Like love itself, lingerie comes in manifold forms but almost none of them are novel. The basic design for today's bra originated in the late 19th century. And a century later, Jimmy Stewart's nerdy, love-sick female friend in "Vertigo" famously described the staid, sexless, supportive bra she was sketching for an advertisement, as "brand new…Works on the principle of the cantilever bridge... An aircraft engineer down the Peninsula designed it. He worked it out in his spare time." Despite flourishes in fabric, and faddish flaunting or concealing what they support, most bras have stayed true to form.
Designing slinky, sculptural straps that elegantly edge bras away from intimate or exhibitionist posturing, Marlies Dekkers has come up with a genuinely avant-garde artistic design in the rather conservative field of racy undergarments. Instead of being hidden under clothes or pushed out into the open, the uniquely compelling layers of Dekker's innovative undergarments add intrigue when glimpsed under any other garment.
The Dutch designer graduated from the Joost Academy of Art and Design in 1991 and lanched her first collection two years later with the aid of a government grant. In 1994 she was awarded the Dutch Bodyfashion Award. Since then, she has been the recipent of ELLE Magazine's 2004 Innovator of the Year Award and was named the 2007 Prix Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year. Dekkers opened her 13th store in New York's Plaza Hotel last year after establishing her brand with shops in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Paris, Bangkok, Berlin and Cologne.
Her signature designs have been proudly displayed in editorial and street style by such stars as Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Pink, Dita von Teese, Ines Sastre, Monica Cruz and Juliette Binoche. This Valentines day, Dekkers will launch her "stolen kisses" line, consisting of three lingerie sets, one corset, red stockings and a knitted draped top, all accompanied by a decorative tattoo stamp of pink lips poised for a kiss. Here we discuss with Dekkers ways to woo sophisticated women away from mediocre under-things and toward a more thoughtful form of wearable sensuality.
Dazed Digital: What first inspired your signature decorative straps?
Marlies Dekkers: As a lingerie designer, I design to please women. Working from the assumption that there is beauty and power in every woman, my wish is to accentuate women's self-confidence. Women tend to have a different view of who they are and I try to create designs that allow women to accept themselves and to feel proud of their own bodies. In my designs you will always find modern and powerful straps or little details on significant places, like for example the front of the bra, the back or the neckline. I have been using these graphical lines from the very start of my work. I use them to accentuate the beautiful parts of the woman's body, which is in my belief the perfect way to stimulate women's self confidence. My dearest wish is to make women all over the world feel beautiful, strong and comfortable. If I can help this come about with my designs then I am a very happy woman.
DD: What are some of your historical or aesthetic inspirations?
MD: Well, aesthetically I believe that every woman has her own uniqueness and beauty despite her age, size or color. I design for all women in all their unique shapes. My main inspiration sources vary from philosophers and artists to my own life experiences. Every collection - I have 7 collections per year - has a different story behind it. For example, my latest Valentine's collection, Stolen Kisses, is inspired by history's most romantic couples, such as Romeo and Juliet. Passion red combined with pink kisses brings back the romantic feeling of being in love. Other good examples are: Powerful Grace; a collection inspired by the Greek myth of the Three Graces, goddesses renowned for their beauty and charm. My collection brought a modern twist. I trimmed the collection pieces with black elastic and tiny silver studs which made it extra powerful. Dame de Paris; inspired by one of the most beautiful and impressive cathedrals in the world, the Notre Dame. A magnificent piece of architecture which I tried to translate into my design. And finally Yves Klein Blue, one of my men's collections which was inspired by the deep intense blue shade created by French painter Yves Klein in the 1950s. Well, as you can see, the list of things that inspire me is endless!
DD: How would you describe the Dutch fashion scene?
MD: The Dutch fashion scene is quite vibrant at the moment. There are some really talented young designers making their way to the top. The International Amsterdam Fashion Week is becoming more interesting with the year so I believe that the fashion scene is making a great progress! What I like about the Dutch artists -fashion, interior design, art- is that you can see a significant connection between us. We all have elements of the same handwriting. Design with a graphical, modern character with clear lines and layers is typically Dutch. Rietveld and Mondriaan are good examples of this typical design style. All I can say is that I am proud to be a Dutch artist.
DD: What do you think of casual lingerie, like American Apparel or Calvin Klein?
MD: My intention has always been to add something to the market in stead of competing with existing brands. My lingerie is meant to be seen and I think that this is a big difference. Besides, a lot of lingerie these days is designed from a man's point of view and what he finds sexy and attractive. I design from a feminine point of view. My focus is 100% on what women want and what makes them feel confident and comfortable. But … Of course, I sometimes do try other lingerie brands just to experience the fit or feeling, but I have to say that I always end up wearing my own bras, they just fit the best, hahaha.
DD: What historical era best suits your sexual ethos?
MD: I am interested in every historical era. I read a lot, visit art galleries as often as I can, and I like to get inspired by historical moments or developments. But looking at my way of designing and my philosophy about women, I like the current era the best. I think that if I had to sell my lingerie 60 years ago it would not have been as successful as it is today. Women these days are more in control; we have much more possibilities to grow and to explore compared to previous years. I am very proud of this development!
DD: Do women typically buy your bras as fashion statements to be seen outside layered with other clothes, or as actual intimate wear?
MD: The attached bra straps make the bra become less of a functional item and more of a fashionable one. I think that a lot of women like this idea and like to play with it. I mean, you can basically build your whole outfit around your bra and mood. When I dress myself in the morning, I start with selecting the lingerie and then I choose a matching outfit. This way my bra becomes part of my total look, it is my favorite accessory! I think that women understand this and like to show it off. I love to see this! It gives me great pleasure to see women feeling comfortable and beautiful in their own bodies. But, if a woman rather wears my lingerie as intimate wear and keeps it more private, then that is totally fine as well. It is really up to her to decide how to wear my designs. I just hope women feel strong wearing it. That's my key point, my life mission!