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Are Your Intimate Photos Safe?

March 16, 2012

How to protect yourself from hackers and cyber-thieves.
by Richard Vincente

Elizabeth Taylor in 1956 - only known nude photo of her (as seen at Lingerie Briefs)
The picture above is believed to be the only nude photo of the late screen star Elizabeth Taylor, and you were never meant to see it.

Shot by a friend in 1956 when she was 24, the picture was an intimate engagement gift from Liz to her third husband, Mike Todd. When Todd died in a plane crash a year after their wedding, a devastated Liz is believed to have given the photo to her assistant for safekeeping.

A collector somehow acquired the picture in 1980 and kept it private for more than 30 years. Then, last year when Liz Taylor died at age 79, the collector inexplicably released the image as a kind of tribute to the star and a gift to her grieving fans.

We can only guess what Liz would have thought about this kind of unwanted and unintended exposure. But Scarlett Johansson probably knows how she’d feel. Last year, nude snapshots of the Avengers actress — images meant to be seen only her then-husband Ryan Reynolds — were stolen from her cell phone, published online and even turned into an art poster that was plastered around L.A.

The experience, Scarlett said last week when asked about the incident, left her feeling violated and paranoid. “It was really terrible,” she told Stylist magazine. “I wasn’t really aware of how vulnerable all of us are, but I think everybody is just discovering that now.”

Indeed. The theft and malicious distribution of personal intimate photos — whether it’s Liz’s beautiful engagement gift or your personal home sex tape — is happening so frequently these days it’s almost impossible to list all the victims.

Olivia-Munn - Are your intimate photos safe? Lingerie Briefs
Christina-Hendricks - Are your intimates photos safe? Lingerie Briefs
Just last week, in unrelated incidents, private photos of Olivia Munn and Christina Hendricks (above) appeared online after their phones were hacked, leaving the embarrassed actresses with a messy PR cleanup job. Vanessa Hudgens had private photos swiped when someone accessed her Gmail account, while teen star Miley Cyrus has been hacked several times. And pretty Jessica Alba was mortified to discover someone had hacked her cell phone and stolen images of her nude … and pregnant.

If you think this is a problem limited to privileged Hollywood hotties, think again. Photo hacking has become one of the fastest growing types of identity theft in the world today and it targets anyone and everyone. It can destroy your reputation, cost you your job and ruin friendships, intimate relationships and families.

Consider, for instance, poor Angie Varona, who was an ordinary 14-year-old Miami schoolgirl four years ago when someone hacked into her Photobucket account. Inside, they found images that Angie had sent to her boyfriend, showing her in lingerie and a bikini. Angie’s pics were reposted around the Internet, triggering a kind of grim viral mutation as they were reblogged, photoshopped, mashed up and slavered over by viewers around the world.

Angie eventually had to leave school while her family spent years trying (unsuccessfully) to scrub all traces of those widely re-circulated pictures from the Internet. Eventually, she decided to turn her experience into a cautionary tale for others, appearing in the documentary Undressing The Truth and discussing her experiences with her parents on talk shows. Here they are:

This is very sordid business, an insidious bastard child of the modern age. Mix together new technology (cell phones, webcams, wi-fi), rapidly evolving new behaviors in online dating, and a large dose of human stupidity and you have the ingredients for a massive social problem.

Hacking and photo theft also has important implications for the lingerie industry, since we’re in the business not just of selling fashion but also producing semi-explicit images which, in the wrong hands, can be repurposed as Internet porn. Think that sounds far-fetched? Try telling that to Myriam Girard, the UK designer of very fine French lingerie. Earlier this year, images from her lingerie lookbook were stolen and used on the website of a New York escort agency (below), humiliating Myriam’s model, who sued the agency involved.

Myriam Girard, the UK designer of very fine French lingerie. Earlier this year, images from her lingerie lookbook were stolen and used on the website of a New York escort agency
Equally vulnerable are photography studios that specialize in boudoir and pin-up photos, which are becoming an increasingly popular romantic gift. If those images wind up in the hands of anyone but your intended paramour, you could end up with a gigantic Angie-Varona-sized headache.

So what can you do to protect yourself, your photos and your online reputation from this kind of damage?

