Beyond the bedroom: why La Perla creative director Julia Haart heralds a new direction for lingerie brand
Spring-summer debut by a designer without traditional training reveals a free thinker on a mission to broaden the luxury Italian firm into a full fashion brand with tailoring, accessories and hosiery
As Valentine’s Day rolls around again, thoughts turn to love, romance – and lingerie. Some like the sauce of brands such as Agent Provocateur, but for most, it’s a brand such as Italian lingerie and underwear label La Perla that springs to mind for special occasions.
Surprisingly, however, the latest advertising campaign for La Perla shot by American photographer Steven Klein doesn’t show a model draped across a bed clad in wispy bits of lace and silk, but a bold image of Kendall Jenner wearing a corset jacket – a stylish garment that takes the wearer from boardroom to evening. It is the cornerstone of new creative director Julia Haart’s debut spring-summer 2017 collection for the luxury lingerie brand.
“We can be feminine and feminist,” says Haart. The point is nailed in the same campaign by Liu Wen modelling a printed dress slashed to the thigh and posed with a backdrop of flames – a clear reference to the 1960s bra-burning rallying cry of feminist liberation.
Julia Haart hasn’t had a conventional career trajectory. “I came from nowhere and nobody told me what I couldn’t do, and that was extremely liberating,” says Haart, between fittings for her autumn/winter 2017 collection at La Perla’s headquarters in Bologna. “With a traditional design education you take certain things as given. I took nothing as given and have no limitations to my imagination.”
Haart’s career spans school teacher to designing shoes. Curiously, a material developed by Nasa and incorporated into her range of shoes brought Haart to the attention of La Perla’s owner, Silvio Scaglia, chairman of Pacific Global Management Group. He gave a pair of her shoes to his daughter Chiara Scaglia, who runs the lingerie brand’s Asia-Pacific business, to test. A few months later in May 2015, Haart was hired as a design consultant to develop accessories. She was subsequently appointed creative director when the owners decided La Perla should take a broader lifestyle direction.
It was a leap of faith by Scaglia – major brands don’t normally appoint creative directors who have no traditional training. Nevertheless, Haart thinks outside the box and it was the concept of a high-heeled shoe collection, designed ergonomically for comfort using innovative technology (that she has patented) with an insole containing cooling anti-shock gel – developed by Nasa to insulate its space stations – that sealed her appointment. Haart, who is petite with size 34 feet, says the shoes can be worn 11 hours a day.
Scaglia is hoping Haart can direct the lingerie house beyond underwear and beachwear into a full fashion brand with tailoring, accessories and hosiery as well.
Haart took over last July from Brazilian Pedro Lourenco, who is credited with taking the first steps in developing the new lifestyle vision for La Perla. The timing meant she only had eight weeks to produce her debut collection, just as the factory was about to close for the annual summer holidays. Averaging four hours’ sleep a night since her appointment, Haart says it was a miracle the first collection came out, and praised the factory workers who had postponed their “sacrosanct” holidays to make it happen.
Haart is a free-thinking designer: “I don’t want to say to women this beachwear can only be worn on the beach and loungewear around the house. You can wear beachwear to a party in the city at the weekend if you wish. A woman can buy a corset top from lingerie and pair it with a high-waist pant that has the same lace as a trim. It is about melding things together, there is no separation of inner and outerwear.”
It is a concept neatly highlighted by fashion’s recent rush into luxury silk pyjamas for party wear – something La Perla is also doing.
Haart’s vision for La Perla includes fitted cotton and silk shirts (with corsetry detailing), lace-detailed trousers, waistcoats and evening gowns, printed dresses and plenty of lacy lingerie. She is taking a holistic approach to designing all the ranges at La Perla – “there is a flow and connection between the various lines” – so the expertise learned from corsetry is applied to corseted jackets and tops.
Jackets, dresses and shirts don’t just come in dress sizes, they incorporate built-in bra cups, which means they are also measured in cup size. The heritage of exquisite laces, silks and embroideries filters through into tops and trims, but Haart has added stretch thread to the lace for comfort. Lingerie is still the heart of the business and is clearly at the forefront of her creativity.
Haart is preparing for a catwalk show for La Perla in New York this month on the first day of fashion week. Details are under wraps.