2019 Salon International de la Lingerie & Interfilière – Letter from Paris

Photo above by Eurovet.

“Steeped in rich history and savoir-faire, the lingerie narrative has encountered difficulties adapting to women today. The result is a muddle of words and ideas that confuses and distracts us all — and, more important, alienates the consumer.”

With the slogan “Fall in Love with Yourself,” it seemed possible that the Salon International de la Lingerie & Interfilière, the annual trade fair held last month in Paris, was finally taking the lead and offering an environment for lingerie professionals to come together in a collective exchange for the well-being of women. What better opportunity to build relationships among brands, buyers, designers and suppliers to help the consumer feel essential and supported?

Photos by Kathryn Kemp-Griffin unless otherwise noted.

Alas, it’s complicated — that oft-cited status update on social media for when you’re not sure where a relationship is going, or if there is any relationship at all. “Complicated” applies here as well. The lingerie industry has had a complicated relationship with the consumer for decades, professing to have women’s best interests in mind while still controlling the narrative and dictating trends.

I’ve attended the Salon International de la lingerie for twenty-five years, participating on both sides of the aisle as an exhibitor, author, guest speaker, and as a reporter for The Lingerie Journal. I’ve noticed a lot of changes in twenty-five years:

  • Lines for the bathrooms and the concession lines are shorter. I once had to pick up my lunch by 10 a.m. before the throngs descended, but the throngs have thinned considerably.
  • Less music: Big brands used to compete against each other in decibels. Open concept booths, acrobatic stunts and showy fashion shows have given way to spaces designed to promote secrecy and keep people out rather than invite them in.
  • More choice: The list of lingerie categories has grown and it is no longer enough to differentiate between Lingerie du Jour (daywear) and Lingerie de Nuit (nightwear). Our bodies are further dissected now to make room for Plus Sizes, Shapewear, Specialized lingerie, Bodywear, Timeless, Teenager, Luxury, Fashion & Trendy, Sexy, Classic, Wedding, Fashion Loungewear, Low-price, Stocking and Tights, Accessories, and more.
  • “Sexy” is still omnipresent along with a collective assumption that the word means the same for all women.
  • More natural materials: More than a trend, brands and consumers are committed to sustainability and creating fashion that is respectful of the environment.
  • Fewer lingerie trade magazines: There used to be a dozen or more glossy trade magazines and online platforms dedicated to the business of lingerie. As the line continues to blur between trade and consumer, only those magazines able to connect with both will survive.
  • Border control between the Salon de la Lingerie & Interfilière has ended. The space is still divided into two shows — finished pieces on one side and the makings of lingerie on the other — but it is easier now to cross from one to the other. Still, Interfilière is the beating heart of the lingerie industry and it would be interesting to see it take center stage, and for both shows to become one.

I have to admit that, in the beginning, the loud music, Champagne fountains, models in skimpy attire and men peacocking was festive. This is Paris, after all, the City of Light, where love, romance, and lingerie are inextricably linked while remaining somewhat mysterious. I longed to understand the mystery. Over time I realized that one of the reasons lingerie remains an enigma to the outside world is not because of its obscure past and inexplicable secrets but because those secrets lack relevance in today’s language and lifestyles. Steeped in rich history and savoir-faire, the lingerie narrative has encountered difficulties adapting to women today. The result is a muddle of words and ideas that confuses and distracts us all — and, more important, alienates the consumer.

As usual, this year’s fair was sprawling and left visitors to drift and sift through the well-curated but endless messaging. And, as usual, I could not make total sense of it.
Let’s take a stroll…

“Beauty Has No Size”:

A strong slogan and artful mural got lost on a wall in a void that was sparsely scattered with beanbag cushions. Painted by artist Lisa Colin, this powerful and visual message might have connected and resonated with all lingerie professionals — and consumers — had it been the official slogan, a singular message.

Body Positivity:

Seizing on the zeitgeist, the fair touted “body positivity” and even featured a token model of a different shape who sashayed with confidence down the catwalk. While she was fabulous and walked on behalf of all women, her solitary presence, however, sent a body-negative message, a singling out of a product category that provides a solution to a regrettable body shape. The industry has the means and the power to lead the body positivity movement and SHOW women how lingerie can help us connect with ourselves.

Bra Fitting Workshop:

A compelling and inspiring workshop led by American lingerie expert Kimmay Caldwell, who broke down the fitting process into manageable and tangible examples that communicated and engaged with consumers.

Designer of the Year:

Photo by RemisedePrix.

Awarded to Chantelle Lingerie for their integrity, innovation, and brand direction. Design Director Renaud Cambuzat spoke of “new types of femininity avoiding any form of strict, stereotyped gender definition, celebrating the energy and promise of our time.”

Selection:

One word, three catalogues: The Selection, The Selection Forms, Trend & Selection. You pick.

Trends:

The two trend forums have always been central to this event, predicting what’s to come and promoting business. Colors and fabrics in one forum and … colors and fabrics in the other. Sound repetitive?

Voices:

Think you’re hearing voices? You are! The Emancipated Voice, The Loving Voice, The Bold Voice, and The Natural Voice were all speaking at the same time in an effort to categorize and box-in the consumer with trends, colors, and nonsense fashion messages such as “She reconnects with the fluidity in lingerie.” Let’s find our collective voice and speak to the consumer with meaning.

Where Did the Consumer Go?

“After twenty-five years, perhaps it is no longer my role to try and understand the industry; it is the industry’s turn to try and understand me, the consumer.”

Veteran trend maven Jos Berry of Concepts Paris cautioned that we must not forget the consumer, and advocates inclusivity. It’s a meaningful word with the power to change consumer motivation and behavior, but it will only take hold once we feel it within the industry.

A woman’s relationship with her body is often ambiguous and fraught with insecurities. It’s a long journey to acceptance for many of us and lingerie can fundamentally change how we feel about our bodies without changing our bodies. However, instead of guiding and supporting women on this journey, the lingerie industry uses language to push product rather than create dialogue.

After twenty-five years, perhaps it is no longer my role to try and understand the industry; it is the industry’s turn to try and understand me, the consumer.

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