Earlier this month Gorkana asked me which brand I would breathe new life into if I had the chance. My answer was lingerie brands - La Senza and Marks and Spencer's. Sadly no one was willing to put up the cash to breathe any life back into the UK branches of La Senza as it faces the end of the line by collapsing into administration. Lingerie has been in the news recently for different reasons as Ada Collection at Dear Kate controversially added real women from the tech industry to their campaigns. In other news Britney Spears has been hot on the promotion trail launching her new line with Change Lingerie for Intimate Britney Spears. For men, David Gandy has been announced as the face of Marks and Spencer's Autograph Men's range. It got me thinking, who is selling you your pants? As marketing is essentially selling your product to your customer, it stands to reason that the model or celebrity fronting the campaign will have been carefully selected to reflect your brands view. So who influences your choice? Is it brightly coloured signs, celebrity endorsement, a well-oiled, hairless, retouched model? Or is it simply about comfort, purpose and fit?
There have been all kinds of underwear trends over the years. For women, ever since we stumbled out of the cave we’ve been drawn to extraordinary creations, waist cinching corsets, bloomers, thongs. As Stylist puts it ‘Women have worn rib-crushing corsets, bandaged their chests to get an androgynous silhouette and burned their bras as a statement of liberation – put mildly, underwear matters.’ In the modern age, we’re still no stranger to trends – we’ve had cone brassiers (Madonna), 50s style cinching (Mad Men), shape wear (a la Bridget Jones), sex toy fetish related gear (50 Shades of Grey), knicker flashing (Marilyn Monroe in 7 Year Itch) and even women wearing boxers (hello Carrie Bradshaw) oh and dispensing of the bra altogether - all #freethenipple action.
And what about men? The underwear industry is not traditionally as lucrative as for women (the average British woman say the Independent will spend £20,350 on underwear in her life, while men shell out just £1,200), but we’re no stranger to the naked, hunky, possibly stuffed and photoshopped male on a billboard. Whereas women are look obsessed, men seemingly in the majority are all about the function and fit. From loin cloths, baies, chausses, cod-pieces, long johns to the modern day boxers, men are also not exempt from trends – Calvin Klein scored big with the now iconic boxers and briefs shot (Marky Mark and Kate Moss), classic (Nick Kaman Levis), commando (Joey Tribiani, Scots men wearing kilts), pants over your tights (Superman, Batman) – just kidding – that one didn’t quite make it from superheroes to the high street.
So in a world that is fundamental but rarely on show (apart from the underwear as outerwear trends that never quite gain traction outside of the catwalk) underwear can span everything from comedy to sexy, and can be supermarket smalls or luxury silks – what does make the difference when you pick up a pair?
M&S dominates this market, it is the land of the multi pack, reasonable prices and trust. You might not be picking up your suit, but your pants are a safe bet in M&S. David Gandy is a huge supporter of British industries (I had the pleasure of hearing his interview at The Industry - and meeting him afterwards) and he has worked with M&S for years, and is worth noting, looks cracking in a pair of pants. Gandy's new collaboration for the Autograph range which he launched this month is visually impactful but will Adonis sell to the average man? He'll certainly get the headlines to remind Joe Public that the underwear line exists. ' He has aimed (or the design team have) to change the product. Gandy says; 'I've focused heavily on the detail of every product from the quality of the fabrics, great comfort and fit, to the signature houndstooth print that features on the packaging and internal linings. Hopefully, together, we have created an underwear range that is unique, offering a premium range available at high street prices.' To market to men I've seen double page spreads in most of the print press, M&S have gone hard-out on Gandy an using phrases which perfectly fit their sterotype of the modern man, likening underpants in advertising in the Metro to machinery 'engineered and crafted for the perfect fit'. Obviously. Keep an eye out and see how many times you see those words cropping up in their Per Una range for women. I'll take a punt at never.
However, there is another reason this Gandy Pants Campaign is significant, and it all comes back to this little email I received from M&S this week, because boys, the Gandy Pant is not altogether aimed at you. Ohhhh no. You may be over impressed by the pouch control and how many gears the briefs have and whether the boxers can do a three point turn, but M&S have a two pronged attack. And that my friends is based on the old fashioned view and somewhat true fact that WOMEN buy man pants for their men, as the Telegraph reveal; '"It is odd that even the most macho men delegate the duty of buying new underpants – the garment closest to their masculinity – to women as soon as they can'. You can just imagine the marketing presentation at M&S -'so these Gandy Pants will appeal to the main underwear buyer in the household - the woman! Let's send an email to the women with a tongue in cheek title - the women will LOVE IT!' Are you ready for some #EyeGandy?' said the M&S e-campaign. Well yes but that's beside the point. The point is M&S are literally spelling it out, practically saying 'Gaze on gorgeous Gandy and then buy your man a pair of white briefs'. I mean, I am quite sure there are a few men that fancy a bit of #EyeGandy but the term itself seems more pointed towards women. And the PR campaign for heavens sake - note this coverage on the Daily Mail sits in the Femail section. Is there no men's section? But I also concede that it is possible this email was segmented to women and men got a more sensible headline, and I am sure there was more sensible PR on the campaign in the men's titles.
