A bookend style statement to our daily lives, lingerie sets the mood for how we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night — a theory with which designer Rose Fulbright-Vickers wholeheartedly seems to agree. And so we dive beneath the surface with Jessica Laiter.
Although frowned upon if exploited in public, lingerie has helped to maintain feminism and fashion through the thick and thin of China’s historical happenings.
It’s not what we see on the surface that counts, it’s what lies beneath that really matters — at least that’s what they say…. Far from the truth, however, it is not
Synonymous with quality and luxury, the Rose Fulbright brand has become a staple item in the British woman’s repertoire and is steadily turning into a go-to brand for the sophisticated Chinese woman. After graduating from both Parsons School of Design in Paris and The London College of Fashion, Fulbright — who hails from a long line of creatives, artists, anthropologists, and architects — decided to draft a suitable retail concept, with her designer details and concept development culminating her eponymous Rose Fulbright lingerie label
Although not technically a heritage brand, Fulbright’s use of fine silks and cottons are emblematic of talent passed down from previous generations. Many of her designs are hand-painted and replicate paintings completed by her grandmother Susan Williams-Ellis — founder of Portmeirion Pottery and renowned artist. With her own label done, dusted and launched in London back in 2013, Fulbright found herself en route to the Middle Kingdom a mere six months later. And so our story launches itself from sketch book into actual design with a zigzag stitch
Yet as always, in order to comprehend the current state of affairs, we must first dive and delve into China’s history with lingerie.
How Did The Han Do It?
Lingerie of the Han Dynasty (221-206 BC) was much more conservative, designed almost like a backless tunic. However, years later during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), one of China’s most romantic and cosmopolitanly brilliant periods of all time, undergarments were designed to be translucent, fully exposing a woman’s body and at the same time aptly reflecting the dynamic shift and change in China’s economy and culture. For many years to come, lingerie remained a symbol of sex and confidence. The most commonly seen style of Chinese lingerie is from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) known as the dudou, a backless diamond-shaped halter neck top, made from silk and embroidered by a bride-to-be in preparation for her wedding night.
Amid much mid-century turmoil, China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) created a subdued, more conservative societal structure and the remnants of that lifestyle remain very much alive with the nation’s aging population of today. Nevertheless, the younger modern-day woman is interested in bringing back the “original lingerie intention” and readmitting this into their culture — albeit under the Western gaze of sexuality this time around. As Fulbright points out, “lingerie was a means for decorating the female body, as opposed to a tool for shaping the body, as was the case in the West historically. There don’t seem to have been any fashions for corsets or bustles, perhaps until the 1940s when fashions became much more Westernized, leading to a market for stay-ups and garter belts.”
Despite the country’s conservative undertones and reputation, beneath it all the women of China have ignited a not-so-silent rebellion with their love for luxury lingerie. Although frowned upon if exploited in public, lingerie has helped to maintain feminism and fashion through the thick and thin of China’s historical happenings.
Despite a highly-sexualized erosion of traditional conservatism, China’s market for high-end lingerie has strengthened, not dissipated.
Hooking Up Past And Present
Lingerie, for the modern Chinese woman in particular, has become an especially important facet of consumption and status. In line with current President Xi Jinping’s 2010s very PC (at times ironic) crackdown on ostentatious displays of wealth and decadence tout court, lingerie is the perfect way to embody luxury without showing it off to the entire world. It’s something done for your own satisfaction. Something you can slip into with a slight smile and a nod to your own confidence and sexuality.
The final layer between one’s body and the outside world, lingerie is the most intimate item of clothing a woman or man can buy. Unfortunately, parallel to many Western societies, the industry of modern promiscuity in China has undoubtedly been hyper-sexualized, with many men and women evaluating their “sex appeal” as a determinant for self-identity. Despite this erosion of traditional conservatism, the market for high-end lingerie has strengthened not dissipated.
Although Shanghai has always been considered the Paris of the East, the creative juices in Beijing are often swept under the rug. As another epicenter for artistic talent, the city’s community accepted Fulbright with open arms. She was even up for the accolade of “Best Fashion Designer in Beijing” handed out by City Weekend Magazine. Her pieces are timeless and carry the elegance of a bygone era; they are treasured, not trendy. Every one of the silhouettes hugs the body with the intention to celebrate the curves and waves of femininity. Her use of silk, then, in turn proves an asset to the brand given the Middle Kingdom’s extensive history of silk production.
Wearing lingerie is yet another way of expressing oneself and autonomously taking control of one’s identity and role.
Hooking Up Britain And Beijing
Motivated by her compelling urge to fill a gap in the lingerie market for the “cool, sophisticated woman” — where lingerie is both feminine and seductive — she launched the Classic Lingerie collection based on a 1930s lingerie silhouette. It satisfies the complexities women deal with when subsequently trying to balance girly femininity and superwoman seduction. She went on to design many other collections in addition to collaborating with both the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai and launching her first menswear collection with the British car brand Morgan Motors.
Morgan Menswear Collection. Copyright@Rose FulbrightHaving relocated to Beijing just six months after the brand launched in London, Rose dove head first into a market she never before explored. Nonetheless, discovering China as an option provided surprising results. She quickly realized that the Chinese woman proves to be quite the risk-taker herself. Despite a lust for British labels, the brand speaks to the growing refined styling of Chinese women. Unbeknownst to many, lingerie is anything but a new concept in China. Just like their Western counterparts, the women of China have been wearing lingerie since well before the Han Dynasty (221-206 BC) to make themselves feel self-confident, sexy and, as much as this may go against feminist inclinations here and there, to please the eye of our SOs. Who knew.
Guilty as many, including myself, are of categorizing China as a perceivably oppressive society, one may be pleasantly surprised to find that Chinese women have long enjoyed a freedom uncommonly found in other countries and — dare we go there — in the United States.With the above-mentioned popular quotation of “holding up half of the sky,” women felt empowered and liberated by this type of support in many ways and were active participants of the community. Wearing lingerie was, and is, just another way of expressing oneself and autonomously taking control of one’s identity and role. However, in China’s most recent history, given their soaring-sky-high educational status and their trailblazing entrance into the highest regions of China biz life, women have evolved significantly over a short period of time. As have their perceptions of how lingerie should look and be worn: Intentional and cultural.
The Rose Fulbright brand stands for longevity, luxury, quality and versatility; something for all to try on and stand behind. With the sky being the limit, the label will soon incorporate a lifestyle component, offering up accessories for everyday life such as kimono robes, silk scarves, wash bags, beach bags and interior products. The printed designs lend themselves to products that can cross between fashion, home and travel. And so, the Fulbright storyline continues.