Reading, in the introduction to 1000 Dessous: A History of Lingerie, Michel Eyquem Montaigne’s quote “There are things best displayed by concealment” reminded me of my favorite “lingerie” story: Whenever Hard Copy profiles the modeling world, its 5,000-year-old spokesperson Nina Blanchard is released from her tomb for a statement. My friend who worked in the Blanchard office used to regale me with hysterical stories from their nutters file. To wit, with every Nina TV appearance, the same gentleman would write and request her “soiled big white panties.” Which brings us to the first chapter: “Lingerie Through the Ages.”
Here are beautiful templates of the first women’s Calvin Klein briefs (Sumeria, 3000 B.C.), fetish corsets (Crete, 2000–1700 B.C.) and the precursor to the sports bra, found in a Roman villa 1400–500 B.C., and no doubt worn by softball-playing girl-jocks. This chapter informs us that the modern bra didn’t exist until 1886. Don’t believe it. I’m sure some enterprising Druid Wiccan sorceress, or an entrepreneurial vestal virgin, invented it, but they’re not giving her credit. (The publisher is German, after all.) Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Raphael are credited as the source for the homosexual aesthetic in women’s underwear. Some things never change.
Other chapters include “Lingerie in Eroticism” and “Lingerie in Advertising,” which should but does not include the delicious Petty Girl or Vargas illustrations from Esquire. That blunder is corrected with several pages highlighting the catalog from the Fabulous Undie World of Lili St. Cyr — Victoria’s Secret doesn’t compare to that kind of genius. “Lingerie on Film,” from the silent era to the present, is the book’s highlight: the incandescent Hanna Schygulla, decked out in provocative black bustier, stockings and suspender belt from Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun; plus the outrageous kinkwear from Ken Russell’s little-seen Lisztomania; the subtle, yet slinky lingerie worn by the divine Romy Schneider in Orage; and the best example of movie lingerie setting trends, the baby-doll nightie from the 1956 Elia Kazan film Baby Doll, denounced by Cardinal Spellman because Carroll Baker was giving good thumb.
We are all secretly libidinous, as 1000 Dessous makes exceedingly clear.