Two months after the end of quarantine, this peculiar time does not seem to have created so many brutal ruptures with the world as it was “before”, but more to have participated in the acceleration of trends already present. The world of lingerie has thus seen the increasing demand for comfort pushed up to the “no bra” movement relayed by social networks, a movement advocating a release of the body from any source of discomfort. In these conditions, what about the future of lingerie? Has it necessarily fallen into disgrace?
This Thursday, July 2, 2020, the young ethical and fine lingerie brand House of Marlow celebrated its first year of existence. We had the opportunity to meet its creator, Billie, lover of stories and poetry. House of Marlow is the story of a successful alliance of comfort, elegance and ethical commitment. A lingerie that does not oppress but reveal, between light innocence and assumed sensuality, a multiple and liberated femininity.
Hello Billie! To begin with, can you tell us more about your professional career before the creation of House of Marlow?
Billie Marlow – la créatrice
I studied at the fashion school Esmod Paris where I followed the course “Fashion designer”: a double training in fashion design and pattern making in the field of women’s ready-to-wear. Then, I specialized in lingerie and corsetry in the last year. After some first work experiences in luxury lingerie workshop and creation studio, I started freelancing as a fashion designer/pattern maker for small brands. After working on the entire collection process for others, the long-standing desire to start my own brand has grown stronger.
How was this passion for the lingerie universe born and nurtured? How did you come up with the idea of creating your own brand?
LaPerla – Jean-Paul-Gaultier
Since I was old enough to wear it, I have always been fascinated by very soft and luxurious materials, by fine lingerie, often by beautiful vintage pieces, but also burlesque costumes!
I was quickly frustrated not to find what I liked in the business. I always had crushes on pieces that I could not afford. When I found a beautiful lingerie set, I considered it a (very) precious piece of my wardrobe. At 18, I designed 4 lingerie sets and I had them manufactured by a designer. The result was not “professional” but really was a stimulus for me. I loved seeing my sketches and my selection of fabrics transformed into wearable and elegant pieces. At that time, I had only one goal in mind: to be accepted in a fashion school, to learn the techniques of clothing and lingerie/corsetry, and one day to build my own brand. I just didn’t think it would happen that fast!
We can read on your website the following sentence “We are all writers of our history, poets of our lives”. What are the inspirations behind the poetic and sensual universe of House of Marlow?
I like this phrase that applies to life in general and here to lingerie, in particular. Indeed, I have always been convinced that the lingerie we wear has a real impact on our days, our moods and personalities. We can for example enjoy wearing a beautiful set of lingerie that gives us confidence on an important day and prefer to choose an ultra-comfortable set for more adventurous days. Each person has its own story to tell, to reveal. “Poets” symbolizes the sweet, dreamy and poetic universe that I like to breathe into the brand. But far from being limited to this single field, my inspirations are multiple.
For example, photography inspires me a lot. I have a lot of photography books at home and we are fortunate today to have easy access to a lot of images. Every month, I make a new discovery that inspires me. I also watch more and more old movies, in which the clothes, the nonchalance of the acting and the lifestyle of certain eras or stories, make me want to reinterpret them. Music is always with me and impacts my creative spirit. Bashung, Gainsbourg, Buckley, Bowie… so many artists who inspire me. Mostly men, but we can find this same poetry and sometimes this sensuality (more or less assumed) in their songs.
You define yourself as a brand of “ethical and fine lingerie”: in what ways does this eco-responsible commitment exist concretely?
House of Marlow – fabrication
At first, I wanted to be able to control all aspects of manufacturing from design to finished product: prototypes, size gradation, cutting and assembly, technical sheets and dyeing, photoshoots and online launch. I didn’t want to outsource everything.
In this approach, as a young and small structure, production is necessarily limited to small quantities. We manufacture between 15 and 40 pieces per model, internally, in Paris. Production quantities advance according to demand and at the rate of progression of the brand’s production capacity. Overproducing to destock a few months later seems completely illogical to me.
