Clothing under clothes

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What is hidden underneath belongs to a zone of mystery and ambivalence.

It is said that through clothes we express our personality; is that the same with  underwear?
In Avocado, we believe that what we wear under clothes can tell about our hidden nature – the invisible at first sight, subversive, known just to ourselves or to those with whom we want to share it.
Realizing that what is hidden underneath can be mysterious and fascinating, we want to ask our fiends and craftspeople, men and women about their hidden nature, about what is invisible, about the stories behind the products and art they create.

Here, on this blog, we want to share these conversations with you.

We start with our own backyard – Anna Lejwoda, the founder of Avocado, tells us about underwear, femininity, senses and the beginning of the Avocado.

Interviewed by Katarzyna Rosicka, photos by: Magda Wolna (www.magdawolna.com)

– Is underwear for women or men?

Anna Lejwoda: I’ve never had any doubts. For me, lingerie is for me and must really suit me. However, I think it’s great to wear underwear also for someone else with whom you share loving and sexual relationship,  as long as what you wear makes you feel sexy  and comfortable.

– What is underwear to you?

For me it is clothing under clothes and a beautiful object in its own right, as well as a necessity of life. It is dressing up for yourself, for your own comfort and pleasure. For me, the pleasure of wearing something beautiful underneath my clothes is something that makes me happy, it’s truly empowering! The plainer the outer clothing, the more joyful and spectacular lingerie underneath. At the same time, practicality and usability is equally important to me. With the right lingerie you look better, you feel good, you can tell that, overall, your clothes look better on you. Or worse, if you choose wrong underwear.

I could never feel confident in something that, excuse me, crawls up my butt, or is not supportive enough to let me run to catch a bus or to bend over – I could not bear it, even with the sexiest lingerie on! Therefore, to me, underwear can be very extravagant visually, but it must also be very comfortable and well-designed. So that I can feel good in it.

– Is it the origin of  Avocado?

Yes, I was looking for lingerie for myself, for a bigger bust. At this time you did not have much choice in shops in Poland, except  buying British brands of underwear on the Internet. Of course, you have to judge the size yourself. And despite the fact that buying items that must fit perfectly on the Internet is difficult to begin with, it was a hit. I measured myself and ordered a bra-size according to the table. And today I cannot judge whether it was a perfect fit or not, but it was such a huge difference between what I had worn before and what I got then, that I was totally smitten and happy with the result!

– But you have not remained faithful to the British brands?

These bras, although phenomenally shaped,  just were not to my taste. I have always immensely enjoyed French lingerie – more mature, feminine, in  beautiful colours; but they just would not fit me! Those bras would rather deform the bust instead of giving shape and support. The French brands available in Poland at that time were good only for slim girls with small breasts. So after graduation, together with a friend we decided that we would start making good and pretty lingerie in larger sizes ourselves.

– How did you know how to sew bras?

Oh, we did not know. We did not even know where to get the raw materials, like embroidery and lace. We started searching. We visited warehouses and started gathering information. And so we made contacts with various importers. And later we searched for qualified corset makers to collaborate on styles and constructions . In the end we found a woman, who made us a model of a bra closest to what we wanted. We borrowed money from the family, set up Avocado and sewed first models. That was 15 years ago. We took photos, printed first catalogue that was so terrible that we could not get over it (laughs). Despite this, the response was amazing, we quickly run out of catalogues and the lingerie was selling well. For a company such as ours, out of nowhere, it certainly was a big success;  especially that back then it was widely expected that something  made in Poland had to be cheap. And our prices were not  low –the costs of materials and production were very high.

– And now Avocado is available not only in Poland.

Not long ago we started to cooperate with brafitting shops abroad to maintain the standard we established. French and Swiss manufacturers, from whom we buy the embroidery and lace, have minimum purchases; so to order what you want, in the colours you want, and in the modified version (we always need to modify the original embroidery’s width, because the original version is usually too narrow and it involves redesigning them anew by the designer) – so you have to accept the minimum set by the company. To buy from these companies we simply have to sell more.

– So quality was your priority.

