“The aristocracy of vice is recognized today by its lingerie,” wrote Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1877 after viewing “Nana”, Édouard Manet’s daring painting of a courtesan.
“Silk is the trademark of courtesans who rent out at a high price,” he wrote, and Nana, “intelligent and corrupted as she is, she has understood that the elegance of stockings and slippers… is, to be sure, one of the most precious adjuvants that filles de joie have invented for overthrowing men.”
A certain characteristic of fin-de-siècle Paris, as depicted by Manet, was an almost obsessive concern with the women of the demi-monde, the actresses, dancers, writers, and “professional beauties” who were the celebrities of the day. Fashion was central to their lives, they used clothing to seduce, enthrall, impress. The woman who posed as Manet’s Nana was of that world, instantly recognized by contemporaries as 27-year old Henriette Hauser, a soubrette who became mistress of the Netherland’s Prince William of Orange (then living in exile in Paris, and known as a “noisy debauchee”.)
One wonders what happened to Henriette after her prince died in 1879. No one seems to have paid any attention to her afterwards. She’s merely a footnote in art history, this woman who takes a central position in one of the great paintings of the 19th century, now easily valued at over $50 million. But there’s something about that blue corset…
“Kim Kardashian is ruining my life,” said a squealing Brandi Glanville, one of the stars of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”.
“Kim posted a selfie of this corset that makes her waist really small, so of course I bought it,” as she recently shared with listeners of the “Brandi Glanville Unfiltered” podcast. “I’m wearing it right now. I can’t breathe and I’m getting heartburn, but I’m shrinking.”
Indeed, in August 2014 Kim Kardashian began wearing a blue corset all day and night as part of her “waist training,” a technique to get a nipped-in waist which was popularized earlier in the year by Blac Chyna (an enterprising young woman who named her child King Cairo Stevenson. The baby’s father is rapper Tyga.) Beyoncé, Jessica Alba, Khloé Kardashian, Amber Rose and Snooki have all followed her lead.
“It’s bright blue. It smells horrible. It smells like rubber,” Brandi explained of the garment purchased at Ebay for $26.99. “It’s not great for you. Apparently it moves your organs around. It’s really unhealthy. So I’m just doing that right now,” she said. “As long as my organs don’t get all messed up.”
If the aristocracy of vice is recognized today by its lingerie, then it’s taking shape in hideous blue rubber!
And clearly it does not bear the La Perla label.
Over its 60-year history, La Perla has maintained a reputation for producing the highest quality lingerie, with pieces of exquisite silks and lace, and perfect fit. When I recently attended a luncheon at Cotogna in celebration of the luxury brand’s new boutique at 170 Geary Street, I wondered about the life of the woman who wears such beautiful lingerie.
She’s not the woman who would post a selfie in a blue rubber corset, who would parade down a runway wearing Victoria’s Secret’s angel wings, or Playboy bunny ears, who merely inspires great art but leaves no mark on the world herself. There is more than men and money on her mind.
In Mario Testino’s recent portrait of Angelina Jolie, Jolie is shown as just such a woman. In the photo she merged the glamour of a 1930s Hollywood goddess with the strength of a 21st century career woman — and she did so wearing La Perla.
Accomplished, confident, daring, she wore a white silk dressing gown (Silk Essence, $858.00) with the casual elegance of a person who has little time for grand personal indulgences, finding her pleasures instead in life’s little luxuries. Freshly cut flowers in her office. Time with her family. Fine fabrics against her skin.
La Perla in San Francisco
It’s this subtle sense of luxury and sophistication that has always seemed to me the the hallmark of San Francisco style, represented by women such as Vanessa Getty (who hosted the recent luncheon for La Perla), Katie Traina, Carolyn Chang, Mary Beth Shimmon, OJ Shansby or Alice Cahan.
Soon La Perla customers will be able to explore the latest in luxury lingerie at the new boutique designed by Italian architect Roberto Baciocchi, opening in Union Square after a five-year search for space. “This is really a project that I’ve spent a lot of time on,” said Suzy Biszantz, CEO of La Perla North America, “and I’m so excited.”
Founded in 1954 by a Bolognese housewife named Ada Masotti, the La Perla style of lingerie, with its hand embroidered silks, exquisite embroideries, its seductive slips of Leavers and Chantilly lace, seems so unlike the harsh, painful corsetry now popular in Hollywood and harkening back to a century when women were hobbled by their clothes.
But maybe I’m being too serious. It’s just underwear, after all. Or to quote Dorothy Parker:
“One may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.”