie/loungewear brand ‘Ella and Me’. Their designs are a contemporary and glamorous interpretation of 1930s styling, with lots of soft lounge-friendly pieces. Their online shop is due to go live at the end of September and I can’t wait to see what else they have to offer after these few tantalising sneak peeks!
‘Embrace’ offer comfort-focused basic lingerie, lounge and nightwear pieces with a focus on innovation. Many of the fabrics used are breathable and ideal for dance and sport, as well as being crease-free and quick-drying (perfect for travelling!). The design feature that appealed most to me though, was the fact that the bras and chemises had removable bra underwires – a feature I’d absolutely love on my everyday bras and nightwear. Plus, as I had demonstrated on the brand’s model, the fit barely changes with the wire removed! They also produce a range of ‘slimming’ lingerie that uses ‘microencapsulation technology’ (though I’m personally a little sceptical of clothing that supposedly does the hard work for you!). Sizes range from 30-40 B-D cups and S-XL, with bras costing around £75 and knickers £32-54.
Readers: have any of these brands caught your eye? Which of these innovative designs would you like in your lingerie wardrobe?
Disclosure: I received these products free of charge for review purposes from Freya. All opinions are my own.
The ‘Fever’ sweetheart bikini top and low-rise boyshort in magenta. Image by Freya.
Freya have always been a lingerie brand I’ve felt I could depend on; their bras are some of the few that are widely available in shops (my 30 back size used to make bra shopping a fantastically stressful experience!), the fit is consistently good and the designs are fun and flirty. So when I was offered a bikini to review, I jumped at the chance – after all, it was just in time to coincide with the British heat wave!
I was sent the ‘Fever’ sweetheart bikini bra in a 30D and matching low-rise boyshort in a medium in the magenta colourway. The bra retails for approximately £30 and the shorts for £18, with a variety of other shapes available in this style. Sizes range from 30D-36GG, 38D-G for the bra and XS to XL for the boyshort.
Boyshort details – contrast stitching, buttons and belt loops.
My first impressions were very favourable; the colour is deliciously bright without hurting your eyes. The collar detailing on the bra cup edges is unusually cute, with pretty contrast stitching and white decorative buttons on both the bra and short. Both the short and the bra are fully lined, with the bra featuring cut-sewn foam cups, underwires and side boning on the cradle seams. It is closed with a plastic bikini clasp.
I found that the bikini fits very true to size. The bra’s cups encased my breasts fully and the centre-front tacked to my body. The wires were a good and comfortable fit and the underband was sufficiently tight to stay in place but not dig in. The shorts were a similarly good fit, with no pinching elastics or baggy areas of fabric. Most importantly, this fit stays just as good when you actually swim and get the garments wet. I’ve consistently had problems with swimwear that looks good when dry but once in the pool gets fantastically baggy – it’s a relief to finally have swimwear that is both functional and looks good.
Overall I think this is a great bikini at a fantastic price point and great range of sizes, encompassing fit, fashion and function. I know that I’ll be going to Freya first the next time I have to buy swimwear!
Readers: have you tried Freya’s swimwear before? How were your experiences?
I’ve always found that there’s something totally irresistible about antique and vintage textiles. Be it printed silks or exquisite laces, fabrics from bygone eras seem to have so much more care put into them that modern equivalents seem to pale a little. Our modern culture of fast and disposable fashion has done away with the care and delicacy that was once so commonplace.
Victorian leavers lace
Britain used to be renowned for its exquisite leavers lace – a type of lace that is incomparably fine and made on unwieldy old-fashioned machines. However, when the fashion industry realized that countries like China were producing lace at a fraction of the cost, the demand disappeared. Slowly Britain’s lace faded into obscurity, the machines either being sold overseas or destroyed. There are but a handful of companies now that still manufacture leavers lace, but it is now sold at a premium as a totally luxury product.
