Irene Lu and her (Love Your Lingerie) Pillowbook brand: the most intimate, risqué, seductive and even secretive of all that design entails. Eco-friendly, at that.
亲密、妖娆、性感、神秘、而且是环保无害的——集所有内衣设计的精髓于一身，这就是Irene Lu所创立的内衣品牌——（爱上你的内衣）枕谱 （LYL Pillowbook）。
As I found myself slightly bored with the views of Hong Kong’s nocturnal lights from the 50th floor (O Fortuna, how dreary life can be… Nonono, I’m not yet that jaded) and got to re-reading some October 2015 woeful tales on the much-googled topic of “China and plastic surgery”. We had, among other lawsuits, actress Angela Baby trying to prove she did not get her face re-done at some Dalian-based clinic, as well as (my fave, sorry ladies) several Chinese women spending their Mid-Autumn vacay protesting the tell-tale botched cosmetic procedures they had received in South Korea.
The hours passed — my life sounds much bleaker/sadder here than it actually is — as I puzzled over the search results for “China and body image”, a topic which has already seen its fair share of spilled ink (just like this sentence has, love it). Intriguing, nevertheless. Yet muscling my way through the many cliches, tales and testimonies out there, I realized: What could be a more bespoke beginning to this subject of “the” Chinese body image than the most intimate of outsides, i.e. undergarments?
I suppose this piece is more of a celebration of China’s history of seduction and the world’s female curves (I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like my underwear), but even so it’s a celebration begeistert by Lu’s newly established brand. From Taoism to tea-houses, from robes to ropes; they’re all linked together by the dangling gold chains in Lu’s concoctions.
The liaison between lingerie and liberation, that is. The history of women’s lingerie and women’s (literal) liberation is as entwined as the ancient story of the pillow-book and Lu’s brand. From stiff whalebone-supported corsets turning the upper body into an inverted cone and whipping the waistline in all possible shapes and positions known to man, to separate bras and panties in the 1920s that literally liberated the woman’s torso from nearly four centuries of entanglement and bodily “suppression;” the affair between women and their undergarments has been an intense one, not one of all-devouring great love, but surely one to remember.
Our modern day lives witness the occasional rendezvous with times long gone. This is no different with the Pillowbook brand; the name alone raises a slinky question mark. Back in the day when the robes of Confucius were yet to be sown, “China,” or the various Chinese states and kingdoms to dot the historical I’s, mainly considered Taoism as the Marlies Dekkers of religions. In a day and age where girls would often marry around the age of 12, they were given a so-called pillow-book on their big day; a pint-sized booklet to be kept next to your pillow that served as a guide to lovemaking. Seduction is indeed an art.
The miniature teasers contained masterfully painted erotic scenarios depicting a new bride and her man. Unfortunately, many of these tiny-Botticelli-toned artifacts were destroyed during the early days of Communist China (1949) as they were deemed inappropriate. The clothing at this particularly riotous time was of course unisex; no clicking of glamour heels, slashing of 1930s Shanghai red lipstick or squeeze of perfume flaunted the streets. Especially in a world that aimed for gender equality, lace and garter belts had no place. Too scandalous.
Tea-houses and teasers
Even though Communist China may have posed a bump in the til-fashion-season-do-us-part marriage between women and their clothing, things were slightly different before. In ancient China, for example, outer garments symbolized the wearer’s social rank and status. Women often opted to express their feelings and sense of individuality through their undergarments by adorning these with their sowing craft and designs. Underneath it all, a woman could (ironically) stand out. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) witnessed the surge of the dudou (just think “halter top”); a diamond-shaped cloth with straps running over the shoulders and cinched in on the lower back was the La Perla among well-heeled women. The garment remained chic throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) until it was replaced by the bra in the 20th century.
Lu deemed 2013 the perfect time to spark a revival. Perfect timing, as the Beijing Municipal government decided to restore the Dashilar area where her shop at the time was located, also the former red-light district of tea-houses and courtesans (think Du Shiniang or Yu Tangchun of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)) across the hutongs of Beijing’s Qianmen area. Inspiration aplenty.
Cheeky Lu attended the Big Apple’s Fashion Institute of Technology where she majored in lingerie design — though, strictly applied to her own knack, she holds some aversion to the word “fashion” in fashion designer, “it just sounds, well not like me ha, I’m a designer, but definitely not a ‘fashion’ one”. She has long since opted to embrace her Chinese heritage, from dynastical lingerie design to the tiniest hand sown detailing, and give it a purring 21st century impetus. Lu’s designs are not of the Amsterdam-provocative window sort, but more of the teaser kind. Think Agent Provocateur meets Zahia Dahar.
Lu曾经就读于纽约时装技术学院（Fashion Institute of Technology）主修内衣设计。做为时装设计师，Lu对“时尚”（fashion）这个词有些排斥，“这个词听说去感觉不像我，我是一个设计师，但绝对不是一个紧跟‘时尚’ （fashion）潮流的人。” 从古代的内衣设计到精细的手工缝制细节，她选择把中国传统工艺融入到现代内衣设计中，给内衣设计注入新活力。Lu设计的内衣不是那种外露性感型的但却充满了撩人的诱惑。想想当Agent Provocateur遇上Zahia Dahar的场景。
Robes and ropes
Lu’s vision refrains from the Dahar glazed cupcake romanticism or Provocateur’s twisted straps, but does share their sense of femininity, strength and sensuality. Just in an in-between edgier, more “out there” as Lu describes it herself, yet soft (literally as all pieces are made of hand sown and -prepared silk) design. She gets her inspiration from the past, the future, the Greek myths, Roman robes (which saw the intricate use of rope across the chest area; Japanese bondage avant la lettre), Chinese religion or women, from plain Jane to svelte Salome — the actual inspiration for one of my favorites in Lu’s collections.
Salome was the daughter of Herodias (1st century B.C.) who got a king to approve her request to behead the prophet (John), who had preached the coming of Christ, merely through her sensual moves. Salome danced, seduced and caused quite the hedonistic scandal, one that Lu happily used as inspiration. Her detailing of delicately dangling harsh gold chains together with the softness of the silk Lu uses in all of her designs, create an unbreakable, untamable yet sensuous and sensitive woman – “Salome style” indeed. This type of femininity attracts both the foreign as well as the Chinese customer. Fashion and scandal do fuse so very well.
In another throwback creative feature, Lu and her silk yarn have, from her Shhh to L’Amant to Aime to bespoke collections, also taken on the torso-accentuating ancient dudou and created a modern version, featuring the lines and architectural curves of the old Beijing courtyards (now that’s what you call celebrating your curves) and even their color schemes (grey/red). The traditional Chinese embroidery patterns and themes found on the antique dudou designs — love and lotus flowers — have also made their way onto the modern version by Lu’s needle and thread: she embroiders the brand logo and various loving topics on their inside so that no one from the outside can see. The secret is out.
Always bear in mind:
What you wear underneath can quietly carry as much luster as what’s on show. Sexy is often about “suggestion”. So Sssht.
More Pillowbook silky sweet stuff can be found right here!