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In underwear, back to basics is always good

Arts Editor Francesca Shawn reflects upon La Perla 2014

In fashion, what goes around comes around. There are only so many (for which read ‘few’) limbs and body parts, so many colours and so many looks that work. But there are so many talented people, so many new graduates students, so many collections to see, so many dresses, so much money and so many people’s livings to be had that constant change is de rigeur.

In the late 90s, when my girlfriends and I were in our mid-thirties and seeking – with various degrees of success – to juggle the demands of young families and burgeoning careers, La Perla was an essential part of life as bumper boxes of nappies and holidays in the Maldives.

At that time, it wasn’t just the lingerie and swimwear, of course. After the company’s rapid expansion from Milan into Paris and all points west, and Ada Masotti’s diversion into both day and evening wear and then perfume, the brand was about as current cool as you could get on the British high street. Whilst we journos were travelling the international circuit and covering the latest collections of British leading edge designers such as Galliano, Chalayan, McQueen and Philo, back home in the chaos of domesticity we were meeting up for cherished girls’ shopping days on the outer reaches of the metropolis.

shoppingOn these, invariably, La Perla was a staple – and I don’t mean just as a fall-back. When it came to chic, not least LBDs [‘little black dresses’] and happy-hour frocks you were actually prepared to wear in Epsom, the Bologna-based fashion house was right up there. The classic simplicity of the bodice lines and signature-cut sleeves on the evening-wear were eternally figure-flattering, the accessories understated yet stylish and fresh.

And then, what it was all about for La Perla, came the underwear. Or as we in Fleet Street called it, the ‘marriage-saver’. Countless mistakes and embarrassments could be forgiven, relationships set back on track and vows renewed, by the judicious acquisition of £200’s worth of lacy bra & knicker sets on the way home after a stressful time in the office. Never mind gin, a pair of La Perla pants became a standard ‘mother’s little helper’. In those days, La Perla could do no wrong – as an entire rack in my walk-in dressing room at home still testifies.

It couldn’t last, of course. Things have to progress and – in so many walks of life – while evolution is fine, more often it is the sudden bolt of lightning that acts as a true game-changer. The Noughties were a period of slippage for La Perla. If you don’t keep moving, you find yourself standing still – and that’s what happened to the company, as the strains of world expansion – inevitably based upon new territories gradually ‘buying into’ what seemed to be current last year – became incompatible with your designer’s necessary attempts to push a series of new envelopes. The business imperatives diverged from the essence of design. Plus, of course, once everyone had La Perla section in their wardrobe, you felt you couldn’t wear it, for fear of meeting the exact same number at the cocktail reception or high-end small dinner party.

La Perla was then ‘out’, until things changed forever after 2011, with their sensational comeback at the spring Milan show. Sexy underwear was back, now probably to stay after the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.

They launched the La Perla spring/summer lingerie collection this week, with Cara Delevingne, Malgosia Bela and Liu Wen featuring and Fabien Baron as art director and Mart Alas and Marcus Piggot as photographers.

Does that stuff look good, or what? Well, of course it does … on clothes horses like that.

Will fifty-something like me be buying shedloads?

That’s a whole different question.





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About Francesca Shawn

A former arts editor of The Independent, over the years Francesca has written for an innumerable list of UK arts and dance magazines. More Posts