A history of modern lingerie with Margot Pagès, designer of Miroir de Muses

The world of ladies’ underwear has managed to find a unique niche all of its own, continually adapting to women’s everyday needs so that it can seduce in the boudoir with a thousand layers of lace while winning friends in the gym by providing comfortable clothing for sporty women.  It would be a mistake to think of lingerie as something that is only made for a woman’s partner; first and foremost, it is made for women.  Does it serve to build women’s self-confidence, show their true personalities or just act as a small indulgence?  Surely, it’s a little of all three!  We were lucky enough to meet with Margot Pagès, the founder of Miroir de Muses to learn a little more about this delightful topic.

You refer to a link between the feminist revolution and lingerie: what connects the two worlds?

Lingerie is much more than a mere item of clothing: it is a symbol of femininity.  Just a few centimetres of cloth can still have a lot to say!  Lingerie also says as much about our most intimate relationship – that with ourselves – as much as it does about seduction and our relationships with others.  It’s hardly surprising therefore that underwear has always been closely linked with the history of women’s liberation, acting either as a catalyst for change or reflecting that social change.  In the 1920s, the bra became a symbol of women’s emancipation because it freed women from imprisonment in corsets.  The tomboy look was in fashion and the bra was used to “conceal” the chest with a view to covering up the differences between the genders in an act of rebellion against the constraints that society imposed on women.  This quest for women’s independence was, however, put on the back burner during the austere periods of the Great Depression followed by World War II, but from the 1950s onward women once again turned to their bras as “tools” of emancipation.  The push-up bra and the conical bra were invented to propagate the look of Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Lauren and Elizabeth Taylor, who embodied the image of liberated women who embraced and enjoyed their seductive power.

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By the 1970s however, the bra had come to be seen as an enemy, as a tool that allowed women to be objectified as part of men’s fantasies.  Feminists burned their bras on the barricades (in reality, they just threw their bras in a rubbish bin as a symbol of freedom).  As ever in this world of constant change, the bra returned in the 1980s in force, at a time when Chantal Thomas launched ultra-sexy, ultra-feminine corsets and other decorative lingerie as a potent symbol of femininity.  Since then, brands have gone all out to emphasise eroticism and seduction.

This was the start of the fashion for padded and push-up bras, when advertising began to feature images of a demanding woman who was comfortable about putting her own needs first and who was in control of her sexuality.  However, it seems that the media once again went too far in focusing on men’s satisfaction and today’s women have distanced themselves from this depiction of women.  They no longer recognise themselves in the ultra-sexy, artificial image that some advertising depicts, to the extent that some women will have lost interest altogether.

What we are observing today is a new turning point in the movement, which moves in a spiral rather than abruptly switching direction, as it shifts from celebrating femininity to downplaying it.  Today’s women identify with a kind of sensuality that is more authentic but just as clearly expressed.  Lessons in the art of seduction are over.  There’s no need to challenge, to provoke, or to prove anything: women feel fulfilled in their sexuality and naturally know how to be sexy.  Lingerie only needs to connect her with her innate sensuality.

Modern women can pick and choose from different forms of femininity at will to express themselves, and can enjoy lingerie for its own sake and not just as a tool of seduction.  They can, for instance, select a suspender belt and wear it to work simply for the pleasure of feeling like a woman – without anyone knowing it.  They can wear a body and jeans at weekends and reveal a delicate lacy number underneath a blouse in the evening – always maintaining a cheeky sense of freedom!

When putting together the Miroir de Muses fine lingerie concept store, I selected pieces that were in harmony with this new way of experiencing femininity.  The designs always feature a theme of subtlety and seductiveness with delicate, comfortable material and a perfect finish to give a piece that enables women to combine elegance, sensuality and dynamism.

There’s been a resurgence in the world of designer lingerie: what’s behind this explosion in the numbers of labels and designers?

This resurgence is closely linked with this desire to express this new impetus, this new way of experiencing femininity.  Lingerie is increasingly gaining recognition as a fashion accessory in its own right, which has attracted young, talented designers.  These new designers draw their inspiration more from the world of ready-to-wear fashion than from traditional lingerie labels.  In any event, I’m happy to have the opportunity to discover new talents on such a regular basis.  The sector is booming and that makes it exciting!

How is designing lingerie different from creating other items?

Items of lingerie are highly technical pieces.  They demand a lot more precision to ensure a comfortable, flattering and precise fit.  The designer has to get it right down to the last millimetre!  That is why, as a buyer, I have to be sure that the label has complete mastery of the specific techniques involved in lingerie manufacture, and the only way to do that is to test the products by having several women try them on.  Only pieces that meet my standards of comfort and style are chosen.

What should ideally be worn with your products?

The hyper-eroticism surrounding lingerie that I’ve just described has contributed to the underwear drawer being split into two sections: one side reserved for seductive, alluring and whimsical pieces, and another for simple everyday pieces that have little to commend them.  It is as if there were two women: by day, a woman who is devoted to work and in the evening, a woman who is devoted to her man.  On the other hand, lingerie from Miroir de Muses can be worn in the day or at night as a constant reminder to women of their beauty and their allure.

One of my criteria for choosing a product is whether it is easy to wear underneath outer clothes.  There shouldn’t be any pointless (and outmoded) ribbons or froufrou that would confine the item to the bedroom.  It is important to understand that lingerie is the foundation for the figure and that the shape of the bra should suit the style of clothing worn above it.  For example, a conical bra looks stunning beneath a blouse, while a balconette shape looks beautiful underneath a square neckline, while a push-up bra makes a big difference beneath a sweater.  The Miroir de Muses blog is full of fashion tips to help you achieve zero fashion faux pas where lingerie is concerned!

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I’d like to continue to be able to do what I love, and to continue to pursue my project.  I’m right at the start of my business adventure at the moment and I’d like to be able to put a team together quite quickly.  I’ve already identified some talented, enthusiastic people, so please join me in hoping that sales take off and I can start hiring quickly!  I’d also like to see the Muse community grow, so that there can be real discussions and sharing of ideas around the values that shape our concepts of fashion and femininity.

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