By Annie Arnone
T he elastic band of the control top thong reaches just above the navel. It’s black, with a small splash of colour — no frills, no lace. The underwear is not the average piece of lingerie, but it’s sexy and makes women feel good. It allows them to show off their curves with a simple piece of fabric. Four years of schooling led Allicia Martin to create this piece — designing with her insecurities in mind, she presented her lingerie collection to her professor at Ryerson for her final thesis and was told it was “unmarketable.”
Today, Martin is the owner of Dear Frankie, a lingerie and swimsuit store in Toronto. The control top thong is her best seller.
“The way I design isn’t necessarily meant for that ‘ideal body.’ It’s meant for the real woman,” Martin says. “I keep what I want in mind and I know that spans across all women.”
As clothing fads change over the years, so do lingerie styles. In the past century, underwear has shifted drastically in styles — ranging from corsets and girdles, to silk slips and thongs. Today, the lingerie industry celebrates every woman and shape, as opposed to the “ideal woman,” a change Martin embraces in her line.
“In the early 1900s there was a new look — the ideal body shape was a boyish figure, so the underwear changed to be very slinky and slippery so that clothes would just hang off the woman,” she explains. “Fast forward another 30 years and it was a more curvaceous silhouette, so corsets came back in. The ‘70s were more relaxed, then you get into the ‘80s with Cher and Madonna and you see corsets again.”
According to Martin, lingerie has become more utilitarian in the past few years, serving the purpose of both looking sexy and being used for everyday wear. “Before you’d see this ebb and flow of changes in underwear according to the ideal silhouette, but now we see a combination of styles dating back from the ‘50s to present day.”
A nd yet structured pieces such as corsets are being phased out and overshadowed by free-flowing, loose pieces, according to Leah Fauvelle, a third-year Ryerson fashion student. “I think the idea of embracing natural curves is one of the most amazing movements that society and trends have come up with,” she says.
While Fauvelle agrees that corsets still have a niche market for some women, the limitations they put on the body can be extreme.
“Personally, I see them as too restrictive and decreasing the physical and social mobility of women, which can restrict the role women play in a male-dominated society,” Fauvelle says. “You don’t have to be stuck to this one ideal, which is kind of cool. Your underwear can speak to your outward daywear aesthetic, which hasn’t always been the case.”
Fourth-year design student Haneen Abu-Hijleh is designing a lingerie collection for Ryerson’s Mass Exodus show this April. Her line is inspired by the desert, consisting of only leather mesh fabric.
“Most of my bras are without an underwire,” she explains. “I prefer this style because you get a more natural body shape [and] it’s comfortable.”
A nn Sulky is known as the “bra specialist” at Ryerson. She is a fashion and design professor, specifically teaching the “contours” class — a class devoted to lingerie and body-fitting wear.
“In my other vocation, I’ve been in the bra industry for over 30 years,” she says.
She mentions that five to 10 years ago, padding and structure were all there was in the lingerie industry. Due to limitations on sizing, Sulky explains that plus-sized women found it difficult to find lingerie they felt beautiful in.
“I think women’s identity, the way they look at themselves, has changed,” she adds.
“I see young women especially that want to have something that’s pretty and beautiful, but you still want it to be supportive. No matter what size and shape you are, I think the best grace is that it’s available.”
“There’s nothing more beautiful than a woman’s confidence. Whatever is going to give her that confidence is what she should go with, and if that’s her underwear then that’s worth it.”
C urled up beside Martin is her dog Frankie — her inspiration for her line’s name. She says that confidence in a woman is worth its weight in gold.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than a woman’s confidence. Whatever is going to give her that confidence is what she should go with, and if that’s her underwear then that’s worth it,” she says. “It’s always what’s inside that counts.”
Martin thinks back to her fourth-year thesis, noting that despite the program’s subjectivity, her professor’s criticism has only positively influenced her ability to move forward as a designer.
“It’s something that stuck with me, but it gave me the confidence that, ‘I know what I’m doing,’” she recalls. “I know [my underwear] will work for somebody.”