True confession. I don’t love lingerie. Okay, I have a bit of a thing for lace bras, but most underwear fail me. They never fit very well, probably because I’m precisely between a medium and a large. (Why aren’t underwear made to match pant sizes? I really don’t get this.) Lingerie in general I find is out to save your marriage or steal somebody’s man or make you believe that you’re more French, none of which appeals to me. But there is one label that was pinned to my mood board the whole time I was developing this site, and it’s called Lonely Lingerie, out of New Zealand.
K, well aside from the fact that Lonely Lingerie produces up to 34 sizes (up to North American size 16 up and G cup) in some—not all—of their styles, they also pride themselves on comfort, forgoing scratchy linings and rigid fabrics, though full disclosure, I’ve never worn any of their stuff myself. I just think what they’re doing looks so cool. Last fall, the retro-leaning label (think high-waisted panties and padding-free brassieres like Dita Von Teese might wear) launched maternity, complete with easily detachable soft-cup bras for breast feeding. I can tell you from experience maternity bras are rarely so pretty.
And very soon, the label will be offering a full range in bamboo fabric, in all sizes, with and without underwire for what sounds like something I would want to wear on a Monday morning. But more dainty styles, such as this spring’s new ‘Lenni’, persist. The soft frilled edges of Lenni’s dusty blue bralette and full-back underwear remind me of those 70’s baby doll negligées you’d see in fuzzy focus photography, except you can wear them under your 501s.
But back to why Lonely Lingerie has topped my Pinterest. Shortly after its debut in 2009, founder Helene Morris and her husband Steven Ferguson started the Lonely Girls project, an ongoing campaign centred around diversity, inclusivity and love for all sizes—years before Instagram embraced the #bodypositivity movement. Nearly ten years later, traditional lingerie imagery remains at a stand-still, notes the co-founder and mother of three, who’s calling out the highly improbable narrow waists, heaping chests, skin that’s never seen the light of day, as generally irresponsible. “Women need to see themselves represented to know that we are more than okay just as we are,” says Morris. “And maybe if we see perceived ‘flaws’ reflected on our screens, then we will begin to see that we don’t need to always strive to change something about ourselves to be beautiful, and comfortable in our skin.”
Following the above ethos, female photographer Harry Were captures the raw beauty of the Lonely Girls, helping to condition our eyes to the look of cellulite, body hair, wrinkles, acne; to ‘normalize’ what is typically obliterated via Photoshop. A mix of both ‘real women’ and models, subjects are all shapes, ethnicities, abilities and ages (though in 2016, Girls stars Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirk did pose in their loveliest gitch). On the women-front, 50-something-year old model Mercy Brewer shattered lingerie norms in their look book last year, a moment that didn’t go unnoticed by I-D Magazine. And there are many more examples of generation crossing, such as Alma and Tracey, a mutually tattooed mother and daughter shot outside their Auckland home wearing mesh and lace underthings.
Morris admits casting females over a certain age can be a challenge. “There are a lot fewer models who are in their mid-years and beyond. Although, unless we photograph these women and book them more, we won’t bring about change. We constantly ask agencies to sign more mature models to their books and hope that other brands recognize that diverse models are so important for the world to see.” Lonely Lingerie’s photography is so provocative, an upcoming story I’ve been working out in my head about tummy tucks post-baby now has a whole ‘but what about body positivity?’ element creeping in, proving that one seemingly arbitrary item, in this case underwear, can inspire changes in perspective.
I asked Morris if she herself has posed as a Lonely Girl, and was surprised to learn that she hadn’t, though she wouldn’t be opposed. “As with many of the women that we shoot I would be nervous,” says Morris. “But the feedback afterwards is always overwhelmingly positive, and overcoming the fear is really empowering.”