The art of seduction
Explore the vast array of modern lingerie to enhance, flatter and empower this Valentine's, writes Bairbre Power
In her classic style bible, 'A Guide to Elegance', French fashion guru Genevieve Antoine Dariaux lamented how the number of articles of lingerie worn by fashionable women had diminished down to just a bra and panties, dispensing with garments such as chemises and corsets, slips and suspender belts.
However, in the sultry world of lingerie, usage has turned full tilt and 50 years later, today's modern woman has an ever-expanding armoury of fascinating foundation garments she reaches for on a daily basis to empower, flatter, enhance and seduce.
This Valentine's, the selection of lingerie on offer is breathtaking – not just the brands and cup sizes, but product choice too, from waspies (abbreviated corset) and quarter bras (cutaway in the front) to corselettes (bra and girdle all in one). Male shoppers should take full advantage of the expert advice available, but first, raid her underwear drawer to check out her size and colour tastes.
Ros Ellis, group lingerie buyer at Brown Thomas, walked me through the intimate surroundings of their Lingerie Rooms, where expert fitters are there to help not just the curious male shopper, but for women who want their underwear to enhance their body and to have their clothes fit better.
Eight out of 10 women wear the wrong size of bra so, with the spotlight increasingly on lingerie pre-Valentine's, isn't now the perfect time to go and get fitted? That way, he'll know exactly what to buy you, hopefully from desirable cult brands such as Myla and Elle Macpherson, which are labels guaranteed to set pulses racing.
A brand worthy of attention this Valentine's is L'Agent by Agent Provocateur – and one glance at the photo above will tell you why. It's an affordable diffusion range from a respected lingerie giant, and our high-octane three-piece lingerie set was designed by actress Penelope Cruz and her dancer sister, Monica. The 'Penelope' bra style in black satin can be worn strapless. Jessie, our model, wore it with a waist-cinching waspie and briefs with suspenders.
Black bra, €63, waspie, €120, and briefs with suspenders, €48, all L'Agent by Agent Provocateur; black stockings, €15, Falke
The lingerie world is populated by a great many celebrity designers. Former supermodel Elle Macphershon is already established, and the Danish beauty Helena Christensen designs for Triumph. However, the real star for me is Stella McCartney and while I can't afford her clothes all the time, I can afford her lingerie range.
It's Stella's attention to detail that gets me every time. Beautiful fabrics, clever construction, intricate strap details: the balconette-style bra (€54.95) in coral satin displays all three. This bra has subtle Art Deco styling and the panel detail is echoed in the matching briefs.
Tangerine babydoll, €56, bra, €46 and briefs, €23, all Passionata; necklace, €115, Monica Vinader
Coral silk bra, €54.95, matching briefs, €29.95, both Stella McCartney
For guys who want to go a step further, I would recommend that they accessorise this outfit with LK Bennett slingbacks in peach leather with a delicious frill on the heel, or perhaps some Louboutins or Jimmy Choos.
French brand Scandale has created sophisticated pieces to enhance a woman's curves. Shapewear attracts mixed press even though it does a fine job slimming silhouettes, flattening tummies and effectively air-brushing out saddle bags at the tops of the thighs. But there's always the fear/shame of being caught at the end of the night still wearing your shapewear – that dreaded 'Bridget Jones' moment when you're outed for wanting to show off a body that nature didn't give you.
For our shoot, we chose a vintage-inspired Scandale high waisted skirt in shell pink. The €44.90 piece boasts suspender ties that cry out for sheer stockings, such as those from Wolford for €29.
On a recent visit to Brown Thomas, celebrated designer Roland Mouret expounded his theory that women "all dress up to undress". Maybe it's a cultural thing which his French clients adhere to, but I know lots of Irish women who, getting dressed in pre-dawn darkness, want to leave the house looking smart, professional, elegant ... and without baby food dribbled down their front.
Probably the last thing on their minds as they rifle through their all-black clothes rail (there's a reason for that) is how they plan to undress that night. Women readily admit that they feel more empowered when they dress from the inside out, which is why they love receiving gifts of lingerie – but if the man is nervous about making a choice, there's always the gift card option.
Good lingerie makes a difference to the way you hold yourself and the way you walk. Basic denim jeans feel very different when you are wearing silk French cami knickers, and there's a way to fall in love with an old white shirt by wearing it over a new lace bra such as the Maison Lejaby one above.
Women cherish a correctly-sized bra that holds them in place so that they don't have four boobs at the front, leakage at the sides and back fat visible on the rear of their top.
Purple lace bra, €52, briefs, €27, both Calvin Klein; Alexis Bittar earrings, €210.
Purple lace bra, €52, briefs, €27, both Calvin Klein; Alexis Bittar earrings, €210
If you want a quick uplift, Ros Ellis points to the Calvin Klein 'Push Positive' lace bra (€52), pictured above in purple. It gives an amazing uplift, and it's terrific with a scoop neckline. It also comes in nude and black.
Valentine's lingerie buys don't have to be about just bras and briefs. There's a world of sheer throws, babydolls and hosiery.
We all know about the impact of silk sheets, but why not treat your lady to silk pyjamas. Olivia Von Halle has made a name for herself internationally with her deliciously mannish yet utterly feminine, lounging-style pyjamas.
Turquoise bra, €85, matching briefs, €49, both Maison Lejaby; silk pyjama top (part of set), €330, Olivia Von Halle
Black/nude body with buttons, €141, Maison Lejaby; black stockings €21.50, Falke; ring, €355, Katie Rowland
They have deep hems, a drawstring waist, silk piped trims and mother of pearl buttons. The top is shown above with a Maison Lejaby bra, and the set costs €330.
Lingerie trends have produced what the french call dessous-dessus – or wearing innerwear as outerwear. But this season, all the key outerwear fashion trends can be found filtering through to what lies beneath, from sportswear, neons to print.