  •  The first step is to acknowledge a basic truth that many people still resist: you are vulnerable. If you own a phone, have a Facebook account or any other kind of online profile, your identity can be appropriated and compromised easily. Even if you’ve never take a picture of yourself undressed, your image can be manipulated and photoshopped to resemble something entirely different. Never, never underestimate the amount of malice or mischief that people — friends, exes, strangers — are capable of.
  •  Change your online passwords regularly, and review privacy settings on your social media accounts periodically.
  •  Create “alerts” for your name on Google and Bing that will notify you whenever the search engines find any digital content that includes your name. If you are a parent, create alerts for your children’s names.
  •  Never, ever store intimate photos on your cell phone. If you take such pictures, remember to upload them to your desktop and delete them from your phone quickly. Cell phones are easily hacked and frequently lost or stolen.
  •  Don’t send private photos using your phone, period. You have no control over the security of the recipient’s phone, even if it’s your BFF.
  •  If you are ending a relationship, ask your ex to return any private images that you may have shared. If your separation is not friendly, make the recovery of personal images a priority in any legal action, settlement or divorce proceedings.
  •  If you are posing for boudoir or pin-up photos, your photographer will likely retain copyright. But make sure your sales contract sets clear restrictions on how and when your images may be re-used (i.e., in studio promotions). If your photographer insists on unlimited future publication rights, find another photographer.
  •  If you are a lingerie professional in charge of creating lookbooks, ad campaigns or websites, imprint your images with a distinctive watermark. There are several inexpensive, easy-to-use watermark tools available online.
  •  Be careful where you store digital images. Photo storage sites like Flickr and Photobucket are a common feeding ground for web trolls looking for racy photos. People frequently misuse privacy settings, leaving “private” images viewable to the public. To avoid this mistake, set a default privacy setting for all your images, then make public those you want people to see.
  •  If you are the parent of a teenager, learn the facts and talk to your kids. One survey found that nearly 20% of all teens have sent nude photos electronically or online, and another reported that 44% of high school boys said they had seen at least one image of a classmate naked. Visit EmbracingDigitalYouth.org, a non-profit group that provides excellent resources to help parents, teachers and families develop a new approach to civility and decency in electronic communications.
  •  To learn more about the legal dimensions of this issue, visit the website of Parry Aftab. She’s a New Jersey lawyer who specializes in online privacy, and a frequent public speaker on the subject.

The final word on this scary subject goes, appropriately, to Paris Hilton, whose celebrity profile exploded overnight when her ex-boyfriend published a private sex video nearly 10 years ago. Today, she’s still making money from such things, although now it’s from her semi-tongue-in-cheek song Drunk Text, which should serve as a warning to us all:

I’m on the dance floor when I get a text from Adam / I’m too lazy to type, so I send him a photo I took up a dancer’s skirt / And tell him to come and get it / Not realizing what I had just said. / Later on, she comes up to me / Holds up her phone screaming at me and I say / ‘I’m sorry, it was just a drunk text’.”

Somehow, I don’t think Liz Taylor would find that so funny.

You can follow Richard Vincente’s opinions on Lingerie Talk.

Note: If you have other tips for protecting your intimate photos, let us know and we will update this article.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

March 2, 2012

by Richard Vincente

Censorship is a weapon that works best when it’s used sparingly, if at all. It’s the cultural equivalent of a nuclear deterrent.

Most people in marketing, advertising and programming understand this and play by the rules. But the shadowy group of individuals and quasi-legitimate authorities who monitor and enforce community standards have itchy trigger fingers. For them, censorship isn’t just a deterrent, it’s a way of defining what’s acceptable by shooting down anyone who strays outside the fuzzy, fluid lines of public morality.

Today, censorship battles seem like a thing of the past — a relic of the 1970s or 1930s or maybe Victorian England. But they’re not. Skirmishes are still common and, with the emergence of the Internet, the battlefield has changed dramatically.So too have the censors, who keep finding new offenses to shield us from (and, in turn, justify their own existence). Just ask M.I.A., whose middle finger supposedly traumatized billions around the globe on Super Bowl Sunday.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Britain, the quintessential nanny state whose Advertising Standards Authority has issued a plethora of rulings in the past year that can only be described as hysterical. Some examples:

  • a Ryanair ad featuring a flight attendant wearing lingerie was banned because it linked “female cabin crew with sexually suggestive behavior”;
  • a Marc Jacobs print ad (above) that featured a fully clothed, 17-year-old Dakota Fanning was banned for  being “sexually provocative” because the actress was holding a perfume bottle in her lap;
  • last fall, the ASA prohibited billboards within 100 yards of schools from displaying “overtly sexual lingerie such as stockings” — plus a long list of other prohibitions meant to shield children from sexual imagery;
  • a Miu Miu print ad in which actress Hailee Steinfeld was shown sitting on railway tracks (fully dressed) was banned because it depicted “irresponsible behavior”;

  • an Yves Saint Laurent TV spot was banned because its dancing model may have been implying drug use when she ran her finger along her forearm;
  • two print ads from Diesel‘s widely seen “Be Stupid” campaign were banned because, well, they encouraged people to be stupid;
  • and the entire spring catalogue for college kids’ fashion label Jack Wills was banned because it contained imagery showing young people partying and getting frisky.

