The new book, La Perla: Lingerie and Desire by Isabella Cardinali is a silken treat of the highest order. by Sarah Hassan
No one knows luxury like the Italians. As a country filled to the brim with stunning architecture, breathtaking vistas, a treasure-trove of fine art, beautiful women and wine that seems to flow forever, Italy cultivates what makes a good life, a dual identity of artisan craftsmanship passed down through generations and the national past time of dolce far niente, or, the pleasure of doing nothing.
It is a country that has forever captured the imaginations of babes abroad as the land of Tuscan sunshine, Roman holidays and dreamy lagoons.
It is no wonder, then, that Italy is also home to one of the most internationally-renowned lingerie brands which captures both the spirit of beautiful design and romantic desire: La Perla. Lingerie, which entered the English language as a euphemism for scandalous underpinnings, provides a fertile ground for the Italian love of quality fabrics. What started in 1954 as a small boutique in Bologna run by Ada Masotti, a skilled corset maker, became a coveted brand for women who craved not only functional undergarments, but also ones that were seductive and beautiful. Thanks to Masotti’s usage of the finest Italian materials and her keen understanding of the female physique that has influenced countless ensembles in lace, satin and silk, La Perla has become one of the most recognizable brands not only in the lingerie industry, but in fashion and popular culture as well; after all, who doesn’t like a little couture under their couture?
BUTTONS, HOOKS, RIBBONS & FANTASY
Lingerie, whether sweet in eyelet and lace, smoldering in latex and satin, or downright confusing with its array of straps, buttons, hooks and ribbons, has always been a terrain not only for male, but female, fantasy. Women, since the days of petticoats, pantaloons, corsets and the waist cincher, have always cared deeply about their figures and “what lies beneath.” Lingerie was a status symbol for early Egyptians; wearing a tunic indicated upper class status, while slaves went naked or subsisted on simple loin clothes. During the Middle Ages, the nobility had the luxury of underclothes to keep them from getting dirty and to help stay warm, while the corset—which has lived as the most erotic and scandalous pieces of clothing in the history of fashion —was the penultimate example of “pain is beauty” for a woman from the Elizabethan era straight into Victoria, the exaggerated, feminine shape outlined in bone and trussed up with laces. The mysterious life of that which stays closest to a woman’s skin throughout her day has been a constant inspiration for La Perla, and the brand dedicates itself to crafting lingerie for women at their most sensual and unique. One only has to flip through the gorgeous, saturated pages of La Perla’s present Autumn/Winter catalog, with its Japanese-cum-Orientalist fantasy theme that sets women in deep blue lace, black satin playsuits and grey silk kimonos against backdrops of lacquered cabinets and red wallpaper printed with peonies to recognize that this is a house that demands the utmost in luxury despite crafting garments that only a lucky few will ever see on the woman that wears them.
HISTORY-MAKING SATIN SWEET NOTHINGS
Now, thanks to a new book by Isabella Cardinelli, who was La Perla magazine’s editor-in-chief from 2006 to 2009 while overseeing the brand’s publishing projects, more eyes are set to feast on the history-making undergarments in La Perla: Lingerie & Desire, which will be published by Rizzoli books this October. This will be the only book ever dedicated exclusively to the brand, and there are fewer publishing houses who can meet the task at hand like Rizzoli, known for its beautiful, eye-catching tomes on art, fashion, design and travel. Not merely a photo album to set even the staunchest cotton-worshipper agog, the book will court La Perla’s rich history of Italian artisans and fabrics before cresting into a glossy collection of sexy archival images and contemporary advertisements, promising to be the perfect addition to any woman’s collection of sumptuous silks, delicate lace, soft satin and “sweet nothings.”
Sarah Hassan is a New York City-based writer, editor and cultural critic. She wrote about the life and scandals of Colette for TREATS! issue 3, and regularly contributes to Artwrit and The Herald. She is also an accomplished dancer and performer, and serves on the guest faculty at Sarah Lawrence College.