Corrie MacDONALD Tokyo's foremost Lingerie Designer talks about the perks of her unique job title and why she loves most things Japanese.
FULL NAME: Corrie MacDonald
LACE OF BIRTH: UK
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Tokyo
EDUCATION: London College of. Fashion
CAREER: Lingerie Designer & Brand Manager
How many years have you been a Lingerie Designer?
I have been designing lingerie for over 14 years.
What companies have you designed for?
My career so far in lingerie has been with Triumph International - one of the largest underwear companies in the World. Before that I worked as a Buyer for a Japanese clothing company for 2 years buying clothing & accessories from Japan & Europe.
Is your occupation (as 'Lingerie Designer') as fascinating and as exciting as it sounds?
I love to create items that help make a woman look & feel gorgeous & sexy. I like the idea that a woman may be wearing a conservative business suit yet underneath is wearing the sexiest lingerie. This is especially true in Japan where many 'office girls' have to wear a uniform to work. I like to think that my lingerie will help them feel special even if they have to look like everyone else on the outside.
Any interesting stories to tell about your 'job title'?
I sometimes have to design one-off bras for special events & PR. For example I made a bra from antique Belgian lace & Mikimoto pearls & we have also made a bra out of pure gold thread hand-woven into bobbin lace with a 15 carat diamond at the centre.
We've read that you started your interest as a child designing clothes. How did you shift focus to Lingerie Design?
I always made my own clothing as a teenager but never imagined I would make a career of it as I had always studied more academic subjects such as history & mathematics. My father heard a radio show about a degree in Clothing Management at the London College of Fashion & thought it sounded like something I would enjoy & told me about it. So I applied & got a place.â€¨I started my career in clothing & had never even considered moving to the more intimate side of things. But after a couple of years working in Tokyo, I decided that it was time to move to something new. I still wanted to stay in Asia so I wrote to several fashion companies & one of them was Triumph. After talking to them I decided that I like the sound of lingerie & made the move. I have no desire to go back to designing clothing. The lingerie market has developed hugely over the last few years & is continuing to change which makes it very interesting.
How does the creative process go for you in designing?
I look after 3 different brands for Triumph in Japan - all of them in the higher end market & sold in department stores & retail stores over Japan & occasionally elsewhere in Asia.â€¨We have 2 major seasons a year: Spring/Summer & Autumn/Winter & I begin by working out a basic plan for the season looking at current trends, sales figures & targets for the season which gives me an idea of what type of garments I need to design & the sizes I should be making & the pricing etc.
Normally I will already have an idea of what the theme for a season will be having been inspired by laces or fabrics I may have been shown or by current trends in outerwear, something I have seen on a trip overseas, a period in time or even a movie I have seen.
I can then start sourcing laces & fabrics. Then I'll have samples made up. They will normally need to be re-made a few times before I am happy with the final design which I then present to my Sales Teams. I am usually working about 18 months ahead of the launch date so I need to try & predict what will be in fashion at that time.
You've worked in Japan for over a decade, what makes you stay there?
I find it difficult to believe that I have now been living & working in Japan for so long having originally only come here for 1 year. But I like that there is always something new to experience & I get to meet a variety of different people from all over the World. The Japanese people are generally very polite & the food is delicious & varied. You can also find any type of food you might want here in Tokyo. And the quality is very good from even the cheapest places. I like the fact that there is a lack of petty crime. You can be in any part of Tokyo at any time of night alone & still feel perfectly safe & if you leave your bag somewhere by mistake you can guarantee that it will still be there when you go back to try & find it.
I also like that there are so many contradictory aspects to the country, - traditional versus modern or urban versus rural but that they manage to coexist in relative harmony. Of course there are things that I dislike. The fact that everywhere in Tokyo is crowded plus the regular earthquakes are not a favourite of mine!
How is the Japan market different from what you know of the rest of the world?
When I first started designing lingerie in Japan there was a huge difference between here & the rest of the World but in recent years the designers in Japan have been looking Worldwide for inspiration & visiting many of the lingerie trade fairs held overseas so this is beginning to change. There are still big differences however. As a Westerner visiting a Japanese lingerie store the first thing you would notice is that all the bras seem to stand up by themselves! Unlike France or Italy where a small piece of delicate silk draped nicely on a display would grab the customer's interest, in Japan padding rules! Japanese women feel the need to pad out her small busts. Interestingly, the Japanese women with the larger busts will also more than often opt for a bra with a light padding because they like the shaping it provides & also because in Japan showing anything more than the soft outline that a padded bra makes would cause many people to stare & also probably attract the unwanted attention of the odd drunken (but harmless) salary man on his way home.
Why do you think Japanese women have this seeming fascination with underwear?
Perhaps it is because they only really started to wear underwear as we know it in the West fairly recently. In fact until about 70 years ago, the Japanese women used to wear nothing but a light cotton robe under their kimonos. This began to change as the result of an unfortunate event in 1932. A fire at the Shirokiya Department Store fire trapped many customers & shop assistants in the building. The women, dressed in kimonos, managed to escape to the store's roof & tried to climb down ladders or ropes but since they were wearing kimonos & nothing else underneath they had to use one hand to hold down their skirts in order to keep their modesty & sadly 14 of them fell to their deaths.
I think that while lingerie in the West is often only really about support or being sexy what distinguishes Japanese lingerie is the variety & the attention to detail. In the development of a design in Japan we need to think about not only how it looks but how it will feel on the body & what function it will serve & how it will enhance the visual appeal of whoever is wearing it.
You have already conquered Japan, any plans of expanding your market?
I would like to try other markets. I think that what I have learnt here designing in Japan about the unique Japanese lingerie tastes, designs, patterns, the fit etc is something that could be used in other countries with great success.
My designs have proven that they sell in Japan & so I would like to try other countries in Asia. I imagine that there would be a great deal of opportunity in Hong Kong especially as so much production is being moved to China.
Feel free to email Corrie at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org