Yes, it has always been a priority for me. Our products were expensive, so many people could not afford them. At one point, shortly after the opening of the store in Poznan about 10 or 11 years ago my associate had an idea. She suggested that we should cut the cost of raw materials and production, lower the prices and thus focus on sale on the Internet on a larger scale, which she saw as a great potential.

I could not  agree to this. I knew that this was the path of no return. I had never wanted us to be just an ordinary manufacturing company. Of course, we have to make profit, but I wanted to make lingerie that I really loved and wanted – for both the customers and for myself. And I knew that the use of low-cost Taiwanese embroidery would not do. I wouldn’t be able to launch it. It was a huge difference of opinions – we decided to part ways, and since then  I ran Avocado only with my sister.

– You said that the products of French and British companies were available in Poland, and what about Polish products?

At first, Polish companies probably weren’t interested in sewing bras for large breasts. The only alternative to it were German companies that made bras for bigger breasts, but their focus was on practical and comfy, but not necessarily pretty or sexy. A look into a Polish trade press made us realise that we did not want to be a part of it – the world dripping in silicone, kitsch and soft porn. Totally unacceptable to us.

– How is Avocado lingerie designed?

It is the outcome of what our clients need and what I personally like. All we know now we have learnt ourselves: from the customers and by testing on ourselves and other women that agreed to be our models, too. I would put on a bra, hook it up and wear it, and then scrutinize it to see what needs to be altered. At some point I realized that I need to make the alterations myself instead of give it to a corset-maker and later I started making patterns, too. Each new style is treated individually. Whilst designing a new style we now pay attention to the nuances, which I did not know about 5 years ago, so it’s a constant process of earning and development. Everything by trial and error.

– Which means that you are 100% responsible for the product?

So far, I have been responsible for everything. For new styles, for the way the whole collection looks like, the webpage, the catalogue, the photo model. As far as pictures and graphic design are concerned, I am lucky to work with Marianna Sztyma and Magda Wolna. We understand each other without words, –  I get everything I dream of and more. But it is me who decides about the colours of the products, the look of the bag, the tag and the insert. I decide about everything myself.

– Avocado was designed for large breasts, but now a smaller line is being created.

Large sizes can be a source of real satisfaction. They are very demanding, because they require a perfect harmony between the look and the construction, otherwise the look they promise to deliver is spoiled or even impossible to achieve on a real body. Real breasts have their weight, that needs to be considered, softer subcutaneous tissue, that needs certain shaping. Obviously, you cannot just enlarge a regular cup size like B or C, add some wider straps and thicker band and expect it to work on a E+ cup just as well. Once you realize that and start looking for and eventually find a style that really suits you, it truly transforms your silhouette and your body confidence – the change can be enormous! And of course, there’s no going back to ill-fitting bras. Many women who once bought Avocado, no longer buy other products. So for us, it’s totally worth the effort!

But suddenly I also wanted to try something other than the lush, mature femininity, which Avocado is associated with. I wanted to do something ethereal and delicate, because many of our materials are simply asking for it: Orlando, Calypso – they fit women who are delicate and ethereal, or have a boyish figure, or the beauty of Tilda Swinton. I was very curious about the result and happy with making something different than usually.

– What is most important for you in making underwear?

The way it wears is as important as the way it looks. I like the contrast between the underwear and clothing. When I am dressed in black or gray, I like a flash of strong colour underneath. Lace under plain linen or raw cotton. Ascetic bra under a lacy dress. I would never offer something I do not like myself. So I think that the colours and embroidery of Avocado are very special. Each bra is constructed from approximately 30 pieces. All these components have to be matched according to colour and dyed by several different suppliers. That is why we rely on several basic colours. We’ve got ecru, black, and lots of shade of beige. Beiges and neutrals are ideal for combining colours, they are very graceful if you get rid of the prejudice against the beige. When choosing embroidery, lace or print, I have to bear in mind variety of cuts and seams of certain styles and predict how they would look in each of dozens of sizes that we use.

– Where did you get the sense of the colour and aesthetics from?

