Karolina Laskowska: My Top 10 Favourite Lingerie Pieces
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My 10 Favourite Lingerie Pieces

This Carine Gilson silk and lace appliqué set is incredibly special and sentimental to me, but didn't quite make the cut for my top 10. Photography by K. Laskowska

This Carine Gilson silk and lace appliqué set is incredibly special and sentimental to me, but didn't quite make the cut for my top 10. Photography by K. Laskowska

I own a lot of lingerie. People have different words for what I do: collecting, curating, or straight up hoarding. Lingerie is my job, but it’s also kind of my life. It’s my passion and my hobby. I make it. I study it. I write about it. And, of course, I wear it.



My collection is probably nearing four figures of garments now. Each piece in my collection has a good reason for being there. Sentimental memories, exquisite craft, inspiring design, and fascinating history. These objects go far beyond their basic function of clothing, and I treasure each piece.

A few years ago I wrote about my top six luxury designers for The Lingerie Addict. A few years later, I put together an updated top ten list for my Instagram account. Needless to say, this list has since changed. It’s constantly fluctuating and updating. When I initially agreed to write about my favourite ten pieces, I didn’t realise just how challenging that would really be. Pick any garment in my collection, and I will likely be able to write an essay about why that exact piece is so special.

I’ve spent the past few days trying to narrow down this list. These are the things that matter most to me personally. The majority are tied up with sentimentality. They are linked to pivotal moments of my life, and often sources of great inspiration. I have no doubt that this list too will shift over the years, but right now…these are the pieces that matter most.

1. ‘Alondra’ Padded Balconette Bra by Rigby & Peller

'Alondra' padded balconette bra by Rigby & Peller. Despite regular wear for over a decade, this bra is in remarkably good shape! Photography by K. Laskowska

'Alondra' padded balconette bra by Rigby & Peller. Despite regular wear for over a decade, this bra is in remarkably good shape!
Photography by K. Laskowska

When I was 16, my mum decided I needed a proper bra fitting, and this entailed a visit to the former British queen’s bra maker of choice, Rigby & Peller.

The Rigby & Peller brand has changed a lot in the last 12 years (losing the Royal warrant, being sold to Van De Velde, aggressively pursuing international expansion, dropping their own branded product range, etc.). At the time, the boutique was renowned for the stringent fitting training that staff went through. They didn’t use measuring tapes. Instead, they approached each fitting by asking you to try on bras regardless of size labels, until you found a style that you were actually comfortable in.

I went into my fitting with a sense of trepidation. My only fitting to date had taken place on the Marks & Spencer’s shop floor, where a sales associate wrapped a measuring tape around me and declared me a 36AA. My underbust measured 26” at the time, and, needless to say, the bras I was sold were so uncomfortable I never wore them.

Rigby & Peller offered a totally different experience. My comfort was paramount, and the pieces I was brought to try on were both beautiful objects and made me feel beautiful. It was a clichéd but life-changing moment which completely changed my approach to underwear.

I left the store that day with two lightly padded ‘Alondra’ balconette bras. These were Rigby & Peller’s own brand. It’s much to my chagrin that the label was discontinued a few years later, as these bras continue to be incredibly comfortable and well-fitting years later. Although they’re starting to show their age, they’re so well made that they’re still relatively sturdy. Once these bras finally bite the dust, I’m going to be heartbroken.

2. Agent Provocateur ‘Kelly’ Set

'Kelly' lingerie set by Agent Provocateur. Photography by K. Laskowska

'Kelly' lingerie set by Agent Provocateur. Photography by K. Laskowska

The ‘Kelly’ set was the first matching luxury set that I bought for myself. I was 18 years old, and it took months of careful eBay scouring to score the matching quarter cup bra and thong (around 8 years later I managed to find the full cut brief to completely the set!). I still remember the delight at discovering that lingerie could be so…impractical, but also still feel decadent and luxurious.

I adored every detail of this set: the sumptuous silk ties, gold plated metalware, and intricate corded lace. It was around the time of this purchase that I discovered the possibility of lingerie design as a career. Suffice to say, this set played a part in nudging me towards that decision. Agent Provocateur as a brand today leaves me feeling deeply conflicted, but their earlier days will always hold a special place in my heart.

3. ‘Feuillage’ Cone Bra and Briefs by Jean Paul Gaultier for La Perla

'Feuillage' cone bra and knickers by Jean Paul Gaultier for La Perla. Photography by K. Laskowska

'Feuillage' cone bra and knickers by Jean Paul Gaultier for La Perla. Photography by K. Laskowska

My adoration of the Jean Paul Gaultier and La Perla collection is well documented at this stage. I even wrote an entire article about it for TLA last year. The collaboration was immensely inspiring and aspirational when I was a student, and continues to take my breath away nearly a decade later.

