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We Got to Meet the Creative Director of the Legendary Italian Lingerie Brand La Perla
August 20, 2011 Alice Haine

Synonymous with femininity, sensuality and style, combining traditional craftsmanship with innovative, contemporary design, La Perla is a lingerie label with a history and an even more promising future. Its elegant lines and carefully chosen materials have been making women the world over feel sophisticated and beautiful for more than 50 years and many a Hollywood celebrity has graced the red carpet in a striking gown from La Perla’s prêt-à-porter collection.

Now the fifth largest textile group in Italy, La Perla had a modest start in the 1950s, selling out of a Bologna apartment. At the time, Ada Masotti, founder of the firm, was a concierge and part-time corsetmaker with a clientele of elegant, upper-class women. La Perla, which simply means pearl, quickly became renowned for its cutting-edge designs handcrafted with the finest lace and embroidery. What also set the lingerie maker apart was how Masotti would package her intricate creations in delicate red velvet-lined cases – almost like a jeweller would a precious gem.

Today, Masotti’s care and devotion to her craft continues to inspire the brand’s designs and drive it to new heights. With over 2,500 employees and La Perla boutiques now dotted across the globe, the brand has branched into nightwear, beachwear, a prêt-a-porter range, fragrance and to include even menswear collections featuring luxury lines. So what is the secret of this fashion success in a very particular market?

“The secret is in the dream the brand created in the imagination of every woman all over the world,” says Giovanni Bianchi, creative director at La Perla. “It is made of high quality, innovation, Italian style, and glamour. We were the first and only corsetry brand to look beyond our expertise by matching lingerie with prêt-à-porter in an era when no other designer did that.”

La Perla has always had a distinctive ability to lead the way in the world of lingerie. Starting by creating underwear in traditional skin tones, the brand then branched into coloured lingerie as well as chequered and flowered prints in the 1960s. Their bold move started a revolution with women becoming more imaginative and realising what they wore under their clothes was just as essential as their outer garments. This attention to detail has taken the brand on a journey through six decades. The 1970s saw the arrival of the first triangle bra in a nightgown, the 1980s a more shaped silhouette reflective of the power dressing of the era and the 1990s a minimalist bra called Sculpture, offering the customer a style that literally moulded itself to the contours of the female figure. Finally, over the last decade La Perla has returned to its sensual roots with limited collections embracing luxury, traditional craftsmanship and the contemporary passion for ‘sexy-chic’.

The brand has also teamed up with some of the biggest names in fashion, including Jean Paul Gaultier, to produce one-off collections – a move much lauded by the world’s top fashion writers. “The new idea of partnership is something strictly connected with our time,” says Mr Bianchi, explaining La Perla’s decision to join forces with Gaultier. “All around us are mass brands such as H&M, Topshop, Mango and Zara and everyone wants to mix affordable products with deluxe designer products.

“We want to mix our knowledge, our care for tailored details with the couture ‘savoir-faire’ of a huge celebrity and who better than Jean Paul Gaultier? Remember the iconic bra for Madonna– it was a perfect marriage between La Perla and Jean Paul Gaultier and in the future, who knows? We are ready to cooperate in co-branding.”

This multi-faceted approach for the future summarises La Perla’s development over time. The source of its success hasn’t just been breath-taking designs but also a team of brilliant business minds that have helped in harnessing the reputation the brand continues to enjoy today. This all began with a travelling sewing thread salesman, Ubaldo Borgonmanero, who joined forces with Ada Masotti in the late 1950s. Thanks to Borgonmanero’s charm and charisma he was able to determine what women wanted, source new business opportunities and distribute the brand across Italy.

Then it was Masotti’s son, Alberto, a graduate in medicine, who took the brand to the next level after taking the reins of the family business in the early 1960s. Over the next few decades, he expanded La Perla overseas and into new lines, including the hugely successful prêt-à-porter collection launched almost 10 years
ago. Then in 2007, he sold the company to JH Partners, a United States private equity firm which has since refocused the brand, taking inspiration from its sensual heritage in the Ada Masotti workshop. But this return to the roots of the business also signals a new start with the marque dividing its collections into four distinct brands, both for women and men’s lines, which have proved to be most successful. It’s an exciting time for La Perla and as the brand looks forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2014, fashion followers are asking: what’s next?

“We have produced so much in the past decades that we have a lot of material to work on and remake in a different way,” adds Bianchi. “But we will always be respectful of our style. Never forget your essence, your DNA – this is our formula.”

While each new La Perla range celebrates womanhood and pays tribute to the timeless femininity that encompasses the brand, it is essentially a tribute to Ada Masotti that its designs still draw inspiration from her little corsetry workshop in Bologna.