After my grandfathers, I think. When I was a child, one of my grandfathers was a painter and had a photography studio, but before that he was a theater actor in Gniezno. My grandfather had a complex personality. He was a very charming man, very charismatic, but also not an easy person to live with. The other grandfather was a shoemaker. He was very practical, had the wisdom of Zen in himself, but was also quite severe and a bit of an autocrat, so he would not take objection from anybody. For example he made my shoes for the First Communion. He ordered openwork uppers in off-white and made a sole himself. Black as pitch and flat as a flounder, with just a tiny bit of a wide rubber wedge! I was 8 years old and when I told him that the soles did not fit, it really upset  him. Well, it was the communist era, you could not just walk into a shop and buy white shoes for a girl, it did not work like that: the shoes and clothes were hunted for and you had to wear whatever you got hold of. Anyway, I think that I inherited something from both of my grandfathers.

– You mentioned the topic of femininity, what is it for you?

Talking about femininity can lead us nowhere if we succumb to easy simplifications. To me, the notion of femininity is connected with sensuality and physicality. I have learnt to perceive the body and the mind as a whole. Whenever we get into turmoil of emotions in our life, our body reflects that through illness, exhaustion or apathy. To me, femininity is a combination of strength and vulnerability, in various configurations. There are women who are strong, boyish, rough, whose sensitivity is hidden from the world, but it is really touching when revealed. And there are girls, who appear to be very delicate, almost ephemeral, and when you take a closer look you see that within they are strong and steady. And for me these two aspects define femininity – a combination of strength and vulnerability. Although … perhaps men would be like that too if it was socially acceptable. We find the sensitivity in men harder to accept than strength in women.

– Perhaps it is because as women we have a very specific role in life –to have a baby and hence feminine strength is more acceptable?

I think that people, regardless of gender, can be both strong and fragile, both of these aspects are present in each of us. However, fragility in women can get them admiration and applause, while their strength can get confronted with disdain. Women are often raised to sabotage their own strength themselves.

In case of men, the opposite is true, with their strength being admired and sensitivity rejected as a weakness, even though when it is supported by strength, it forms a beautiful whole. It seems to me that women in this regard have more freedom than men. A “weak” man more often meets with contempt for his sensitivity than a “manly” woman for her power.

– Who do you think wears Avocado?

I think independent women. Usually mature, rarely very young girls.

– Is it a maturity in the context of awareness of their own bodies, their needs, or, for example, professional maturity?

I reckon that when it comes to maturity associated with the awareness of one’s own body, each of us has a slightly different starting point. There are women who are mature in their teens, because they have patterns brought from home or mental strength inherited in the genes. I understand this maturity as a fusion of proper care of oneself, of one’s body, with a certain distance and a sense of humor. It can be achieved by both twentysomethings or fifty-year olds, but usually this kind of maturity is achieved around the age of thirty. Our customers are mostly women in their thirties and forties, but we also have very cool customers around the fifties, sixties and older. We have families of three generations among them, the whole family: a grandmother, a mother and a daughter.

– What is your favorite sense?

I think the smell, this is my obsession number one 🙂 I think I have around a hundred bottles of perfume. Whenever I have chance, which I avidly pursue when I go abroad or shop on Ebay, I look for new or forgotten scents. I had known a lot of old scents before they were reformulated in the late 80s/early 90s due to IFRA bans and regulations, and for years I was keeping up with the niche fragrances’ launches.

I really like to eat, too, actually a little too much, I am also very sensitive to touch. I think that no sense is the most important one –they always work together, interact with each other. I spend a lot of time with headphones in my ears. It turns out that my sense of sight is somehow least important, which actually seems a little odd, if you live from the designing things, isn’t it? But other senses simply seem to provide more pleasure. I pay lots of attention to the aesthetics of course, but I perceive the word primarily through emotions – for me to be moved, everything has to resonate. Pure aestheticism is not my cup of tea and tends to really annoy me.

– So what counts is what is hidden – more than meets the eye – what you can touch, taste…

Yes, something can look gorgeous in the picture, but beauty can disappear when I touch it.