The ‘Feuillage’ cone bra set is perhaps the most awe-inspiring set from the range. There’s something about the utter impracticality combined with the blatant tribute to 1950s couture lingerie, the exquisite craftsmanship, and the beautiful details. It’s not an easy set to actually wear, but that doesn’t matter.

4. ‘Moth’ Bespoke Corset by Sparklewren

'Moth' corset by Sparklewren. Photography by Tigz Rice for The Underpinnings Museum.

'Moth' corset by Sparklewren. Photography by Tigz Rice for The Underpinnings Museum.

In my student days, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren corsetry. I interned with her on several occasions and learned so much about the craft behind couture corsetry. I didn’t just learn how to apply that craft to my own work, but also how to properly appreciate the work of others.

At the time I thought that a Sparklewren corset of my own was a distant dream, until I was lucky enough to win a bespoke piece through a contest.  The experience of having a piece of bespoke couture, perfectly fitted to me and designed to my aesthetics, was incredibly formative, and the start of a dangerous corset addiction.

5. ‘Shh…’ Collection by Pillowbook

'Shhh...' capelet, bralet and half slip by Pillowbook. Photography by K. Laskowska

'Shhh...' capelet, bralet and half slip by Pillowbook. Photography by K. Laskowska

I received my first pieces from the ‘Shh…’ collection as part of a gift exchange with other lingerie designers, and it was love at first sight. Such was the love that I then went on to invest in almost the entire garment range, even selecting a customized set for my personal bridal trousseau. They’re my favourite pieces for both everyday luxury wear (they’re that comfortable), and for special occasions.

I wore the half slip for every single one of my wedding outfits (yes, I’m so extra that I had three gowns). They’re beautifully made, beautifully designed, and beautiful to wear. I cannot fault how they’re made, and each piece is fully lined in silk and hand finished so the interior is as beautiful as the exterior.

6. A Self-Made Corset

Silk ribbon embroidered lace and tulle corset by Karolina Laskowska

Silk ribbon embroidered lace and tulle corset by Karolina Laskowska

I was of two minds over whether to include something I had actually made on this list. I’m sure many fellow creatives empathise with the feeling of no longer being interested in something you’ve made once it’s finished. It’s just done, and time to move onto the next thing.

This corset is one of the few pieces that I’ve made where I don’t have that feeling about it. I honestly continue to feel satisfied and proud of it. Although it’s not the most technically perfect thing I’ve made, I adore the design. I wore this corset for my wedding reception, and so it will always carry treasured memories from that day.

The cotton bobbinet base is overlaid with fine French lace with freehand ribbon embroidery. I took my inspiration from luscious 1920s embellishment, in particular the design house of Boué Soeurs, who alongside their exquisite court gowns, were renowned for decadent lingerie that incorporated the same couture techniques.

7. ‘Trinity’ Corset by Pop Antique, Vanyanís and Sparklewren

'Trinity' corset by Pop Antique, Vanyanís and Sparklewren. Photography by Tigz Rice for The Underpinnings Museum

'Trinity' corset by Pop Antique, Vanyanís and Sparklewren. Photography by Tigz Rice for The Underpinnings Museum

One of the benefits of my career in lingerie has been the incredible friends I’ve made along the way. Many of my colleagues are incredible craftspeople, and also incredibly generous people. The community within this industry can be inspiring, supportive, and motivating.

Several years ago, Marianne Faulkner of Pop Antique corsetry asked me to contribute to her wedding corset. The garment was a collaboration between 6 different corsetieres, and resulted in a stunning and unique garment that managed to capture each designer’s aesthetic and personality. When I got engaged, I knew that I wanted something similar for my wedding, and it was with Marianne’s blessing that I gathered three of my talented corsetmaking friends together for my own bridal corset.

Marianne (of Pop Antique/Dark Garden, USA) drafted the corset pattern based on a bespoke piece that she’d made for me some years earlier. The base corset was then exquisitely stitched by Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanís  (Australia), before finally travelling to the UK to be embellished by Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren corsetry.

The piece is an exquisitely constructed piece of unique couture: tailor made and fitted to my individual body, hand finished with incredible consideration for every detail. It carries the sentimentality of my wedding day. But it also holds love for my spouse, the love from our nearest and dearest, and the care and attention my friends lavished on this garment. I felt like a queen on the day, and I very much hope that the future will bring me many more occasions to wear the ensemble.