But Britain’s avid censors don’t stop at protecting kids; they’re also looking out for wrinkly moms too. In the past year, the ASA has banned cosmetics ads featuring Rachel Weisz, Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington all for the same reason —photoshopping had given the models unrealistically pretty skin, making the ads deceptive.

And if you think this is a peculiarly British phenomenon, you’re wrong. A couple of months ago, the U.S. Better Business Bureaus’ National Advertising Division banned a CoverGirl ad (below) featuring Taylor Swift for the same reason — no one’s eyelashes could possibly look that good.

These examples point to a disturbing trend: censorship bodies flailing around in search of meaning and purpose in a world where it’s impossible to keep up with the bombardment of media images and the technology used to crate them. The result is that these bodies — which are usually non-government, industry-appointed watchdogs — pass judgments fitfully and erratically, leaving a trail of confusion and mixed messages in their wake.

Politicians in most western countries are loath to get involved, and with good reason; censorship involves too much subjective interpretation of public values, which are always shifting. In the U.S., for instance, the Federal Trade Commission oversees ad standards to some extent, but it mostly limits its purview to those ads associated with weight loss products, public health issues and advertising (especially food products) aimed at children.

The FTC’s division of ad practices is also more interested in truthfulness in advertising than in trying to keep the public from getting aroused (that’s the FCC’s job). It doesn’t pay much attention to what Victoria’s Secret is showing.

Britain’s ad authority, on the other hand, has been emboldened by growing public concern about the sexualization of children. A widely applauded 2011 report on the issue called for new policies to shield children from online porn and laws to protect kids from being exploited in advertising. And it’s had a powerful impact: Prime Minister David Cameron got behind the report and launched a national ParentPort website where the public can report media abuses, and the nation’s leading Internet providers implemented new filtering tools to improve parental control over what their kids see.

‘Protecting children’ is, of course, a social priority that everyone can agree on. But given such a mandate, it can turn censors into zealots and, potentially, open the door to a new wave of suppressed freedoms and repressed public discourse.

The fashion industry and its marketing agencies — who are in the business of creating desirable illusions — have a lot to gain or lose in this matter and need to push back against unreasonable censorship that doesn’t reflect real public concerns.

In particular, the prospect of having unaccountable watchdogs deciding how much Photoshop is too much is frightening. I don’t like a lot of fashion-ad airbrushing, but I don’t want censors speaking for me on this matter.

By the way, that ruling against the Jack Wills catalogue was groundbreaking in part because the banned imagery was the kind of thing used by almost every major clothing brand. But it also showed how easy it is to misuse and manipulate censorship. After all, it only took 19 public complaints (19!) to spike the entire spring campaign of a major fashion brand.

Chilling indeed.

Richard Vincente covers lingerie news daily on Lingerie Talk.

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Undressing For Success

February 16, 2012

by Richard Vincente

 

 Lana Del Rey had barely started her new life as the pop music world’s new ‘It Girl’ when she made a curious career move: posing in a What Katie Did bullet bra for I-D magazine and, soon afterwards, a Prada bodysuit for V magazine.

Both photos were published a month before the release of Lana’s first album and her sleepy, much-discussed performance on Saturday Night Live. Even though many people still didn’t know who she was (or whether she could sing), we had already seen her half-undressed.

Sounds a bit calculating, doesn’t it? But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The lingerie photo shoot has become an essential stepping stone on the path to success for young starlets, especially pop singers, whether they like it or not.

A year before Lana started undressing in public, Nicki Minaj (top) was doing the same in a memorable editorial and cover for Complex magazine, and Ke$ha (above) followed suit with an explicit spread in Maxim. Many, many more have followed the same path.

It should be noted that none of these performers are, strictly speaking, fashion celebrities (although they may aspire to be style icons some day) or underwear models or even Kardashians.

Posing in lingerie is simply a dependable self-promotion strategy that can attract attention among a wider audience and help elevate a newcomer above the clamoring horde of other fame-chasing wannabes.

Does anyone really believe Taylor Momsen (below) would have sold many records if she hadn’t spent the past two years parading around in corsets and suspender belts in public?

 

But there’s more than just self-marketing involved here: it’s a way of announcing to the world that you’re a public commodity, right down to your skivvies. And it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

It’s equally hard to avoid the temptation to undress for success. With role models like Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga; aggressive publicists and managers; and the incessant appetite of magazine editors for photos of semi-clad celebrities, the pressures on young stars are enormous.

None of this is new, of course, but the celebrity landscape changed dramatically in the post-Britney decade. Today, no amount of self-exposure is too much (just ask Lindsay) and flaunting one’s assets is a proven formula for success. And even if it’s not something you’d do willingly, there is an army of paparazzi lying in wait to catch any errant upskirt, nip-slip or side-boob photo and peddle your most embarrassing moments to an ever-growing number of websites and scandal sheets. No wonder so many starlets simply yield and give the public what they want.

It’s a development that should make advocates of fashion freedom and self-expression think carefully, too. Can you support the lingerie-as-outwear trend, for instance, and yet still be troubled to see so many young performers flaunting themselves so recklessly?

I think the answer is yes, because it’s still important to have boundaries between our private and public selves.

We saw a fascinating illustration of that last month when Kylie Bisutti (above), the 20-year-old California beauty who won the Victoria’s Secret model search a couple of years ago, announced she had quit the VS team because it conflicted with her values.

Victoria’s Secret was my absolutely biggest goal in life, and it was all I ever wanted career-wise,” Kylie said. “But the more I was modeling lingerie, and lingerie isn’t clothing, I just started becoming more uncomfortable with it because of my (Christian) faith. … My body should only be for my husband. It’s just a sacred thing.”

You don’t have to share Kylie’s fundamentalist values to respect the clarity of her decision. She still wants to model, she says, but there is a part of herself that she’s not willing to reveal for the camera and the public. We should all know ourselves so well.

Other young celebs find their own ways of dealing with this issue. Some, like Candies spokesmodels Lea Michele and Vanessa Hudgens, take lingerie modeling jobs partly as a way of satisfying public lust and getting paid for it on their own terms. It’s not a bad strategy, since it tends to dissuade magazine editors seeking the same thing and can reduce your market value on the celebrity-photo circuit. Plus you have more control over the final product.

Many of our biggest female stars have mastered that artful dodge. You can still find revealing candid photos of RiRi or ScarJo or Zoe on the Internet every day, for example, but they’re not nearly as good as the meticulously composed images that Armani or D&G or Calvin paid them for.

And despite all the pressure, some young superstars (and their handlers) routinely ignore big-money offers for semi-explicit modeling gigs, preferring privacy over self-promotion. Two of the most highly prized celebrity “gets” right now are singer Taylor Swift and actress Kristen Stewart, both of whom have guarded their privacy with astonishing determination and success.

In Taylor’s case, a candid vacation photo (top photo) of her in a high-waisted bikini hit the Internet in 2009; it’s notable because the famously shy star was mortified by the exposure and has never let her guard down since then. In Kristen’s case, the Twilight mega-star consented to a single, unremarkable bathing suit photo (above) for GQ last year — probably to get the publicists off her back and as a way of declaring, “This is all you’re going to see.”

You don’t have to be a prude to see there is courage in such modesty.

But many young performers don’t have the luxury of saying no to the public appetite for celebrity skin; they do this to survive in an industry that will quickly move on to the next girl if you don’t play the game.

That’s why this is as much a political issue as a moral one. There’s a virulent, deeply rooted sexism that courses through the entertainment industry which demands that young female performers strip for the cameras, regardless of what their actual talent might be. Few performers have the leverage, or the guts, to just say no.

Funny thing about Lana Del Rey: her debut album went to #1 worldwide. She comes across as a bit self-absorbed, so I imagine she enjoyed those modeling gigs. But it’s instructive to realize she didn’t need them.

Richard Vincente covers lingerie news daily on Lingerie Talk.

 

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The Retro-Porn Provocateurs

February 2, 2012

by Richard Vincente

Lingerie and pornography make strangely uncomfortable bedfellows.

You might expect the two industries would be as close as kissing cousins, since they’re often selling the same thing — human arousal — to the same people. The opportunities for cross-promotion should be endless.