We live in a peculiar culture now; fashions move ridiculously fast and there’s far too much focus on disposability. People are less likely to invest in a single piece and more likely to buy five cheap ones with the expectation to throw it out next season. Lingerie brands release seasonal collections, with limited edition colourways and prints. The biggest brands buy their fabrics in bulk and are inevitably faced with massive amounts left over – knowing they can’t use them again.
Fortunately, there are several lingerie brands who share these feelings. Whilst it’s incredibly unlikely that we’ll ever get the textile industry back as we once knew it, there’s several designers that are carrying on their legacies – whether it’s through using antique and vintage laces, giving vintage lingerie pieces a new lease of life or upcycling the seasonal leftover fabrics from bigger brands. It means the designs are both unique and green – using existing resources instead of making them from scratch. Here are a few of my favourites:
Dollhouse Bettie’s ‘Deja vu Dessous’ upcycles existing vintage lingerie pieces to create some truly stunning one of a kind pieces. I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with the Adella Victorian garter belt – the rosettes and the flossing are too stunning to resist and it pains me that it’s out of my lingerie budget!
I particularly love Morua Designs’ use of vintage and antique laces and trims – not only in corsetry, but in her delicate lace necklaces. Whilst the latter isn’t strictly lingerie it could be the perfect boudoir accessory!
Kiss Me Deadly regularly upcycle fabrics in their limited editions, with this season’s focus on gorgeous prints in longline girdles. I particularly love the ‘Paradise’ girdle which comes with its own set of paints for customization purposes.
Readers: what do you think of upcycling fabrics and vintage lingerie? Would you wear it?
I’m a strong believer that if you’re going to spend a lot of money on something, it should be spectacular, particularly when it comes to lingerie. I’m not the most practical of people, and aesthetics tend to override practicality in almost every area of life. If I’m going buy an expensive piece of lingerie, I want it to be something beautiful – especially if I’m ordering a custom or bespoke piece. It should be something unique and unusual that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.
Whilst some people turn to buying bespoke lingerie because they’re looking for someone to make existing ideas a reality or help them find a perfect fit (which is of course perfectly understandable and more than reasonable), there is another side to the coin that you should perhaps consider: giving the designer creative freedom.
If you’re buying from a particular designer, it may well be because you love their design style. To order something bespoke and then to either totally dictate the design yourself or go for something basic seems like a missed opportunity – bespoke is your chance to give a designer creative freedom and to create something absolutely exceptional, just for you.
The idea for this post stems from the fact that I was recently lucky enough to commission a corset from Sparklewren. I’ve owned quite a few corsets in my time, with several of those being custom orders. However, this was the first time I did not dictate what I wanted in my corset; previously I’d specified exactly which fabrics, trims and embellishments I wanted down to the very last detail. And whilst I was happy with the final garments, I was never totally bowled over by them: they were what I expected. Pretty, but not exceptional.
My experience with Sparklewren was totally different. Seeing Jenni’s work made it near impossible to decide what I wanted – each of her corsets is a work of art in its own right. How was I meant to choose between all the possibilities?
My final Sparklewren corset, as inspired by moth wings. Photography by Peter Laskowski
Well, the answer was I didn’t have to choose at all. I let my corset be Jenni’s vision, to create something that she could get excited about; and I’m incredibly glad that I did, because I couldn’t be happier with my final corset – it’s a true signature Sparklewren piece, and not something stemming from my own imagining. Whilst she checked in with me on each of her ideas for shaping, colours and embellishment, once she had my approval it was all her ideas. I’m in love with the final design, and it’s something I could never have conceived by myself.
This experience got me thinking – I definitely have plans to purchase more bespoke corsetry and lingerie in the future, and I don’t want it to be something I’ve partially designed myself. If you approach an independent designer to make you something extra special – consider letting them decide on the design for you. Sure, it might be a risk, but where’s the fun in knowing exactly what you’re going to get?
There’s some incredible independent brands out there that will make bespoke pieces at a range of price points – here’s just a few of my favourites: