At a time when bras were scorned by women of the ‘Peace and Love’ generation as a symbolic restriction on their freedom, she spearheaded a counter movement, introducing bustiers, suspender belts and corsets crafted from lace, and tulle and mesh fantasies that brought sexy lingerie back into fashion. Her iconic style has been instantly recognisable for its provocative sensuality ever since.
What are your primary sources of inspiration in designing a collection?
I always start with the fabric. I love dainty lace and often go to Calais in northern France where Leavers lace was invented to consult the archives. I pick out traditional elements and give them a new spin to recreate lace fabric that, thanks to modern core spun yarns, are as soft and comfortable as they are beautiful. We can reproduce even the finest Chantilly lace from yesteryear. I also work a lot with tulle, mesh and satin mixed with LYCRA® fibre. I then link the fabrics to a theme that reflects current trends and customer expectations identified by our field teams
How have fiber and fabric innovations influenced your work?
They’ve changed everything! When I couldn’t find what I wanted for my first collections in the lingerie segment, I used ready-to-wear fabrics. Thinking back, they can’t have been all that comfortable! LYCRA® fibre innovations really shook things up, and influenced lingerie even more than ready-to-wear because it is more demanding. It’s what we wear next to our skin and has to provide support and comfort which makes it harder to add touches of fantasy. There is also less scope for expression through surface textures and appearances. But we can nevertheless create truly delicate designs today using wear-resistant materials that combine comfort and style. We work with lightweight, supple fabrics that feel like a second skin, and have elasticity that that doesn’t leave marks. I could only dream of such things in the early days of designing body-hugging basques.
Did these textile developments affect hosiery?
They caused even more of a revolution! My first cut-and-sew tights didn’t offer much in the way of comfort. Nowadays, we can play around with opacity to produce trompe-l’œil effects. My thigh-high hosiery has proved very popular. Modern yarns and looms enable constructions that are ever finer and increasingly ladder-proof. With the latest LYCRA® fiber technology, there’s really no limit to creativity.
Are there fabrics somewhere in the future that you can still only dream of?
We’re still pretty limited when it comes to sheer fabrics. Muslin, for example, is not fine enough for my taste and only offers one-way stretch which doesn’t meet comfort standards.
What sorts of fabrics have caught your attention lately?
I like wovens that incorporate LYCRA® fiber because they enable more sophisticated finishes than knits. I often include them in my collections – in our “Murmure”, “Farandole”, “Volage”, and “Ballerine” lines for example. One of my favourites last year was a false eyelash fabric print that inspired the creation of “Audacieuse”.
What “must-have” qualities do you look for in a fabric?
Elasticity, first of all, to ensure suppleness and support – a must when your collection caters for cups size all the way up to size F! Wearer comfort, another essential, is closely related to elasticity. Last but not least is the hand: I look for fabrics with the kind of soft feel that exudes sex appeal.
Have there been fabrics that you liked that didn’t work out?
Silk with LYCRA® fibre is really smart but I don’t use it anymore because it needs ironing after washing and few women are prepared to do that today. And I once launched summer tights in an extra fine, lightweight, sturdy linen-LYCRA® fiber mix, but they never took off because customers didn’t see the point of linen in hosiery. Generally speaking, women no longer sew and are less knowledgeable about fabrics. They value comfort and well-being and have an eye for garments that deliver this without really understanding how or why.
How would you describe the Chantal Thomass brand?
It’s about sexy intimates with a decidedly feminine touch. Above all, women need to feel that they look good. I delight in introducing provocative touches to my designs. It could be some form of transparency, or the interplay of sheer and opaque or of masculine and feminine characteristics for offbeat sex appeal. For example, mixing manly chalk stripes with a satiny fabric containing LYCRA® fibers, or trimming a simple bra with a turn-down collar, or reinterpreting 18th-century crinoline to achieve extra volume.
How would you describe Chantal Thomass customers?
We appeal to all ages, from young girls to mature women depending on their attitude to lingerie. They tend to buy for themselves – treat themselves – rather than to please their partner. And we have broad demographic appeal: women with limited income save up to buy Chantal Thomass. If you like it enough, luxury lingerie is affordable whatever your budget, as opposed to ready-to-wear where things could be way out of your price range.
What about a sneak preview of designs from your 2019 summer collection?
I’ve been working on a zip-up LYCRA® fiber lace bodysuit with an athletic yet sexy look; also articles in a fine dotted woven fabrics, like a super-soft percale. There’s an eveningwear line adorned with Swarovski crystals, and there are new mesh and tulle blends that ooze feminine charm.