8. c. 1900s Metal Brocade Corset

Metal & Silk Brocade Corset With Ribbonslot Lace Trim, c. 1900s. From The Underpinnings Museum collection, photography by Tigz Rice.

Metal & Silk Brocade Corset With Ribbonslot Lace Trim, c. 1900s. From The Underpinnings Museum collection, photography by Tigz Rice.

The 1900s are my absolute favourite decade of historical corsetry. I adore the dramatic ‘S Curve’ silhouette and the utter decadence of the luxury designs from this period. This particular corset, despite its heavily worn condition, is an absolute treasure. Photos don’t begin to do it justice.

The corset is made from a single layer of fine silk, and structured with baleen. It's effortlessly lightweight and flexible, yet still strong enough to achieve dramatic curves. The interior is faced with silk velvet, delightfully plush to the touch. The silk brocade fabric has genuine metal thread woven into it. The way that it reflects and sparkles in the light, even after over a century of tarnish, is magical. And this was a piece of underwear. It was not designed to be seen, and would have been incredibly expensive. Sometimes I like to dream about the extravagance of its original owner’s entire wardrobe.

The combination of industrialization and capitalism has irreparably damaged how society values clothing. That makes it challenging to process how truly precious and luxurious this garment would have been. This garment clearly belonged to an incredibly wealthy individual. Even they chose to wear this garment until the very fabric weave began to pull apart.

9. c. 1930s Hand-Stitched Embroidered ‘Kestos’ Style Bra and Tap Pants

Embroidered Silk Kestos Style Bra & Tap Pant Set, c. 1930s, from The Unerpinnings Museum collection. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Embroidered Silk Kestos Style Bra & Tap Pant Set, c. 1930s, from The Unerpinnings Museum collection. Photography by Tigz Rice.

This 1930s Kestos-style bra and tap pant set are almost impossibly luxe by contemporary standards. I’m left in awe of the craft and skill required to make it. Unlike lingerie available today, even on the luxury end of the market, this set is 100% hand sewn. Can you even fathom that?

I’ve made literally thousands of garments in my life, but the thought of sitting down with such fine and slippery silk satin and individually making each stitch by hand sends me into a cold sweat. So much of the lingerie of this era takes my breath away for that reason. It required the most phenomenal skill and patience. Few people today would be able to recreate this, and that loss of skills saddens me. Yet it also reminds me how lucky I am to have these pieces.

The ‘Kestos’ bra is one of the most iconic lingerie designs. It was first created and trademarked in the 1920s by designer Rosamond Klin for her brand Kestos. The shape is iconic. Its triangle cups and wraparound straps are continuously referenced by contemporary designers even to this day. I’m not ashamed to admit that I regularly feature these design details in my own work.

10. c. 1950s Cadolle Strapless Overwire Bra

Strapless Black Lace Structured Bra By Cadolle, c. 1950s, from The Underpinnings Museum collection. Photography by Tigz Rice

Strapless Black Lace Structured Bra By Cadolle, c. 1950s, from The Underpinnings Museum collection. Photography by Tigz Rice

Aside from this bra being a beautiful design in its own right, there are two main reasons why it finds itself in my top 10 lingerie possessions. The first is its incredible heritage. This bra was created by the ‘Cadolle’ brand, a label first founded by Hemine Cadolle in 1878. The brand continues to be run by the same family to this day, now in its fifth generation (and I was lucky enough to visit the boutique back in 2013!). That kind of heritage is incredibly rare in the the lingerie world, and is absolutely something to be celebrated.

This bra is also a couture encapsulation of everything that I love about 1950s lingerie design. It perfectly captures the explosion of technical prowess and design innovation within that decade. The 1950s saw the rationing of WWII lifted, and designers were free to use metal and nylon once again. The bras of the 1940s were simplistic out of material necessity. Underwires had been invented in the 1930s, but we didn’t see them popularized until the 50s for this reason.

This bra perfectly crafted, but also so unnecessarily complicated. It has underwires. Overwires. A wire separator. Overbust boning and nipple padding. It’s a perfect example of making something just because it can be done, and its existence brings me much joy. The craftsmanship is perfect, and to call the technician behind it skilled would be incredibly faint praise.

What makes the lingerie in your collection special to you? I would love to hear about your favourite pieces!


Karolina
Karolina Laskowska

Lingerie designer. Spends most of her time sewing bras and getting excited by chantilly lace.

Comment on this post

  1. Margo Val says:

    Beautifully written article! It made me realize that the people from the past had incredible skills and we cannot even begin to comprehend this outstanding craftsmanship.
    That being said I liked your self-made corset the most! It is absolute joy to the eye! Breathtaking beauty!
    Thank you for sharing all of this with us!

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