M&S surely brought in a heavy weight like Gandy after the success of high street retailer and leader of directional collaborations; H&M. Golden Balls aka David Beckham has always flirted with the man pants market but finally officially collaborated with H&M in 2012 bringing his significant and growing gravitas to the high street man pants market. H&M took David Beckham from the football pitch to the photography studio and used his best assets to boost their sales. Golden Balls will not have come cheap, and on top of that they shot a high octane, high budget film and put him high on billboards throughout the land. Gandy and Beckham represent an attempt to appeal to the modern man - a mean, slightly moody but nonetheless mega successful, mega fit and in control.
But these are the few underwear campaigns fronted by male cebrities. Models lead the way with designer brands and there is no expense spared to entice luxury men into posh boxers as the campaigns are off the chart premium. D&G, Armani, Calvin Klein - suggesting men need a little more enticing when the price goes up.
Elsewhere in man pants land we have faceless man in general of Next, only the bulge, sorry fit is seen online with only what can be said to be pretty loud and proud multi pack designs (£20 will get you a four pack of boxers). Same can be said for Topman, River Island, Asda and so on. At the bottom end of this market (no pun intended) there is just no point adding additional marketing budget to this product that has long been thought of as functional. It will only be if Beckham and Gandy succeed in upsetting the apple cart and proving that men want a little more pizzaz from their undercrackers, then we'll see all kinds of campaigns. But for the moment function and fit is all that matters, although I bet Superman would disagree.
Women are a whole different kettle of fish - for one we have additional products in the mix- because where there's a pair of knickers, there's a matching bra, and where there's a matching set, there's a basque or a suspender belt, and if you have all of those, you'll need a pair of silk stockings. It is suddenly not surprising that women are spending SO much more than men. We are a marketing dream, and we'll want one in every colour. Women still want comfort and fit, but we're leading with our eyes. We see it, we want it, and then we'll figure out if it fits. Even Asda who could only afford enough cash for a buldge shot with men, has a smiling lingerie glad girl on their lingerie home page. And as ever, for gifts, there is a fair amount of it that appeals to men, but no doubt the primary target in this market is the woman wearing it. Women want to look like the women in the posters. So where Gandy leads the men, Rosie Huntington Whiteley leads the women. Lingerie has long been one of the only things M&S was excelling in, and certainly there is nothing not to like here - she looks amazing!
But I confess, I was once a devoted M&S lingerie shopper and I have been AWOL for years now. Their attention to detail slipped off the ball a while ago and the fit is lacking the precision it once did, the arrival of multi packs made me feel like I was in a supermarket. And before I knew it I was drawn to the American invasion of Victoria's Secret. What Victoria's Secret got right was the ease of service - you can be measured and carry on about your day without so much as a worry as they whip that tape measure around you super quick, on the shop floor and just utter a quick 'you're welcome'. Amaze. I'm a total convert and I can see the marketing a mile off. Other clever things, which are now common place as the little drawers all sorted by size. Quick, easy and non-threatening. Which is quite a statment when you consider the girls who front the campaign are all supermodels as their famous Victoria's Secret Fashion Show proves, everyone who is anyone in the modelling world has been an 'Angel'. And for some reason you want to be part of their gang, they're like the most popular girls in your school and you want to be a part of it! Bustier, wings, glitter and all! That's why the concept works, bold, brash and a little fun, you're reaching for your credit card for a push up diamante negligee before you can say 'not tonight love.'
And it surely the enslaught of the American concept that has polorised the UK market. Ironically La Senza is part of the same parent company asVictoria's Secret so perhaps the grand plan was to make La Senza into a cheaper version aimed at a younger customer. The brand came originally from Canada - and I still remember how they positioned it as 'little luxuries' and wrapped everything with little scented beads included. But it was not to be and they departs the mid-market lingerie market with a whimper.
