History

The history of French lingerie sheds light on the evolution of how women were perceived in each era. It is a story punctuated by women’s conquests, industrial visions or innovations, beautiful fabrics, minute craftsmanship, talents, creations, models, daring, social metamorphoses, know-how, excellence, seduction, elegance, refinement …

1850

Halfway through the Romantic century, France got back on its feet with the 1848 revolution. The Second Empire chased away the Restoration.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary ruined herself to stay abreast of Paris fashions. Under their crinolined dresses, women wore feminine pantaloons while Worth invented haute couture and dressed Empress Eugenie.

1880

Thirty years later, secular schools became obligatory. The first high schools and middle schools for young girls were built. Suits for women appeared. Paris abandoned itself in music halls and applauded ruffled Can-Can dancers. White wedding dresses, long a privilege in the city, appeared in the countryside.

The corset imposed itself and armored the female body. It was also increasingly criticized by hygienists. Louis Neyron understood this  and in 1884 he founded the Maisons Rasurel to develop the concept of healthy underwear perfected by Dr. Rasurel. During this period, Monsieur Gamichon founded Chantelle and created the first stretch fabric for corsets. Doctor Bernard created the company that, decades later, would be renamed Aubade. Stéphane Gerbe, who inherited a trimming and knit business from his father, decided to produce his own items.

1900

At the beginning of the 20th century, sitting on Thonnet chairs, the joke circulated that the recently built Eiffel Tower represented a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking and its four pillars were garter belt fasteners.

The Guimard metro stations emerged from the ground. The “S curve” became fashionable. Paul Poiret arrived at Worth in 1900. Garter belts succeeded garters. Stockings were black.

1910

Silent movies arrived in the French capital, while the Ballets Russes oscillated between scandal and success. Paul Poiret banished the corset, replacing it with an inside waistband for his Empire dresses. Mario Fortuny’s legendary pleats appeared.

More women replaced their corsets by an elastic waistband. Rubberized springs replaced whalebone in corsets. Bandeaus and brassieres flattened the bust. The word “bra” entered the dictionary. In 1913, a bra separating the two breasts was invented.

At the same time, a bra made of two triangles crossed in front and back was introduced. The first bras were in linen before being produced, in the 1920’s, in silk, chiffon or batiste.

1920

World War I tolled the bell for a 19th century which couldn’t seem to disappear. The 20’s attempted to forget the war. Everyone danced the Charleston. Jazz inspired improvisation. The surrealists published their first manifesto. Freudian theses invaded the spirits.

The period kicked off the decorative arts. In a search for unrestricted movement, women topped off their boyish silhouette with a bob hair cut. The flattening bra, floaty, split slip dresses and silver or flesh-toned silk stockings were a hit with garçonnes.

1930

In the 1930’s, an overly-sensual Marlene Dietrich in the Blue Angel, clad in a corset, black stockings and garter belt, pushed Hollywood censors to forbid women’s removing their stockings on the big screen. Closed panties and tap pants replaced open, pre-war underpants. The bra-cup size system was perfected.

The long dress and bias cut became omnipresent. A neoclassic silhouette was reinvented. "The deceptively seductive bust" was back. Nylon was invented. The word “panties” became popular. Maison Lejaby’s first “bra à la Gaby” was produced in the backroom of the Bellegarde movie theater near Lyon under the watchful eye of Gabrielle Viannay.

In 1935, Mademoiselle Simone Pérèle received a diploma in corset-making. The same year, the beautiful Josephine Baker delighted the hearts of Tout-Paris in the movie Princess tam.tam, which later inspired the company founded by the Hiridjee sisters.

1945

Exhausted by World War II, France slowly came back to life. French women obtained the right to vote. Simone de Beauvoir was praised for her book Le Deuxième Sexe. The “New Look” appeared. Underneath it, the Chantelle girdle softly, lightly tapered the hips.

Breasts were pointy, the waist tiny, the skirt a corolla. The petticoat trend took off while the wasp-waist corset was invented. The bikini was launched. Simone Pérèle defined itself by following current esthetics to create satin bras, cut and assembled in their rue Montyon workshop.

Charles Fossez, an astrologer and star of Tout-Paris, also known as the “Burmese Fakir” sold Barbara girdles by mail. André Faller had already been Lucienne’s pygmalion for a number of years, together they created Lou.

Look and comfort were associated with a barely-felt underwire. Lou was already one of France’s leading lingerie companies. Empreinte did their most famous launch : pointy bras with a “revolutionary lifting effect”.

1955

Brigitte Bardot nurtured fantasies while across the Atlantic, Marilyn Monroe let the immodest wind from a New York subway grate bare her legs to a still-Puritanical America. Gabrielle Chanel’s tweed suits confronted Christian Dior’s “New Look”. The baby doll nightie and Lycra appeared.

