My lingerie collection contains brands from all over the world, but it is the United Kingdom which features most prominently. The British lingerie industry is vast, ranging from the smallest independents to large international companies… it seems to be a bottomless well! So first, let me say that this is by no means a definitive guide to UK lingerie, but a spring-board from which I hope you will jump off and discover more.
What is the typical British lingerie aesthetic?
British lingerie has such a rich history that it has been no little task to try and avoid a dissertation-length article. So much of what we think of as truly luxurious lingerie – from the shape, structure, material and adornments – seems to parallel what we first saw in Victorian England: frilled pantaloons, beautiful corsets, knickers or garters, with lace trimming and embroidery in abundance, and even some of the very first silk underwear. You only have to take a glance at the beautiful corsetry of Sian Hoffman to see this tradition brought right up to date.
But there is another side to contemporary lingerie in the UK – a more progressive, less “frills and adornments” approach. I’m talking about the brands I have come to associate with De Montfort University. DMU is a name that pops up again and again when you are reading about contemporary British lingerie, and as one of the few University courses in the world specialising in lingerie, underwear and bodywear design (as well as the only UK course in footwear design) their alumni is impressive, with such familiar names as Niki McMorrough (Made by Niki), Chloe Hamblen (Lascivious) and even Jimmy Choo.
DMU graduates seem to offer a more cutting edge, fashion-forward lingerie, taking more obvious inspiration from recent haute-couture, outerwear and even fetish-wear than from designers of the past. But I don’t think this is just a DMU thing. I see a wide spectrum of UK designers from various backgrounds offering similarly daring designs, designers who are not scared to mix up materials and experiment with design and structure, often blurring the line between underwear and outerwear.
Because of this diversity, it is rather difficult to answer the question “what is typically-British lingerie?”. There is often a more structured look when compared to other european lingerie (or even US lingerie), but one look at a brand like Sonata or Fleur of England and we see delicate soft designs. So, what can I conclude? British lingerie might only be defined by its diversity, daring, creativity and willingness to embrace lingerie as fashion in its own right!
The best UK lingerie brands
To give a full list of British lingerie designers would be beyond the scope of this article, but, for those of you new to the British scene and interested in discovering some brands both old and new, I would like to highlight few of them right here…
Agent Provocateur, founded in 1994, iconic British label; Damaris, beloved for her lacy Mimi Holliday range and bow-back knickers; Gossard, one of the first underwear companies, founded in 1901; Pretty Polly, founded in 1919, iconic British superbrand producing hosiery; Bordelle, very unique and niche, and strong, sexy and avantgarde; Lascivious, experimental and indulgent directional lingerie; Made by Niki, unique, beautiful designs; Fleur of England, delicate, femenine lingerie; Bebaroque, embellished and embroidered legwear and bodywear from Scotland; Myla London, founded in 1999, one of the UK’s leading luxury lingerie labels; Sonata, making some of the highest quality, handmade luxury lingerie; eLai, luxury lingerie that is worn to be seen; Kiss Me Deadly, vintage inspired lingerie; Miss Crofton, indie handmade lingerie; Arabel, handmade in the UK in luxurious satin and delicate lace; Karolina Laskowska, luxurious, sophisticated garments with a cheeky erotic twist.
The best lingerie boutiques in London
As one of the busiest cities in the world, London boasts an equally busy crop of lingerie boutiques and department stores selling luxurious lingerie. If you are in London, these should be a good starting point…
Agent Provocateur, 6 Broadwick St, London, W1F 8HL
Bordello, 2 Pritchards Road, E2 9AP
Coco de Mer, 23 Monmouth St Covent Garden, WC2H 9DD
Dolci Follie, 28A Hereford Road, W2 5AJ
Harrods, Harrods 87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL
Lingerie Collective, 33 Great Cumberland Place W1H 7TB
Myla, 74 Duke of York Square, SW3 4LY
Playful Promises*, Unit 14, Boxpark, 2-4 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6GY
Selfridges & Co, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB
Tallulah, 65 Cross St, N1 2BB
What Katie Did, 26 Portobello Green, W10 5TZ
And don’t forget, many designers sell direct through their official websites as well as through Etsy.
As you can see, the rich history, tradition and current diversity in the UK’s lingerie scene is impressive. I know I have only scratched the surface with this article, but I hope it has stimulated your interest in British lingerie. I for one am hooked on discovering more (I will be particularly interested to discover more brands from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), so please leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions… it will be great to read more interesting facts about lingerie in the UK.