She’s designed lingerie for the likes of Stella McCartney and Savage x Fenty, but now Kiwi Chloé Julian has created her own line, Videris, crafted with meticulous care to enhance women’s wellbeing. Jessica-Belle Greer has a word with her.
Throughout time, women’s bodies have been torn between our inner needs and society’s desires, and no more has this materialised than in our undergarments. Most controversially, women fitted into the shifting “ideal” shape created by the corset, which pulled the body this way and that for several centuries before concerns were raised over health issues, including respiratory diseases and damage to the ribs and internal organs.
The solution was as simple as cutting the corset – and expectations – in two. Frenchwoman Herminie Cadolle presented the first bra, the “corselet gorge”, at a world expo in 1889. In 1893, Marie Tucek patented the first underwire-style bra in the US, with “pockets” for each breast and a metal base plate attached to thick straps. That same year, New Zealand suffragettes won the right to vote and Kate Sheppard set her sights on furthering women’s rights, from supporting contraception to abolishing the corset.
Kiwi lingerie designer Chloé Julian believes the bra hasn’t changed much since 1893. During an accomplished 15-year career working for the biggest brands in the business, she has amassed a personal archive of more than 400 lingerie finds. Vintage bras seem to become more suited to their purpose as time wears on – including the addition of hook and eyes around the 1930s and the invention of rayon during World War II – but there’s still the underlying issue of the underwire.
“It used to be that we controlled our waist and our hips, and now they’re allowed to do what they want,” says Chloé. “The wire bra is really like the last bit of the corset that’s left.”
Like many women, Chloé’s first bra was an underwire style. “You’re always told you need this wire for support and that’s just how it is.”
After graduating from Massey University, she landed a coveted role at Bendon, where she learnt to design lingerie. “I really like these types of garments because it allows you to be quite technical, but still create something beautiful and light,” she says.
Chloé left for London in her mid-twenties and worked on Stella McCartney’s Bendon range and David Beckham Bodywear. She became the head designer at Agent Provocateur at 30, sourcing traditional lace from France and embroidery from Austria, and working with more celebrities, including Penélope Cruz.
Encountering big names didn’t hinder the Hamilton-raised designer’s innovative approach. “I don’t know if it’s my New Zealand upbringing, but I don’t really get too starstruck,” she says. “I’m not afraid to be honest and open because I have that technical background.”
In 2017, Rihanna spotted a neon-yellow embroidered bra Chloé designed for Agent Provocateur. She asked her team to set up a meeting, which resulted in Chloé being offered the role of vice president of design for the then in-development Savage x Fenty lingerie brand. Having just moved back to Auckland with her young family, Chloé politely declined the LA-based job, but half an hour later, they called back and said she could manage the international team from New Zealand, with some travel required.
For 18 months, Chloé caught a long-haul flight every two weeks. She almost didn’t make the brand’s groundbreaking New York Fashion Week debut because she’d recently come down with whooping cough. The designer was so exhausted she can barely remember the show, which was lauded the world over for its inclusivity and independence. Despite the star-studded events, celebrating the work behind the scenes was the most important thing to Chloé.
“I wanted to be with my team more than going off to a party,” she says.
From the outside, it looked as if Chloé was living the dream, but the job and its constant travel was taking its toll. “I feel like, as women, we’re so worried about what we’re projecting on the outside, and we don’t often take time for the inner,” she reasons.
As women, we’re so worried about what we’re projecting on the outside, and we don’t often take time for the inner
Chloé resigned from the position and took some time to recuperate. She never thought she’d start her own label, but then she found something amiss when she looked through her rather large lingerie drawer and realised she didn’t have anything she wanted to wear.
She founded Videris with a business partner in 2018, with a vision for lingerie that would enhance women’s everyday wellbeing. More than two years in research and development, Chloé’s two intuitive, comfortable and supportive soft-cup bra styles got rid of the underwire for good.