But you won’t find La Senza product placements in your favorite Ron Jeremy flick or Hanky Panky ads on the hotel room adult channel. Most reputable fashion lingerie brands don’t want to be associated with porn culture, its explicit and often demeaning products or its grubby commercial values.

Of course, some people still think all lingerie advertising is by definition pornographic (remember the fuss that greeted the first Victoria’s Secret catalogue?), but that’s an outdated misconception. With some notable exceptions, most lingerie brands rely on predictably genteel, PG-rated marketing — even if the goods they’re selling are downright triple-X.

Censorship laws and community standards play a role in this, but that’s not the only reason you don’t see raunchier lingerie promotions east of Vegas.

Many designer labels aspire to be much, much more than simply a disposable boudoir accessory. They are also promoting a refined appreciation of beauty and new sociological archetypes of confident, empowered women. Their customers aren’t sex objects, and neither are their products. As a result, they prefer to focus on selling the sizzle, and not the steak that is the inevitable (and intended) payoff for their customers.

Explicitly sexual marketing is a bit too gutter for the lingerie industry, which instead likes to perpetuate visions of a fantasy world that is erotic but nonthreatening, sensual but surprisingly lifeless, and populated by gorgeous, but solitary, women.

There’s nothing really wrong with this, even though it reveals the inherent conservatism — even timidity — of the intimate fashions industry, which too often tries to ignore the obvious link between its products and sex.

But that paradigm is changing, as more (and more brazen) labels push the envelope and remind the libidinous public what this business is really all about. It’s a trend that’s been building for years, and it’s risky since it means stomping — instead of tip-toeing — through the minefield of public morality and standards of decency.

In 2010, Aubade literally stopped traffic with its live, girl-next-door-stripping-behind-the-curtains public peepshow in Paris, which served to introduce its French Art of Loving website and new branding strategy. The same year, New Zealand newcomer HOTmilk ignited a worldwide debate with its video depiction of a sexy pregnant woman preparing to pounce on her mate after a hard day at the office. People are still talking about that.

But even those examples are starting to look tame. Today, a few brash brands are testing censors and consumer tastes by producing increasingly explicit promotions that cross into porn territory. And here’s a surprise: some brands are even embracing vintage pornography both in their marketing and as an inspiration for their fashions. Yes, everything old is fashionable again, including your grandfather’s smut.

One young label, The Loved One, isn’t just named after a 1960s sexploitation flick; its designs and style names (“Sin in the Suburbs“) pay homage to the X-rated film pioneer Joseph Sarno. It’s a provocative approach but, ironically, not the least bit exploitative. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Yeah! About time Joe Sarno got some love!”

And later this year we’ll see the Barbarella-inspired second collection from hot Mexican designer Marika Vera, a fearless newcomer whose website includes not just some explicit imagery but a catalogue of landmark erotic classics from film and literature to put you in the mood.

But the most dramatic example comes from the smart Scandinavian lifestyle label Forrest & Bob. F&B’s intimates collection is fairly minimalist, but its marketing is as graphic as it gets these days. Last year’s five-minute video The Fallen was pure in-your-face, 60s-style porn, a group grope featuring a bevy of models stripping, writhing and fondling one another. And it was a smash. Since its launch last fall, the stylish film has been viewed online more than 350,000 times (although I doubt many of those viewers were shopping for underwear.)

 

Of course, the trailblazer in this area has always been Agent Provocateur, which has been expanding the definition of “naughty” for over a decade. AP’s recent seasons have seen the UK label exploring themes seldom seen in major brand marketing: voyeurism, exhibitionism and domination (who can forget those hypnotically creepy hooker-in-a-hotel-room videos?). Throughout all that psycho-sexual button-pushing, however, one thing prevented AP from crossing the line into Forrest & Bob territory: the models kept their AP goodies on.

For 2012 (and perhaps in reaction to being trumped by Forrest & Bob?), Agent Provocateur has found a new way to turn up the heat in its marketing — with a romantic, gel-focused photo and video campaign (above) that mimics the 1970s soft-core erotic films and books of David Hamilton, the infamous photographer who has spent a career dodging censors and accusations of pedophilia for his use of suspiciously young-looking models and actresses. (Don’t get me wrong: I adore Hamilton and, like most other people, in my next life I want to live in his universe.)