Many brands calculate their selling price in relation to the sales period, because this is the time when they sell the most. I prefer to offer a fair price all year round and reasonable quantities. This also translates into the purchase of materials, I only order what I need for a production, practically to the nearest meter, in order to avoid overproduction of fabrics and therefore dormant stocks. This limits the choice of materials but also makes sourcing more interesting.
In terms of quality, I have always had a taste for noble materials, so I turned to manufacturers recognized for their know-how, especially in France, and a little in Japan, Italy and England. When you know that the textile industry is the second most polluting in the world, it seemed natural to me to source eco-responsible materials and elastic: Oeko-Tex Standard100 certified, organic cotton, BlueSign certified dyes (not harmful) and metal accessories made of eco-friendly alloy. The labels of our products are made in the french Loire region by a family business. I would like to develop swimwear for the summer of 2021, and I can’t imagine using anything other than ECONLY fabric (recycled fishing nets), even if it reduces the choice of materials, it makes the creative challenge more interesting!
With each new collection, I try to find greener alternatives for all stages of production. For this summer collection 2020, it’s the introduction of recycled packaging and compostable mailing envelopes : you can plant them in your garden!
House of Marlow – fabrication
On your site, we can read: “Each set is born from a story that needs to be told”. What are the different steps in creating a House of Marlow collection?
House of Marlow – fabrication
House of Marlow – Collection 2020 – Les Filles du Pâquis
I build the collections by mixing my inspirations of the moment with designs that I gather in notebooks over the months. I always think about the photoshoot I want to do with this collection, before I even set it up: it helps me create a universe for myself. So I choose a direction, an atmosphere, colors, then the shapes that I need to offer a full range of products. Then a puzzle of designs, fabrics, details, assembly, etc. is installed. Once the collection plan is established, I make the patronages, then the prototypes. Then, we do fittings and we redo the prototypes until they conform to the final product.
Next comes the gradation of sizes, which currently ranges from size 34 to 42 and from 85A to 95C. Larger sizes will come in the future, but this is another step. Indeed, in order to create bras with a lot of support, a simple gradation is not enough, you must also change the elastic, sometimes even the shape, double… I do not want to rush this step, and I will maybe ask for the help of a model maker with a lot of experience on the subject, in order to offer a perfect fitting. Once the development phase is finished, we move on to production, we cut all the parts and assemble them in stages all together. To do it piece by piece would take too long because we use up to 4 different machines for a single piece.
A dreamlike atmosphere emerges from your photoshoots. Can you take us behind the scenes? How does a House of Marlow shoot take place? How do you choose the photographer, the models, the places, the atmospheres?
I organize and participate in a little more than half of the photo shoots of the brand that can be found on social networks, the others are made by talented photographers with whom I collaborate, we discuss our respective desires but the artistic direction belongs to them.
For the shootings that I organize, I work almost exclusively with François Laurendeau with whom I studied at Esmod Paris and who knows me very well. He understands the vision that I want to achieve with each new collection.
The girls we photograph are often favorite encounters on social networks. We have been talking for weeks, months sometimes and one day, I plan a shoot and I contact a girl I have in mind for a specific mood. They are not professional models but all have that sweet and nonchalant “je ne sais quoi” that makes me want to make these images with them!
Shooting Les Filles du Pâquis – Francois Laurendeau
Who says small brand often says small budget, so the places are often apartments or gardens loaned by friends, we even recently made a shoot in the Bois de Vincennes! We bring some accessories to create the atmosphere that I have in mind, but sometimes a simple white sheet does the job very well when the light is good and the model and photographer symbiosis is there too. So far, photo shoots have always taken places in an intimate and good-natured atmosphere, with only the photographer, one or two models and me. The recipe ? Flowers, fruits, music… and especially laughter.
These past few years, the world of lingerie has changed a lot, between the need for comfort and adaptability to different body types. What vision of lingerie, what messages do you want to convey with House of Marlow?
