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Lingerie no more an occasional purchase; Indian women opening-up for a semantic change

Today, premium lingerie is as much about being sexy and attractive, occasionally or everyday, to please a significant other as it is about feeling good about oneself.

, ET Bureau|
Mar 06, 2013, 05.35 AM IST
Today, premium lingerie is as much about being sexy and attractive, occasionally or everyday, to please a significant other as it is about feeling good about oneself.
Today, premium lingerie is as much about being sexy and attractive, occasionally or everyday, to please a significant other as it is about feeling good about oneself.
In 1994 when a billboard the size of a county appeared on British streets it was considered by some as the cause of a fairly significant rise in the number of traffic related incidents in the vicinity. The billboard featured a seemingly candid photo of Czech supermodel Eva Herzigová in a black push-up bra accompanied by the words 'Hello Boys'.

According to a poll in the UK last year, this campaign for Wonderbra was voted the most iconic global advertising poster of our times. But more recently, in October 2012, Wonderbra busted a digital move in the same market with a campaign that quite literally undressed a supermodel.

It involved an app, smartphones, QR codes and advertisements featuring a fully dressed model. Hold your smart device up to the image and marvel at the sight of a blonde bombshell go from dressed in a tank top and pants to her bra and panties.

And as if that's not enough, in another campaign for the same brand the agency developed 3D billboards (just remember to carry your glasses.) We've come a long way, boys.

Now it may be a while, before we see the likes of Herzigová extend gracious greetings to desi boys and girls from enormous bills, in nothing but a black lace bra and matching knickers. Or before we have an app powered striptease or even the chance to gawk at double Ds in 3D.

Nonetheless, Indian women have cracked the secret Victoria has kept not-so-well concealed and have opened their minds, wardrobe and purses to lingerie that's designed for more than just a supporting role and a safe yet handy place to tuck away valuables (like cash) and Mace. (A bra with built-in facilities to bear weapons of destruction is not just us being wildly creative.)

Today, premium lingerie is as much about being sexy and attractive, occasionally or everyday, to please a significant other as it is about feeling good about oneself.

Changes in the Indian consumer’s income, outlook and style prompted the US based Hanes Brands Inc owned Wonderbra to become more serious about the innerwear market in India that they say is valued at Rs 18,000 crore with a compounded annual growth rate of 18%.

Last month Hanes Brands Inc entered into a licensing agreement with Arvind Lifestyle Brands to push up their sales and brand here. (Pun intended, of course.)

According to J Suresh, MD and CEO, Arvind Lifestyle Brands, the market for branded essentials has tremendous potential and not one strong player. He says, "Wonderbra is the number one lingerie brand in the world. These factors combine to make a great proposition to get mileage in the market." Be it via online channels or department stores or key lingerie outlets, their first order of business is to significantly increase distribution and build the brand up.

Despite its global presence and popularity Wonderbra may still need an introduction here. However, the fact that Indian women are beginning to look at innerwear as lingerie (though it may be a while before we all learn its correct pronunciation) and are appropriating more time, money and care is exceedingly encouraging.

Lingerie is not merely a functional necessity. "It is increasingly becoming an accessory and a fashion statement," says Richa Kar, co-founder and CEO of lingerie etailer Zivame.

Indian women are changing their habits quite dramatically. For instance, nowadays women are not pairing a perfectly good and expensive dress with a cheap cotton bra that does nothing for form and shape. They are spending as much on innerwear; it could be a simple seamless bra to wear under t-shirts or a strapless push-up for a wholesome look or miraculous pants that get rid of all excesses.

Function and style together to fit the occasion, there's no reason why women can't have it all. Kar says, "Some of our top selling products are in the shape-wear category. Brands like the Brazilian functional lingerie maker Plie sell very well, because their products are also designed for tropical climate conditions. It is especially popular with working women who wear more western attire to work nowadays. It's a 9 to 5 solution."

But if saris are your thing there are gazillion convertible options for that too. Kar herself is a working woman who quit a cushy corporate job over a year and a half ago to set up Zivame that has over one million unique visitors.

Clearly changes are apparent not just in what women want and buy but a how they buy. It has been said on a number of occasions that for Indian women, lingerie is a subject best kept under wraps.

It's hardly uncommon to find the simple act of purchase often and quickly turn into a covert extraction operation that would not be misplaced in a Ludlum-esque spy saga.

Are you paying attention, Mr Bourne? However, there exists the irony. Women turn into stealth, contraband smugglers when it comes to innerwear purchases in a market where most lingerie salespersons are men.

Particularly at mom and pop stores à la the salesman at Tem Tem Bra & Panty store, a character played by actor Boman Irani in the film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. And, in the spirit of liberation, there's always lingerie off street shop racks, right beside Gucci and Prada knock-offs.

However, shopper behaviour has been through a dramatic transformation in the past few years. Contributing to this change are a growing number of branded essentials in the market and multi-brand outlets that stock brands like Triumph (the company has its own version of the Victoria's Secret fashion show here), Enamor and Lovable, among others.

But perhaps the most significant change has arrived on the back of the lingerie etailer that stocks everything from lacy and racy brands like Caprice from Poland to brands like Curvy Kate for a more full-figured woman. Interestingly, according to etailers the crowds logging in aren't just from the top metros but from cities spread across the country.

For Zivame for instance orders are pouring in from small towns across states — Orissa, Nagaland, J&K, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, practically everywhere except Lakshadweep, really. There's a blossoming market for premium innerwear beyond the top ten cities.

Some women prefer online stores because they provide consultation and a wide range of solutions. "Say if you are a 36 D cup. A trip to a store can be quite daunting," says Kar. "Often you don't find a solution on the shelf and are met with salespeople who say they don't keep that size. So there's still a lot of embarrassment and judgment."

Some shoppers prefer to skip the public racks that have a handful of sizes, styles and brands and would rather go online where the lingerie equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory is open to explore, guide and all.

Even boutique designer labels are setting up shop online first. Monica Anand, a former banker, set up Under Cover Lingerie in the uber premium category. She says, "Lingerie is no longer an occasional purchase." Though Kar admits Valentine's Day is their Diwali with men and women flocking to buy lingerie that creates a Mardi Gras atmosphere under your clothes.

"More importantly, the truth is sexy lingerie makes a woman feel good. The revelatory experience for us has been the fact that a lot of our orders are shipped to places we thought of as unlikely markets at first, places like Gwalior and Surat," points out Anand.

No doubt a growing number of Indian women are having a bit of fun with their sexuality and lingerie is simply a manifestation of that expression. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, why should boys have all the fun?

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