And what’s most interesting about AP’s new look is that they’re not the first major lingerie brand to invoke the retro-porn spirit of Hamilton films such as Bilitis and Tender Cousins. Last year, Dutch designer Marlies Dekkers delivered a summer collection (below) called Electric Bilitis for her Undressed label, with a photo campaign that was a note-perfect copy of Hamilton’s style and a video that included Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”

 

 Both brands and their collections have a couple of things in common — an odd, almost gushing nostalgia for erotica that is still widely available, and lingerie fashions that, while lovely, bear no resemblance to what Hamilton’s pubescent nymphets wore in his enduring classics. (The Dekkers line included soft pink hotpants in a snakeskin print with Swarovski embellishments!)

It’s hard to tell if these are authentic efforts to celebrate another artist, or deliberately opportunistic devices that aim to trigger associations in the minds of a client base that grew up debating — and consuming — this most controversial of all photographers. One thing is certain, though: the typical customer for both AP and Marlies Dekkers is neither as young nor as innocent as all the nouveau Hamiltonia would suggest.

This retro-porn movement won’t change the lingerie industry overnight, but at the very least it reminds marketers that boundaries are meant to be pushed and that their public is much more adult than we sometimes given them credit for. (Ann Summers and others in the erotic novelties marketplace built their brands on that premise alone.)

Censors will still require that lingerie companies play inside the lines with their promotions based on mildly suggestive imagery, clever innuendo and teasing edits. But, as Forrest & Bob showed us, the power and reach of the Internet allows bolder brands to try anything, sidestep the censors, and reap exceptional results.

Personally, I’m all in favor of a more open, more adult treatment of sexuality by the lingerie industry in general. But if anyone ever tries a Russ Myers-inspired collection, that’s where I draw the line.

You can read more about the new Agent Provocateur collection on Lingerie Talk today.

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What’s In A Name?

January 20, 2012
For Lingerie Brands, It Might Be Confusion

by Richard Vincente ~
A not-so-funny thing happened last year when HOTmilk, the trendy New Zealand maternity label, was getting ready to launch its new men’s underwear brand, Milkman: someone beat them to market with a similar product, brand name and edgy sales pitch.

Milk-Milkman

To make matters worse, the interloper was another Kiwi label, an upstart indie called Milk Underwear. Their debut just a few months ahead of Milkman‘s long-planned launch was possibly just coincidence and bad timing, but HOTmilk still claimed trademark infringement. Milk at first backed down and announced on its website (without mentioning the dispute with HOTmilk) that it would be starting over and re-branding under a new name.

But the truce was short-lived. Instead of dropping its name, Milk Underwear simply packed up and moved its operations to the U.S. where it is thriving today — and competing against Milkman in the international men’s market. Consumers might have a hard time telling the difference between the two labels: after all, there’s only so much you can do with men’s boxers, and only so many “milk” puns to go around.

Such are the perils of finding — and protecting — a good name in the undergarments industry, where brands and retailers are constantly bumping into each other with copycat, soundalike and overlapping names.

One reason for this bizarre state of affairs is that there is a relatively small cluster of common words that trigger the kind of Pavlovian consumer approval that brands crave, and so they’re recycled endlessly. If you’re thinking of launching a new label or style that uses some variation of rose, skin, flirt, body, love, angel or silk, you’ll join a huge crowd of similarly-named products.

Another reason involves market territory and product segregation, which can prevent similar-sounding brands from tripping over each other. You can buy a Hope bra in Rio or a Hopeless one in Sydney, but you probably won’t find them both in the same boutique anywhere in the world. You might prefer Polish brand Ewa Bien over U.S. label Va Bien, but luckily the two don’t go head-to-head in the same market.

However, in the new online retail environment, which gives regional brands broad access to an international marketplace, the risk of confusing customers — and infringing on a competitor’s trademark — is suddenly much higher.

In 2009, the British luxury silks brand Fleur’T, then 8 years old, began the costly and laborious process of rebranding itself under a new banner, Fleur of England. It didn’t matter that the company was named after its founder, Fleur Turner; its original name encroached on the U.S. lacey basics brand Fleur’t Lingerie, which predated Fleur’T by a couple of years. (Still, that precedent didn’t stop another UK label, Curvy Kate, from introducing a “Fleurty” range in its 2012 collection!)

As brands become more universally accessible, the overlap of names in the lingerie industry can leave label-conscious customers scratching their heads. What was the name of that brand your wife said she wanted for Valentine’s Day? Was it Rosy or Roxy or Roza or Rosa Cha or Rosapois or Rosamosario? Maybe you’d be safer with something from Lonely Hearts … or was it Only Hearts? Or how about a nice gift box bearing the unmistakable insignia of Baci or Bracli or Bali?

I could go on, but you get the point.

