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Five subversive labels shaking up the lingerie scene

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Victoria’s Secret? I don’t know her

No matter where we thought 2020 would lead us, Boris Johnson essentially pushing rule-abiding singles into a coronavirus-established sex ban definitely came as a shock. That being said, lingerie might just be the coping mechanism needed to make up for all the nights spent in the same worn-in elasticated sweats and tees – or for a sexy Zoom date, if that’s your thing. 

Fortunately, right now there is no shortage of serotonin-inducing undergarments. Besides Rihanna – who spread some joy through her highly anticipated Savage x Fenty volume two show, featuring Shea Coulée, Indya Moore, Lizzo, Paris Hilton, and more in sexy skin-tight looks – a cast of new designers are tearing up the lingerie rule book and challenging the archaic beauty, gender, and body norms. Did you hear? Victoria’s Secret is well and truly dead.

Get to know five brands changing up the lingerie industry below.


Growing up in a culture where sexuality is hushed, Taiwanese designer Bei Kuo was surprised by the openness towards sex and desire when she moved to New York to study at Parsons. Soon after, she started The End – a lingerie brand defying the idea that eco-friendly lingerie couldn’t be seen as sexy or a means of self-expression. With collections made up of pieces bearing harsh metal rings inspired by her boyfriend’s piercings, backless miniskirts with exposed thongs, bright red fishnet stockings, and BDSM-inspired sets which can be layered as the wearer wishes, Kuo’s line caters to a wide range of sizes and gender-identities. The label is also big on sustainability. In partnership with nonprofit initiative One Tree Planted, The End plants a tree for every product sold. “There’s nothing sexier than saving the Earth,” says Kuo. 


When it comes to subversive lingerie, Michaela Stark is leading the game. Through her work, the Australian designer draws inspiration from the body parts deemed undesirable by society: fat rolls, cellulite, body hair, and bulges all included. “My aim is to counteract all the prescribed beauty norms that have been force fed to us through the fashion and beauty industries,” Stark told us last July. Besides going viral on Instagram for her intricate, one-of-a-kind pieces which accentuate these common insecurities, the designer’s work was featured in Beyoncé’s music video for “Apeshit” in 2018, and her Black Is King visual album. 


Sure, this one blurs the line between lingerie swimwear, but we’ll take it. Founded by Balinese duo Cecelia Basari (who graduated from CSM with a BA in womenswear) and Yuli Suri (who previously worked in Bali’s garment industry), ISA BOULDER first landed in 2019. Based in Bali, the label employs a group of seamstressed laid off from a local clothing production company, and originally created sustainable pieces that draw on the workers’ swimwear expertise. More recently it made the move into underwear, with its newest offerings comprising hand-knit bras, crocheted garter belts with attached knee-high stockings, and knitted pants layered over fishnet biker shorts. While both designers have never publicly worn swimwear due to religious reasons, they utilise their experiences to play on exposing certain areas of the body through their work – subverting the ideals of sexiness typically seen via the male gaze.


Creating subversive lingerie for all the club kids stuck at home right now, Leak Your Sex Tape is the Brooklyn-based brand creating “underwear art for queer bodies,” otherwise described as “slutgear”. Guatemalan-born founder of the label, Louis Dorantes, puts a new twist on corsetry, harnesses, and thongs – merging his designs with neon mesh, chain link detailing, and piled on safety pins. We’ve never missed clubbing so badly.


Straying from the rest, Maïna Cissé’s brand the Underargument focuses entirely on the people wearing its clothing. The French designer practices ‘anti-casting’ – an empathetic process of choosing models purely through essays submitted to the brand, all connecting to each collection’s specific theme; the selected stories are then uploaded to Instagram, along with the model’s lingerie shoot. Through this, the label strives to push the message to women “that you are more than just a body, and your story is valuable,” the designer told The Guardian. So far, the model’s stories have included topics from gender dysphoria from wearing underwear, regaining a sense of self after time in prison services, and the exploration of non-monogamous relationships. For Cissé, she hopes the bravery exhibited by her storytellers has the power to create change in the industry.