The Underpinnings Museum presents Incendiary: A History of Red Lingerie, a digital exhibition curated by Summer Lee, examining the fashionability and societal perceptions of colour red in European and American women’s lingerie.
Red is a versatile colour, found in both flowers and fire and used to symbolize passion, love, power, danger, and death. When used to colour women’s intimate underclothes and nightwear, the colour’s poignant symbolism engages with societal perceptions of feminine sexuality and empowerment.
Incendiary tells this story through three time periods — the nineteenth century, mid-twentieth century, and contemporary lingerie — and features twenty-five objects from the Underpinnings Museum’s free and accessible digital collection. Highlights include a circa 1860s red midbust corset, a 1950s red padded quarter-cup bra by La Parisienne, a 1990s red-and-black corset from Agent Provocateur, and a risqué 2014 red “Java Dancer” set by La Perla Black Label.
The exhibition brings the story of red lingerie into the present day by concluding with a photo gallery of lingerie models, designers, and influencers who share their exclusive thoughts and associations with the fiery colour.
“Florals for spring? Groundbreaking,” scoffs Miranda Priestly, the fictional fashion editor in The Devil Wears Prada. Despite Miranda Priestly’s scorn, this very universality makes flowers a fascinating subject and the Underpinnings Museum’s new online exhibition will explore how and why flowers are used particularly often in lingerie design. “Silken Petals: Flowers, Femininity, and Lingerie”, guest-curated by Caroline Elenowitz-Hess, draws on the Underpinnings Museum’s permanent collection to explore the ways that flowers have been used as design motifs in undergarments from the 18th century to today. Highlights of the exhibition include embroidered garters from the 18th and 19th centuries, cheeky souvenir lingerie from the 1940s and contemporary reinterpretations of the sensuality of flowers.
‘Gilded Lilies’ examines the work of Sparklewren, one of the most influential and memorable makers in the modern corsetry movement. Sparklewren’s notoriously opulent aesthetic treats corsetry as a foundation in the architectural sense, creating the base for wearable mixed-media sculpture. This exhibit explores Sparklewren’s development, exploration, reinvention, and abandonment of numerous techniques for construction, fabrication, boning, patterning, and, of course, embellishment of corsetry. Also included are exclusive behind the scenes and editorial photography, sketches, fabric samples, and garments both inspiring to and influenced by the designer.
‘Lingerie For Your Hair’ examines the boudoir cap, an oft-neglected piece of lingerie with immense historical significance. The garment saw immense popularity in the 1910s and 1920s, a time of great social change: as women navigated changing attitudes towards sex, class and social status, the cap became an invaluable accessory. This exhibition charts the evolution of the cap, and explores notions of sex appeal and the concept of ‘the boudoir’.
Remaking The Past showcases the work from our 2017 collaborative project with LCF’s MA Pattern & Garment Technology students, who were set the challenge of replicating their choice of objects from the museum’s collections. Each garment replica is accompanied by detailed technical drawings and garment pattern, offering a fascinating insight into the complexity of underwear design and construction through the 20th century.
A celebration and exploration of the contemporary corset revolution, the exhibition shares the work of both modern corsetieres and the historical objects that left an indelible mark on design today.
38 exquisitely curated objects chart the best of modern corsetry and its historical influences. Highlights include a 16” waist corset by Dark Garden belonging to Guinness’ World Record Holder of the smallest waist on a living person Cathy Jung, and a couture creation by British designer Emiah with over 7000 hand stitched beads, taking over 1700 hours of hand labour.
On Friday 12th January 2018, the Underpinnings Museum held an academic conference 100% online as part of our ongoing quest to bring the history of underwear to a wider audience, making collections and research freely accessible. As social media can be a rather fleeting medium, in order to keep a permanent record of the conference proceedings we have documented each presentation through our blog.