It doesn’t help that many lingerie brand names have multiple meanings, uses or connotations that the general public doesn’t immediately associate with slinky underthings.

Dirty Pretty Things is the name of an edgy UK lingerie brand; but it’s also an Australian retailer, a punk rock band, a movie, a novel and lots more, all unrelated to each other. U.S. label Between The Sheets Lingerie prefers to call itself BTS, partly because of the preponderance of other products using the same name, including a luxury linen store, a curling club and any number of X-rated enterprises.

Similarly, Samantha Chang is either a New York lingerie designer, a renowned classical flutist or an American novelist, depending on whom you ask. Agent Provocateur is a movie, as is Princesse Tam Tam, The Loved One and My Fair Lady — although the latter lingerie label changed its name last year to Artemis South as a way of creating a distinctive signature.

Even the venerable Aubade is known as a luxury French lingerie brand to everyone — except English Lit students, who recognize it as the title of a Philip Larkin poem (“I work all day, and get half-drunk at night”) that is perfect for undergrads but probably unsuitable as a lingerie slogan.

 

And having a memorable brand name is no guarantee that a lingerie company can avoid confusion among its customers — or predatory usurpers. Take the elegant Montreal-based label Blush, for example. The family-owned company has been using that classic, richly evocative moniker for decades, yet they’re constantly encountering new stores, websites or fashion brands that try to swipe their trademarked name.

“For us, it’s been something that’s ongoing, and it’s illegal” Blush VP Tiffany Ajmo told me. “Image is so important for us as a company direction. We can’t allow that.”

Blush takes on name-stealers on a case-by-case basis. But the company found itself on the other end of the name game when, after extensive research and planning, it decided to expand into the European market two years ago. Problem was, Europe already had the German label Blush Berlin, a designer-retailer who owned the right to use the name in most parts of western Europe. (Ironically, Blush could trade in Russia, but the Russian pronunciation of the word was too un-sexy to make it viable as a lingerie brand.)

Rather than try to negotiate territorial rights or provoke a costly court fight, the Canadian Blush came up with a smart idea — twinning their brand by creating a new label, for the European market only, under a catchy new name, Suite B. The new name, Tiffany said, “is sexy and mysterious, suggesting a bedroom suite or hotel room. It’s been really well-liked.”

Suite B is identical in almost every way to the parent brand (even their websites are copies), but Blush has been careful to segregate the two labels depending on where they’re trading. The company set up a German distribution warehouse and has already found retail partners in Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Next week, they’ll showcase the year-old Suite B to agents and retailers at the Salon Internationale de Lingerie exposition in Paris.

“At first it was a bit of a struggle for us,” Tiffany said. “We had a hard time parting with the Blush name because we’re so attached to it. But we feel like it’s been for the best. Now it’s almost like we are two worlds in one.”

Of course, some shoppers really don’t care what’s on the label or how closely brand names might resemble each other. Diehard fashionistas, though, take label names very seriously.

We had a revealing glimpse into that mindset last year, during a rare comical moment in the John Galliano racism trial in Paris. A prosecutor asked a witness to describe events at the La Perle café where Galliano’s notorious outburst occurred — except he called it “La Perla” by mistake.

“Excuse me,” the witness replied in mock-horror. “That’s haute couture!”

Read Richard Vincente’s report on the 2012 collection from Blush Lingerie on Lingerie Talk today.

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Meet the Faces of the ‘Lingerie Revolution’

January 5, 2012
  by Richard Vincente

There’s been a lot of news coverage in the past few days about the latest victory for women in Saudi Arabia: the right to shop for lingerie and cosmetics in a harassment-free environment.

Yesterday was the first day that lingerie boutiques in KSA were required to have female-only sales staff, a move that will improve employment opportunities for Arab women and give them a tiny bit more freedom (and privacy).

Some people are calling it the “lingerie revolution”, even though it’s a small and somewhat patronizing step: it took a royal decree from King Abdullah to force retailers to heed a 6-year-old labor law that permitted women to work in underwear stores and, even then, an estimated 20% of shops are refusing to comply for fear of violating the stricter edicts of Qur’anic law.

It’s hard for western women to grasp the significance of such a minuscule victory, but in Arab countries these baby steps have far-reaching ripples. Each advancement on the path toward gender parity encourages and empowers more women to pursue greater change – a phenomenon that was demonstrated with feverish momentum in last year’s so-called Arab Spring.