Absolutely and it is really for the better! Regarding comfort, many brands have bet on these points (like Chantelle and its “soft & stretch” range) and have been able to adapt brilliantly to market demand. In recent years, many brands have emerged to meet the needs of body shapes that have been set aside for too long, like Ysé for small breasts or, conversely, Edge O Beyond for larger breasts.
Soutien- gorge House of Marlow
Culotte House of Marlow
With House of Marlow I want to show that we can combine comfort and elegance and that it’s not just cotton basics that are comfortable to wear! I am aware that for the moment, the brand does not fit all types of morphology and this is a point on which I wish to work for the next seasons. The brand’s both innocent and sensual style allows women to tell another story about their bodies, a chapter imbued with sweetness, poetry, and a new sensuality.
You have revealed your brand new summer collection “Les Filles Du Pâquis” in early June. How, as a young business, did you manage the quarantine period?
House of Marlow – Collection 2020 – Les Filles du Pâquis
The quarantine was tough enough for the brand. The shoot for our latest collection “Les Filles Du Pâquis” was initially scheduled for March 20 and 21 on the Ile de Ré, with a collection release on April 1. Unfortunately, quarantine brought this project to a halt. I no longer had a lot of stock from the previous collection, nor the possibility of creating content and my suppliers of fabrics and elastics were all closed. In addition, part of the orders sent during confinement were “lost” in a postal sorting center and the rest sometimes took weeks to arrive. So it was a bit stressful and frustrating, I was looking forward to being able to present the new summer collection and breathe some sweetness and poetry into these complicated times. The warm welcome of the clients for “Les Filles Du Pâquis” allows to revitalize the rest of the adventure!
What are the development goals for House of Marlow this year?
In the coming weeks, the objective is to make up for the production delay due to the quarantine on the winter 20/21 collection! At the start of september, I would like to surround myself with someone to manage the communication/social media part of the brand that I have dealt with so far but which constitutes a full-time job. Until the end of the year, the projects are still quite uncertain because the Covid-19 is not yet fully behind us.
I’m looking for an inventive way to present the summer 2021 collection to the shops without making a showroom in september, and I’m thinking about taking the plunge and participating in the lingerie trade show in January 2021. Until Christmas, I’m going to focus on developing new cotton lingerie and homewear pieces, developing 2 or 3 sets of swimsuits for the summer of 2021, and other projects that I can’t talk much about but that include jewelry, exclusive embroidery, vintage prints … I can’t wait!
3 artists who inspire you on a daily basis (and with whom you would like to collaborate, perhaps)?
Since the beginning of the House of Marlow adventure, I have met lots of great creatives, photographers, artists, videographers, embroiderers… with whom we talked about collaborating on projects. These have not yet been done and I would love to take the time to do these soon! This period of quarantine was conducive to thinking about the desire to create. I was able to get my head out of Excel sheets and the sewing machine and refocus on what interests me the most, after creating new models: creating new content! I am inspired by so many people that it is complicated for me to choose only 3, so I will focus on French creatives:
- Frédérique Forest, designer of souls, knows for me how to illustrate like no other an emotion and a shiver of skin in a thin line, both minimalist and full of meaning. His drawings of women in particular, are always soft, soothing and very inspiring to contemplate. It inspires me to translate more emotions through more simplicity, which is not an easy exercise in creation.
- Maud Chalard in photography, really brings together everything I love. Her photos breathe a great deal of freedom, the desire to dance naked in nature until dawn! Each new image she creates is an invitation to travel, to let go… and I dream of working with her one day.
- Alain Bashung songs have accompanied me for years and continue to be a great source of emotion, strength and fragility for me. I spontaneously listen to his album “Military Fantasy” as soon as I draw: his words invite to tell many stories. And I think you know this by now: I love stories (and I believe in their power)!
Olympus digital camera
Thank you very much Billie, for these precious and inspiring shares.