Photo courtesy of Freja Wesik and by Panna Donka

Screwing with lingerie: these designers are making avant-garde undergarments

Fabian Kis-Juhasz, Freja Wesik and Niamh Galea are subverting lingerie to celebrate identity, sexuality, and trans and non-binary bodies of all sizes.

by Zoë Kendall
14 April 2021, 7:00am

Photo courtesy of Freja Wesik and by Panna Donka

From Victoria’s Secret to the corsets of yore, undergarments — and, specifically, the category of lingerie — have traditionally stood to reinforce conventional standards of beauty. You know, the ones that align themselves with the male gaze; that represent an extremely limited set of body shapes and sizes; that advance a narrow view of gender and its many expressions. Over centuries, lingerie — and the ever-commercialized industry surrounding it — has imposed upon its wearers undoubtedly unrealistic and, frankly, alienating ideals. 

A new generation of lingerie designers, however, are subverting lingerie’s long-held conventions to explore contemporary notions of beauty and identity. Sweden’s Freja Wesik, New York’s Niamh Galea of Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp and London-based designer Fabian Kis-Juhasz are creating avant-garde underpinnings that are empowering rather than restrictive. They are a means for their wearers to celebrate their bodies, their sexuality and themselves.

model posing in an exposed nipple bra top by fabian kis-juhasz
Photography Panna Donka
collage of a model sitting on a bath tub and posing against a wall in lingerie by fabian kis-juhasz
Photography Reka Liziczai

Fabian Kis-Juhasz

Hungarian-born designer Fabian Kis-Juhasz moved to London at age 18 to study fashion at LCF and then RCA. Through her shapewear-inspired garments, she explores contemporary notions of feminine identity that speak specifically to trans and non-binary experiences.

What draws you to lingerie as a category?
While my brand isn’t exclusively a lingerie brand, it has a huge influence over what I do. Lingerie is such a quintessential part of the feminine identity and it’s something that has always fascinated me. The technical and historical side of it is so interesting and there’s so much you can learn from it. But, beyond that, the cultural connotations of it are quite complicated and there’s a lot to unpack, which provides a plethora of material for me to work with.

To you, what is the purpose of lingerie?
In my opinion, undergarments were designed to contain and limit the female body. Obviously, that is one aspect of it, so I guess I’m more interested in observing the “feminine form” and how it has been curated to please the male gaze.

How are you challenging the conventions of lingerie as a fashion category?
I think what I do is solely based on subversion. Shapewear has such a specific purpose and I try to subvert that through my own visual language to contradict its original meaning. My goal isn’t to create a desirable silhouette but to create something powerful.

How does the body inform your work?
I always think about the relationship between the garment and the body, and what a garment’s role is. I feel like lingerie and shapewear is normally made to “fix” something, and I hate that. The idea of the trans body also has a big part in this. The idea of a breast plate is something I keep coming back to. I guess I’m trying to create a version of it that’s designed to make its wearer feel more liberated instead of pleasing the observer.

Instead of concealing anything, [my nipple bras and corsets] are there to confront people and to, in a sense, glamourise the things that we are trying to brush under the rug. I think that by turning those details into a cut or a shape it hopefully helps to normalise them.

You can purchase Fabian’s garments through personal order via DM.

model in gingham knickers and bra top holding out her purse by ramp tramp tramp stamp
Photography Maximiliano Dal Masetto
collage of a model in a revealing corset and another sitting backwards on a chair in lingerie by ramp tramp tramp stamp
Photography Lula Hyers and Jonno Revanche

Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp’s Niamh Galea

Australian designer and Parsons MFA student Niamh Galea is the mind behind upcoming lingerie label Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp. Her size and gender-inclusive designs, which frame the body in novel ways, are a means for the wearer to reclaim their body and themselves.

How did you start designing lingerie?
I made my first piece of lingerie in 2017 during my first-ever heartbreak. I was feeling very unsexy and unloved, so I wanted to give that to myself! Lingerie is my favourite thing to design now.

To you, what is the purpose of lingerie?
Lingerie can have so many different purposes. It can represent a secret conversation between you and your body; it can bring power; it can hold and affirm you. A huge part of my practice is about reclaiming the visual slurs that are used by society to make people feel shame. For a long time, society has told us who is allowed to wear lingerie, who can be proud of their body, who is allowed to feel sexy. The intentional wearing of lingerie that doesn’t “fit” your identity is a radical and empowering way to reclaim your body and yourself!

How are you challenging the conventions of lingerie as a category?
In 2018, I was working as a costume design assistant on a TV show. One day, I was pulled aside by my boss, who told me that my lack of bra was very “distracting” to the producers and that I’d need to wear one the following day. I found this experience completely violating and shocking. I’d barely worn a bra since I was 18 despite my E cup breasts — and I wasn’t about to start. I immediately started plotting how I could wear a bra to work the next day in a way that would completely fail at acting functionally as a bra. That’s more-or-less where my asymmetrical and disjointed shapes were born. The conventions of lingerie inform every aspect of my design process, as I look from multiple angles to see how I can challenge them and dress the people they alienate, including myself.

How does the body inform your work?
The body is so integral to lingerie as these are pieces you wear directly on your skin and have the most intimate relationship with. The core of my practice is around fit flexibility, in terms of fitting different sizes and genders, particularly. As someone who’s always been so in love with fashion while constantly alienated by it, as a size 18 woman, I am so intent on making pieces that can expand and shrink to fit a wide variety of bodies. 

Lingerie can be used to frame or distort the parts of your body you are taught to feel shame about, allowing you to have a new relationship with it. By framing the body using sexy-as-fuck lingerie that accentuates bits of ourselves we’ve never thought to see, I hope we can learn to see our bodies more lovingly, less seriously and, in turn, enjoy them more. Never forget that everyone is sexy as fuck — the secret is you gotta believe that!

You can purchase Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp’s garments at Café Forgot, Kathleen and Terminal Six. Niam also makes made-to-order g-strings in exchange for a $100 donation to an NGO via DM.

Freja wesik sitting down in a rainbow lace up lingerie mini dress
Photo courtesy of Freja Wesik
two models in freja wesik abs corset and lingerie, one model topless and leaning backwards
Photos courtesy of Freja Wesik

Freja Wesik

Swedish School of Textiles graduate Freja Wesik creates lingerie pieces — like their abs corset — infused with fun and humour. Their personal designs are both an investigation of their body and an expression of their identity.

What drew you to lingerie as a category?
I love bodies, shape and clothes that act as an extension of the wearer. I also like to work with precision to detail; and I love hand-sewing and hand-made crafts. I love my own body, but I’ve felt disconnected from it because of how society has categorized me. I’m designing lingerie to investigate my body and express myself.

How do you define lingerie?
When dressing, I often wear a sports bra underneath for support, and my best and cutest lingerie over top of my clothes. It feels sad that no one gets to see them. I personally also feel sexier in a sports bra. I see undergarments as functional garments and lingerie as an accessory that you would like to show off.

How are you challenging the conventions of lingerie as a category?
I use humour as a tool for looking beneath traditional stereotypes and reclaiming power. I think my abs corset is a great example of this kind of humour. It plays between fun, serious, sexy and weird.

What’s the concept behind the Abs-Corset?
My work is always personal and often connected to my own experience. Most of all, I just like to have fun. My perception of the corset is to highlight the décolletage and to define the waist. In my corset, I’ve added material through stuffing the belly and, therefore, reshaped the silhouette of the garment. Changing the focus point from the décolletage to the abs changes the purpose as well as the expression.

For order inquiries, you can reach out to Freja via DM.

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Screwing with Fashion