“It’s come from all my experiences,” she says of her brand, which also offers three types of briefs. “Not just in lingerie and design, but also my experience as a mum and working within companies.”
When pregnant with her first child a few years ago, Chloé was advised to wear a soft-cup bra until she finished nursing. On returning to work at a lingerie company, she had her pick of any new underwire style, but none felt right. Now, she questions her industry’s long-term fixation with the fixture.
“I’ve worn a non-wired bra through pregnancy and breastfeeding, where I’m basically at my biggest and more changeable and therefore probably needed the most support I’ve ever needed – and that was OK,” she says. “It just made no sense.”
Although there have been new technologies introduced, including lighter foam for padded bras and antibacterial materials for sports bras, lingerie hasn’t changed significantly throughout Chloé’s career. The biggest disruption is cheaper production, including laces made from plastic.
But with global stay-at-home orders, the garment has gained the most heat since the bra-burning ’60s, and women are questioning the necessity of uncomfortable bras. Companies reported sale spikes for more natural-looking soft-cup bras, but most on the market did not provide suitable support.
Videris’ styles are carefully crafted with different elastic sizes and three hook options to accommodate changes which occur during mentrual cycles. “Your breasts are changing throughout the month,” says Chloé, “so I think wearing one size and one wire the whole time also leads to a lot of discomfort.”
Instead of the traditional cup sizes, Videris lingerie is available in sizes XS to XL, and Chloé hopes to be able to offer a wider range as the brand grows and she can scale up her designs.
The pared-back aesthetic of Chloé’s range belies its technical intricacy, so much so that the bras took some wearers by surprise during trials. “The idea of being comfortable but supported – some women found it really strange,” says Chloé. “I don’t know if it’s the epitome of being a woman or something! It can be a bit of a shift in mindset. It’s a good thing.”
The idea of being comfortable but supported – some women found it really strange. It can be a shift in mindset
Videris is made in Sri Lanka, a country known for its skilled lingerie production. Unfortunately, according to Chloé, New Zealand doesn’t offer the same technical expertise after most manufacturing was moved offshore years ago, but she has visited her factory and selected it for its employee welfare.
It’s a dirty secret of the industry that some dyeing processes include toxins that can disrupt our hormones, which is bad news for makers, wearers and the planet. Conversely, Videris’ styles come in seven colours created with natural dyes.
Chloé drew on colour psychology when selecting her dyes – something she became interested in after a friend suggested she wear purple to a meeting to help her tap into her intuition. She hopes customers will think about what colours they feel drawn to when they choose their undergarments each day, from self-accepting pink to restorative green.
“It’s a little moment for the inner self, not about the outer that you’re projecting to everyone else,” she says. “True wellbeing comes from having a balance between what you’re showing on the outside and what’s happening on the inside. I hope it allows women to have a few more open conversations.”
Despite the pandemic-related postponements when she launched Videris in 2020, Chloé believes the challenges of the past year have only made her message of self-love more relevant, “shifting that traditional paradigm from how you’re seen to how you feel”.
To ensure she remains authentic, Chloé intends to add new seasonless styles and colours only when it feels right. Recently, during her second pregnancy, she released a pair of adjustable pyjama pants (which are stylish enough to wear anywhere) and worked on a nursing bra that will be released soon.
Stores around the world are lining up to stock the brand, but Chloé’s set on growing it at a pace that’s sustainable for her too. For now, she’s focusing on connecting with customers online.
A lingerie purchase is a private moment, but the industry has always balanced on a bra strap-thin line between personal choice and public gender politics. For Chloé, it’s important that Videris is inclusive and real in its visual channels too. Friends model in unretouched photo shoots that signal a new era for our most intimate items.
“It’s just common decency really,” says Chloé. “I want people to look at [the imagery] and be like, ‘That could be me.’”
Find Chloé’s top tips for finding your perfect bra fit here.