Silk Couture: An Ode To Pillowbook Lingerie
It’s strange to think that despite writing dozens of lingerie reviews for The Lingerie Addict in over a decade, I somehow completely managed to neglect writing about Pillowbook Lingerie, one of my all time favourite lingerie brands. This label is an encapsulation of everything that I love about lingerie: beautiful designs that are an absolute joy to wear, and a celebration of true couture craft.
Pillowbook Lingerie was founded in 2012 by Irene Lu, a graduate of the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. Initially based in Beijing, the label ran a small atelier with skilled couturiers, who hand made each garment with incredible skill and attention to detail. Each couturier would add their signature to the finished garment labels. In a world overwhelmingly focused on fast fashion and anonymous manufacturing, I found this a wonderful touch that helps to celebrate skilled garment makers.
In 2019, Irene relocated to Paris, and now hand makes all orders by herself. It’s most certainly a luxury label, with the prices at the higher end of the lingerie market. However, I firmly believe that compared to other luxury brands, Pillowbook’s designs are bargains in comparison. The quality and craft far exceed most other similarly priced designers.
The brand’s initial focus was on smaller bust bralets and a modernized interpretation of the dudou, a traditional Chinese lingerie style. I would be remiss to not note the significance of offering the dudou in the product ranges, particularly in the face of the overtly racist fashion industry.
Irene has discussed the hostility she faced from industry professionals about this design on social media. And it’s a fact that most lingerie schools won’t even mention non-Western garments in modules on the history of underwear.
It’s also difficult to forget how a few years ago, a large French lingerie corporation released a dudou but chose to name it a ‘camisole’, completely whitewashing and erasing the cultural significance of the garment. Irene continues to include a dudou in each of her collections: a celebration of heritage, rather than treating this style as a trend.
I received my first Pillowbook set as a gift in 2015, and it was love at first sight. My adoration of the designs quickly grew, and I have since amassed a substantial collection of exquisite silken creations. This article is going to be part review, part love letter, and part celebration.
The 'Shhh...' collection is characterized by graphic silk appliqué and architectural cut-outs. Each piece is individually handcrafted, and silk linings and exquisite hand finishes are bountiful. As each piece is made to order, they are all fully customizable with your colour choices, if ivory and soft grey aren’t your cup of tea. Although the standard size range only covers sizes XS-XL, the brand does offer custom fitting at no extra charge.
My first Pillowbook pieces were from this collection, and it sparked an addiction. I now own almost every piece from the range, including custom colourway pieces that formed the basis of my bridal trousseau.
Every 'Shhh...' item is exquisitely made. Many pieces are fully silk lined with 'bagged out' construction, so all seams are enclosed inside the garment. Each garment contains skilful hand stitching, for a near invisible finish. This level of attention to detail requires incredible skill and time to accomplish, and are signs of true luxury. Seriously; the bralets are basically reversible, with an interior almost as beautiful as the exterior.
The silk appliqué detailing requires admirable precision to execute so beautifully. Each strip has to be cut from silk, stitched into a tube, turned inside out, ironed flat, hand stitched to the garment surface, top stitched with a sewing machine, and finally, the hand stitched basting threads removed.
This type of embellishment requires an immense amount of patience, skill, and accuracy to execute. Perhaps most importantly, wearing these pieces is an incredible experience because they’re that comfortable. The feeling of silk satin directly against the skin is incomparable.
'Empress Noir' Collection
Dramatic floral embroidery, black silk and contrasting red trims...the 'Empress Noir' collection makes my goth heart sing. I adore the silhouettes, with their high necks and sensual cutouts. This is lingerie that is begging to be seen, and I adore wearing these pieces so that they’re peeking out of my outerwear necklines.
As you’d expect, each item immaculately constructed, with the most exquisite details: the teeniest tiniest rouleau straps (tiny tubes of fabrics with the fabric's raw edge hidden inside), and exquisite silk Chinese knots.
These straps and knots are both made from tiny tubes of silk, which have to be carefully stitched and turned inside out. These are signs of true couture. The straps that close the Empress Noir dudou are a miniscule 1.5mm (approximately 0.06") in width.
I know I keep labouring this point, but it really, truly blows my mind how much skill and patience is required to make these beautiful designs. I mean, can you imagine turning a tiny 1.5mm finished tube of fabric inside out, in one of the most finicky textiles that you could possibly use?
I don’t own any pieces from this range. (Sadly for me, they are out of my lingerie budget, but I have no doubt they're worth every last cent of the price tag.) However, they are very much on my dream fantasy lingerie list. The range also encapsulates my favourite elements of the brand’s philosophy: utterly exquisite couture construction, historical inspiration, and the minimizing of waste.
In an industry that’s utterly plagued by overproduction and fabric waste, Pillowbook takes a different approach. Each garment is made to order, and every single last silk offcut is upcycled. That could mean a storage bag for your lingerie order, or an eye mask stuffed with the tiniest shreds of silk. The Harmony range is made entirely with ‘waste’ silk from past creations, and that means that each garment is utterly unique.
Irene carefully cuts and tessellates the tiniest individual pieces of silk to create patchwork masterpieces. Each single panel has to be stitched to the next, pressed open, decoratively topstitched...and then repeating the exact same process over and over again. Closures are formed with silk loops and exquisite Chinese knot buttons. This work requires a phenomenal amount of patience and skill. The dudou in this range takes an average of 10 hours for a couturier to create.
I am particularly enamoured with the reinterpretation of the ‘Kestos’ style bra, a classic silhouette from the 1920s that has gone on to inspire countless lingerie designers. Pillowbook’s rendition is quite possibly my favourite that I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most complex, incorporating a mind blowing 71 individual silk panels.
The 'Sirens' collection hasn’t yet been officially released, and seems to exist in that space of ‘lingerie as art’ rather than ‘lingerie as a commercial product.' The wave design on the Sirens is created through the intricate silk appliqué with decorative metallic top stitching. It requires incredible accuracy, patience, and skill to execute.
'Sirens' is stunningly beautiful collection, and it is such a testament to craft and slow fashion to even consider this kind of embellishment work. I’ve only seen snippets of the range shared on social media. Even if it is never released, my heart is happy just that it exists. I firmly believe that lingerie can be a medium for art, and I am so happy that designers like Irene Lu are creating pieces like this.
Pillowbook is not currently accepting new orders. As a one person brand, it is unsurprising that Irene Lu has limited manufacturing capacity. I highly recommend keeping an eye on the website for the store’s eventual reopening, exploring the lookbooks just for eye candy, or perusing the sample sale here.
It is not hyperbole to state that Pillowbook is truly one of the most impressive couture lingerie brands on the market. I am in perpetual awe of both the beauty of Irene's designs, and the utterly exquisite craftsmanship. If you ever get the chance to see one of these garments in the flesh, I am sure that you will understand why I feel this way.