- In lingerie it’s hard to cheat. Bras either fit and shape, or squeeze and scratch, bulge and bother. They do too little or too much, show what they should or what they shouldn’t. You can only go by looks alone if you don’t need one. The one-fits-all has yet to be invented, mass production seeks to overcome the tedium by SML hardcup coconut shapes. High street underwear isles resemble hardware store foam departments, but not all of us want to look like cartoon characters or avatars.
There is probably nothing that shows the signs of the times more than fashions in body shapes, and what shapes those forms. After the bra burning 70s, in most recent history came 80s body armour, shoulder pads and public corsetry.
The French lingerie brand Lejaby’s 130 anniversary lets us look back in time. Despite the French revolution and the Grecian revival, at the end of the 19th century women were still tied up every morning. When in 1884 Louis Neyron invented a new natural material which was soft, antiseptic and insulating, the garments were for men, with the trade name Dr Rasurel assuring the medical qualities. It took Neyron’s parting and his wife to succeed him in 1917 for the first ladies’ ranges of corsets, petticoats to be launched; swimwear for men and women by their son Pierre Neyron followed ten years on.
- In 1930 an inspired young corset maker called Gaby Viannay designed her first brassieres à la Marlene – as in Marlene Dietrich in Blue Angel. The instant hit ‘La Gaby’ spawned ‘Lejaby,’ the company registered by Gaby’s brother-in-law Marcel Blanchard.
Following the founders’ deaths, the Bugnon brothers take over Lejaby and in 1961 they broker an exclusivity deal for Lycra in France. The company soars and buying out Rasurel (1966), the now joint companies continue to rise in the sky of French lingerie. Celebrating feminine liberation in the 70s they then live out the stellar 80s.
The ‘dark years’ are those when international mergers and acquisitions rule and shake the fate of the previously family run enterprise. Offshoring in a low price war doesn’t fare well with a product that requires particular skill.
Internationally run production in Tunisia, China, Morocco becomes unmanageable, the financial crisis 2009 proved fatal.
As a prestigious French company, the situation of Lejaby became political and exemplary for a global situation. European manufacture in crisis creates not only a social issue - loss of employment - but also a cultural one: loss of skill, disappearance of the ‘savoir faire,’ a national heritage.
- 2012 the French ‘tribunal de commerce’ chooses the CEO Alain Prevost to be in charge of the rise of Phoenix, bright as a butterfly as Maison Lejaby with three different collections. Over one hundred employees now work on site in Rillieux-la-Pape, ready to make your order. The novelty is Maison Lejaby Couture, the couture collection with its ‘Salon Couture’ the private showroom, in Rue Royale. This takes us right back to the beginning of couture from Worth to Chanel, when Coco ran the shop. Private rooms, small client shows, private orders, a wooshing curtain, an intimate atmosphere. Unique pieces are hand-sewn to order.
High prices for luxury brand items are to date no assurance that there is no slave labour or other inhumane conditions involved in the production process. For the moment, while we are pleading for global transparency and accountability, one way is to go where mass production cannot possibly go. Where not one piece is quite like the next, making production lines as such impossible. Hence why not order something special, just made for you?
The true luxury today is time — life, personal contact, relationships, trust, continuity. Maybe we can retrieve some values, the notion of quality, handmade, one stitch at a time.