CSM grad Marie Yat talks finding a balance between femininity and comfort in the face of a lingerie market that only seeks to sexualise
This article is part of a series of collaborative content brought to you by 1 Granary magazine.
The concept of gender-neutrality isn’t unfamiliar in fashion industry. Look at London department store Selfridges’ retail space Agender, which aimed to provide its customers with the opportunity to shop without any preconceptions, or the questions currently being raised as to whether or not there is still a need for gendered fashion weeks. But when it comes to underwear, rarely have these ideas been discussed. Styles for women seem stuck in the past, and made with the male gaze in mind – think lacy, racy thongs or underwired bras with push up cups. Sure, women’s boxers are common, but designs often lean towards resembling more traditionally ‘masculine’ underwear – there remains a tension between comfort and femininity. In comes MARIEYAT, a label for women that’s blending the lines between lingerie and unisex underwear.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, designer Marie Yat moved to London after securing a place on the BA Fashion Design course at Central Saint Martins, going on to intern at the studio of Hussein Chalayan and the atelier of Yang Li. “Growing up in Hong Kong we were very lucky to be surrounded by the latest fashion and trends,” she recalls – but the focus on brand names and soulless, cookie-cutter style soon disillusioned her. “It made me question things – I had a desire to look deeper into fashion as a form of self expression and assurance.”
The idea of MARIEYAT was initiated during her second year at the college, and upon graduating, she began to work on building the label immediately. For her, it’s a project that feels personal. “Designing lingerie mainly comes from my own needs. I have an interest in all kinds of lingerie, but I realised I can rarely find underwear that is interesting unconventionally and comfortable to wear everyday.” Looking at the designs, their soft, pastel colour palettes and focus on seamless knitwear made from natural cottons and silks offers her girl the comfort of male or ‘unisex’ underwear – without having to compromise on femininity. “We’d like to create a balance between comfort and sensuality. ‘Uncompromised’ means that our customers will not compromise appearance over comfort or vice versa.”
On a day to day basis, Yat takes inspiration from the amazing women around her, which include her mother and her friends. “In terms of research, I have been exploring women in Chinese erotic art and images of women that show the truth about our bodies – like stretch marks, scars and bruises, which I find intriguing and beautiful,” she says – and it’s something reflected in her brand’s own imagery. “I have also explored a lot of Asian youth and internet culture – in particular among women. What interests me in particular is the strong community of the virtual world via internet. To me it seems like they are in search of something they could not find in the reality.”
“We are designing for women who identify themselves outside of the mainstream characteristics of lingerie. One of the core ideas of the label is to combine the delicate details of lingerie and the relaxing feel of a piece of unisex underwear” – Marie Yat
Yat believes that when it comes to underwear, it’s all about being comfortable and confident about yourself. While that might seem rather evident, it can be difficult to do so in an age where lingerie has long existed to shape and change women’s bodies, pushing up breasts or flattening hips. That’s precisely what the designer would like to see less of – she believes there are a lot more possibilities and boundaries to be pushed. “We are designing for women who identify themselves outside of the mainstream characteristics of lingerie,” she explains – although MARIEYAT is in theory designed for women, it still plays with more fluid ideas of gender. “One of the core ideas of the label is to combine the delicate details of lingerie and the relaxing feel of a piece of unisex underwear. Whether it should be restricted to being gender-specific or not, is entirely up to the perceiver.”