this fashion student is reinventing lingerie and asking, what is underwear anyway?
Elisa keeler is challenging every aesthetic, social and political notion you have about lingerie.
In her collection Underwire Ambitions, Elisa Keeler is looking at the desires and anxieties observed in womenswear and attempting to reinvent some of fashion's foundation garments. The ongoing project is, in short, reconsidering lingerie. Elisa is looking at the base assumptions of how we wear, fit and buy underwear and asking: what if this is all wrong?
It's a big task for any designer, but especially daunting when you realise Elisa is still undertaking her honours in fashion at Melbourne's RMIT. By picking at this seam, she's not only out to disrupt the restrictive history of underwear, but also liberate the bodies that are enclosed in it.
Your work focuses on the "current constraints" of lingerie. Can you describe what you're specifically referring to?
At the beginning of designing this collection I looked at pre-existing lingerie in the marketplace and realised it assumes if you are a certain size around the body then you will also be one of a certain cup sizes. That means for such a technical garment, the customer is pretty exclusive — it normalises the size of some women's bodies and ignores others. My response to this was to make a curved U shaped cut out on some of my garments to allow for more or less flesh in the bust area, this way it doesn't dictate the filling of a predetermined space. I was inspired by Lucio Fontana's 1960s work Waiting which makes gestural cuts into the canvas allowing space.
Which leads us to your idea of "unrestrictive lingerie."
Unrestrictive lingerie is proposing inclusive lingerie for bodies, allowing for absolute movement. When I designed this collection I wasn't looking to make traditionally understood lingerie or for the items to function in the way normal underwear does. I am asking whether or not these garments are lingerie, and if not, where else are they situated in fashion? When you look at the history of fashionable female undergarments they used to have quite a silhouette and were defining and restrictive compared to what they are today, but I feel we can unpack them further.
So you're really asking, what is underwear anyway? Something in the collection that challenges our regular notions are the brass wire pieces. They almost look like armour.
They do have armour like qualities, they are the most outer object worn in my collection and rearrange the role of lingerie as the last frontier between the body and the outer garments. The bra shape is an extension of the underwire found in a bra.
Lingerie has also become outerwear with people like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna embracing corsets and visible bras. Are your pieces intended to be worn like that?
Kim K is like the modern Marie Antoinette! Lingerie and undergarments being played with as outerwear has been the most interesting part of lending my garments to stylists now my collection is complete. I don't really want to tell people how to wear things in their everyday life, but I am very interested in how they choose to. In this collection bias cut silk dresses reveal the undergarments through different peepholes that I feel frame the lingerie, which plays on usual anxieties around underwear such as the VPL (visible panty line) and bra strap showing. To make these moments unavoidable is empowering.
Text and styling Jamie-Maree Shipton
Photography Agnieszka Chabros
Makeup Lilly Swan
Hair Xeneb Allen
Model Hannah @ Folk