Lejaby, still very avant-garde, negotiated sixty exclusivities for the Lycra fiber in France. Stiletto heels were worn with no-seam stockings. A, B and C cups anticipated the D and E to follow, perfected by Madame Tardivelle and Madame Haug. During this period, Simone Pérèle created dozens of bra models, some that lasted for 20 years.

By bringing together comfort and estheticism, the company launched the “Soleil” darted bra and “Sole Moi”, the first Lycra bra. Lou made their first underwear in prints with extremely supple stretch and produced “Pantylou” - invisible under pants.

1965

The baby boomers let loose with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the skinny model Twiggy, the Pill, May ’68 … Everything converged towards an unprecedented generational clash : Woodstock. The first mini skirts appeared. Yves Saint Laurent designed his famous tuxedo.

Pantyhose had their first success. Flesh colored stockings went out of fashion. Panties were adopted by the new generation. Gilbert Bena took over the direction of Barbara and began transforming the family company into an industrial operation.

With the birth of ready-to-wear, Chantelle designed the first ultra-feminine bras by scattering them with “fashion” details. Empreinte launched the first strapless bra.

1970

The 1970’s were synonymous with new conquests for women’s rights. The film Emmanuelle symbolized the wave of erotic movies. A new generation of designers was confirmed. Pants were accepted and panties abandoned.

T-shirts hit their stride by being worn alternatively under or over. Underwear revealed the body even more : low-waisted panties, preformed, transparent, even absent bra cups. Ten years after creating “Soleil”, the pared down model “Petale” with no lace, became Simone Pérèle’s second best seller and the company launched “Papillon” among the first lingerie sets in the market. Lou’s famous Filet and V met the needs of women who wanted freedom.

Chantelle signed their first molded bra revealing a perfectly held-in-place, natural bust. The model Fête became another company best-seller. Lejaby followed the Women’s Lib movement : the company’s Liberty line was a true revolution, since it had no underwire and came in six acidic colors.

Aubade launched the first backless bra, and followed with creations which let women tease men : the Agrafe Cœur, the Tanga. The House of Dior gave Gerbe the exclusivity to manufacture its pantyhose and stockings.

1980

The 1980’s inaugurated the cult of the body, the arrival of high-tech and the emergence of new idols. With Like a Virgin, Madonna stood up to Michael Jackson who had already redone his face. Superwomen appeared.

Paddings, leggings, bodysuits and fitted dresses invaded the windows of many  brands’ new ready-to-wear stores. The bra celebrated its 100th anniversary. Lycra was everywhere. Charming lingerie followed in the direction of the camisole, thong, wasp-waist corset and garter belt.

Lou’s Rio line incarnated the art of seductive shifting and carefree elegance. Chantelle offered active women “charming hold”. Gerbe multiplied collaborations with big names in French haute couture.

1990

Siliconed lips, liposuction and top models were front page news in the 1990’s. Perfumes invaded the fashion houses. International brands exploded. A generation of fashion enfants terribles brought new life to haute couture.

Wonderbra won the award in the push-up bra category. Full figures showed up on the runways. Buttock-boosting tights gained ground. Simone Pérèle’s microfiber bra, “Amelia” was a success. Molded models which gave the bust a natural look became the must-haves of their collections.

Microfiber knits were a success at Chantelle with Essensia. Nuage by Lejaby also used this very new fabric. With Divine, Chantelle confirmed their innovative mastery of bra cups and became the world’s leading high-end French lingerie brand. The Aubade “Lessons of Seduction” saga began, a harbinger of ready-to-seduce lingerie.

2000

In the first decade of the new century, heels went sky-high. The stiletto even established a record. Slip dresses and layers were worn with transparencies and tattoos. The era was about excessiveness. The night world overtook a daytime clarity. Microfibers confirmed their presence. Active, sport lingerie became democratic.

The second skin effect emerged in intangible lingerie : seamless, invisible bras with molded cups and almost-transparent bandeaus. Empreinte gave “full-figured” women the depth of G cups while Aubade launched the world’s tiniest thong. Gerbe received the “One Hundred Years or More of a Living Heritage Company” award from the French government for their quality, “Made in France” product.

The next pages in the history of French lingerie will be written by you. Textile innovations continue to play a key role, taking a back seat behind the talented hands of designers, they serve creators rather than attracting attention to themselves.

This will continue as long as a chic, free spirit, Parisian elegance and that inexplicable French Touch continue troubling the world by a random gesture, an attitude, a glance, a so French “je ne sais quoi” … and we will jealously keep this secret for a long time to come.