As the flawless Liu Wen marched down the runway during Jason Wu’s Spring 2013 show, onlookers immediately noticed there was something different—something more provocative—about the typically buttoned-up designer’s collection. Beneath a black lace top, Wen sported a delicate bralette from Italian lingerie brand La Perla. The bra was part of a collaboration between the two design houses, which came together for a one-off capsule collection of daring leather and lace accent pieces: corset-seamed dresses, racy bustiers, lingerie that was more headliner than understudy.
“It was something that happened really organically,” says La Perla CEO Suzy Biszantz. “Our creative director knew that Jason was thinking about this Helmut Newton/provocative lace-inspired ready-to-wear collection and she thought it would be interesting for us to meet. It turned into us making some special pieces for him.”
The storied history of La Perla lingerie spans 60 years, but the brand has been popping up in rather unexpected places lately—during Wu’s show, for instance. That’s because Biszantz and her team are actively crafting ways to urge U.S.-based consumers to be more open-minded about luxury lingerie. “People often think of lingerie as utilitarian here, compared to in Europe,” says Biszantz, who, before joining La Perla, served as CEO of golf apparel brand Greg Norman (“I didn’t necessarily have tons of experience in lingerie…or a personal affinity for it,” she admits.) “Our culture is more about the exterior—spending money on that really beautiful dress or handbag.”
But Biszantz is hoping to change that. Aside from provocative collaborations, the company is emphasizing its lesser-known non-lingerie items—like lace frocks, blouses and hosiery—which Biszantz hopes will help “stretch the imagination” of the American consumer. “Something like a body suit or a chemise can bridge from innerwear to outerwear, and still incorporate the signature lace that is so woven into our DNA,” she says.
That intricate lace—for which La Perla has become so well known—is celebrated in the new book La Perla: Lingerie & Desire, which chronicles the evolution of the brand from its humble origins as a small Italian atelier in Bologna. Indeed, La Perla’s rich heritage is what Biszantz loves most about her job. “We were one of the first to use the same runway inspiration as ready-to-wear designers and the first to introduce color back in the ’60s,” she says. “Before that, lingerie was either black, nude or white. There are so many things La Perla has done to revolutionize the lingerie industry. It’s exciting to be a part of that.”