And what’s happening today in lingerie shops in the world’s most chauvinistic regime is part of a broader picture of increasing resistance by Arab women and fitful, begrudging liberalization by their nervous male masters.

It’s not really a revolution in the classic sense, but a swelling social movement in pursuit of the vast spectrum of basic civil liberties that Western women enjoy but which is largely denied to women in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

The lingerie-store battle is a convenient symbol for that movement. Buying underwear is very much a matter of personal choice, privacy and – for many women – an individual expression of sexual identity … not the sort of things you want regulated by men.

But it wasn’t just a simple consumer protest; it also demonstrated the collective power of women to compel change in the face of an intractable orthodoxy. Last year, for instance, Saudi women were finally granted the right to vote in municipal elections only after staging protests outside polling stations, and the king yielded to public outrage when he overturned a court sentence that would have seen a woman stoned after she was caught driving a car. In such a cultural context, shopping for lingerie seems positively subversive.

All revolutions depend on a few courageous individuals who are willing to test the limits of official tolerance by taking their fight public, and there is no shortage of women across the Middle East who fit that description.

The heroes of the new women’s rights movement in the Arab world are many and range from Iman Al-Obeidi of Tripoli, who publicly accused Gaddafi’s troops of gang-raping her and refused to shut up when they tried to beat her into silence; to KSA’s Naila Attar, who organized the rather polite but persistent Baladi voting booth protests in that country; to Manal al-Sharif, who used YouTube to organize opposition to the Saudi ban on women driving.

For these women, the perils of protest are real and ever-present. Shunning, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, death: these are the potential outcomes for those who advocate on behalf of all women for basic freedom, equality and security.

Below are a few other women whose example is worth noting, and whose specific causes are inter-connected in an obvious way.

What can Western women do? At the very least, keep them in mind the next time you’re browsing through frilly things at your favorite shop – understand what they’re fighting for, follow their activities and support them in any way you can.

 

Reem Assad: A lecturer in banking and finance at a college in Jeddah, Reem launched the Facebook campaign “Enough Embarrassment” in 2008 after a humiliating experience trying to buy a 3-pack of briefs from a male clerk in a Saudi lingerie shop. Although she’s hesitant about portraying herself as a political activist, last year she co-ordinated a two-week boycott of the nation’s lingerie shops that ultimately earned the king’s support and led to this week’s news.

 

Yara Mashour: The editor of the Nazareth-based magazine Lilac smashed taboos last fall when she ran a cover photo of model Huda Naccache (above) wearing a bikini – the first Arab magazine to do so. It caused enormous controversy across the Middle East and led to speculation that Lilac, which is popular across the Middle East, will face censorship (or worse) in the future. But both Yara and Huda have been defiant in the face of criticism. The sensational photoshoot was important, Yara said, because it showed an Israeli Arab model (and a Christian!) and promoted “a new concept of Arab women who are willing to break social taboos … and share their physical beauty in public.” And yes, the Huda edition of Lilac was a huge seller.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: The 20-year-old Cairo blogger launched a missile into the heart of Arab gender, fashion and sexual politics last year when she posted a photo of herself on Facebook, wearing only thigh-high stockings, as a way of declaring her refusal to wear the traditional Muslim hijab. When the photo – which Aliaa shot herself – was removed from Facebook, she posted it on her Twitter account, where it’s been viewed more than a million times. Aliaa, who now has more than 30,000 Twitter followers, is defiantly advocating for sexual liberation and an end to the routine sexual abuse and harassment faced by Arab women. One of her tactics is encouraging other Muslim women to submit photos of themselves, sans veil, which she publishes on her blog. She posted her nude photo, she said, “because I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman.”

As we say over here, you go girls!

You can read Richard Vincente’s wrapup of 2011 lingerie news highlights on Lingerie Talk.

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Richard Vincente

Intimate Intelligence

 

Richard Vincente is the editor and publisher of Lingerie Talk, Canada’s leading weblog covering the fashion lingerie market. Since Lingerie Talk’s launch in early 2010, Richard and his team of contributors have provided a reasoned and authoritative commentary on trends, collections and personalities in the lingerie industry.
 
Richard is a lifelong print and web journalist who has covered many of his personal passions, including politics, music, travel and social causes. He is a former editor with the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading daily newspaper, and owned and managed a community newspaper for several years. Since 2003 he has focused exclusively on web publishing ventures.
 
Intimate Intelligence will look at broader cultural issues that affect, and are affected by, lingerie fashions. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome.
 
Visit Richard’s external blog LINGERIE TALK.