Underwire: September 2021

We had a disgruntled client the other day–yes, even Jenette Bras does not please everybody–who saw the “Made in China” label on a PrimaDonna bra she was trying on and stormed out of the shop, fuming about “Chinese crap at French prices!” I begrudgingly have to admire the snap of that phrasing. I wouldn’t blame her if she tweeted it out. On an iphone 12. Assembled in Shenzhen.

Snark aside, Chinese manufacturing is pretty competitive these days, obviously in electronics, but in garments as well. They still do low-end stuff, like many countries, but if you’re a luxury clothing house, say Gucci, Prada, or Armani, and you need to match European standards, it’s quite possible to do so in China or Morocco, Romania, Turkey, Tunisia… the key is oversight. Our vendors, the great privately-held lingerie houses of Europe, are not about to risk their reputations on shoddy workmanship. Not only are they hawk-like on matters of quality control, but they are strict on meeting European standards of environmental responsibility and labor conditions. I might go into some more detail on this in the future, but to be honest it involves a lot of acronyms, regulations, declarations, treaties and compliance regimes, the parsing of which is incompatible with how hot my house in Los Angeles is right now.

All clothing is made by hand

The quality of any lingerie depends very much on four things – the fabrics, the design pattern, the quality of the equipment, and the skill of the person making it. What I really want people to understand, though, is that US garment labeling requirements are really not up to the inter-connectedness of the contemporary manufacturing environment. Isn’t designing, engineering, and testing part of “making”? What about choosing and sourcing the fabrics and laces? Among the 45 components used to make a PrimaDonna bra, you’ll find Leaver’s lace from French lace expert Noyon Dentelle, embroidery from Switzerland, unique printed fabrics from Italy and bows from the UK.

I’ve stood in Van de Velde’s factory in Belgium and Empreinte’s in France and watched them cutting the patterns. Every single part is precision cut, quality checked, and put together into a tech-pack from which a seamstress (or several) in (for example) China can sew one single complete bra. When the skilled women (always women, in any country) in China have completed the product, it’s shipped BACK to Belgium or France for final adjustments and to be inspected by hand with the naked eye for any flaws. Ironically, the ‘Made in China (or wherever)’ label will be added last, back in Belgium, as that label has to conform to the requirements of the country of destination, not origin. 

Van de Velde HQ in Schellebelle, Belgium

It’s true that a Prada or a Gucci bag will be priced at many multiples of its manufacture cost, whether the factory is in China or anywhere else. That’s luxury pricing, where you pay for prestige. Bras, with few exceptions, are not luxury priced, they are quality priced. Twenty bucks gets you twenty dollars worth of bra. Two hundred bucks gets you two hundred dollars worth of bra, mas o menos.  Wouldn’t that be something, if your bra mark carried status like your purse does! But until you see your adored Madison or Deauville gracing multiple full page ads in the the September Vogue or Bella Hadid in a Cassiopee strutting down the runway at the Empreinte show at Paris Fashion week, you can be assured that you are paying what I believe is a provably honest price.

jenette goldstein