Theo Paphitis of Dragons Den fame bought the UK franchise of La Senza and grew it to it's height before he departed in 2012 for £100 million. La Senza's demise he notes in saying to BBC '"It's sad because it's a company that I used to consider was my baby back in the early 2000s and it's sad to see it go off the High Street, But it's a sign of the times, I suppose." But Paphitis has a new bouncing baby. Boux Avenue took the product and employed tactics seen in Victoria's Secret -merchandising with drawers used to store and display on the shop floor plus fitting rooms with different lighting options to ensure you look your best. It's a young, fun consumer, fronted by young models practically having pillow fights.
There's more lingerie brands, and clothing brands with lingerie in the mix than you can shake a stick at - Topshop, New Look (who have Kelly Brook as their face), Ann Summers (although looking at the wide variety of discounts on their website - it looks like the Rampant Rabit might be keeping the profits up), Panache (which is amazing for bigger busts), Michelle Mone's Ultimo where she is now the perfect spokeswoman (along with a little help from the flawless model Abbey Clancy), Gossard, Wonderbra, La Perla, that's barely even scratching the surface of brands.
At the top end of the market, it is as sharp and competitive as it gets.We have Myla, Elle MacPherson, Rigby & Peller amongst many others. But if sex sells, Agent Provocateur sink their money into elaborate advertising campaigns creating a luxe, seductive industry to buy into. Their campaigns are expensive. There are no pillow fights, no sequins (apart from ones on the nipple tassels). Agent Provocateur are the Tatler of the lingerie world, naughty, cheeky, more money than they can shake a whip at. And they have celebrity endorsements from time to time (only of the A list variety mind) from Kylie Minogue on her rodeo bull, Kate Moss roaming round her mansion in her basque.Last month, luxury lingerie went up a whole different level when Kim Kardashian stepped out in Atsuko Kudo latex to the GQ Awards. The latex brand is so expensive there are no prices on their website and it has a catwalk! It is like art fetish. High end designer haute couture porn, and it is on your red carper. How long until this makes it to a nightclub near you? Honestly - we have SO many options -are you latex high fashion mistress? Dominatrix? Temptress? Seductress? Do you like red? Or lace? Do you wear a thong or French knickers? Or stomach holiding in pants? Do you like dressing up in a nurses outfit or is dressing in boy style shorts? Do you like slogan pants? Fancy pants? Can your pants go past go and collect £200? The market for women is saturated with options, all professing the perfect fit. And one woman's trash is another woman's treasure - this is not one industry which is one size fits all.
In this industry, just like we've seen in politics before it, our evolutionary habits kick in and we go right back to where we started - the prettiest model sells you your lingerie - beauty leads over brains in this camp. Fashion overhauls once again the notion that we can have brains before beauty. Some have tried the 'normal' approach and where real women do come in they court controversy, bringing plenty of emotions to the surface.
The Dear Kate range used 'real women' from the tech industry in their basic underwear working on laptops. The images themselves don't work for me, but past that, they seemed to bring up questions of who should be modelling lingerie. Were these women devaluing themselves by doing this? Could the other techs take them seriously? Do you want to see how your pants will look when you are working on your laptop? Julie Sygiel from Dear Kate says; 'As an underwear company, it is necessary to show women wearing our products. In an industry where models are traditionally shown lounging with their mouths in sexy pouts, we show the opposite. At Dear Kate, we show women who aren’t waiting for someone else to call the shots. They are making things happen on their own, which makes sense given that our line is much more than just pretty underwear." But who are we trying to kid? We're trying to sell you pants in anyway we can, whether you identify with a normal tech girl or a pouting supermodel, we'll do everything we can to get you to the till point. I doubt this campaign will impact margins but it will help hits to the website through awareness.
So there you have it, a little look at all the tactics which are consipiring to get into your pants. And think of all the things I haven't even unearthed! This subject could run and run so I will revisit it from time to time...but right now what does the future look like? Bra with a pocket for your mobile? Google boxer Glass (eek maybe not)? The male underwear market although not as lucrative as for lingerie, is beginning to test the waters with high profile names fronting their campaigns, but this will not become the norm unless suddenly everyone is stampeding to buy Beckham and Gandy pants and leaving all their Next boxers on the shelf. The lingerie market for women is, as I said earlier saturated with everything and therefore the boundaries are continually pushed with more daring options, enhanced creations, getting increasingly expensive, exclusive and enticing. It reminds me of this line from Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere asks her what her name is and she answers 'what do you want it to be?' - we're in danger of being so many things we forget to be ourselves. The only way forward is surely to take all our clothes off and go au natural. Just joking, stand down 😉
Until next time x