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A Lesson in Bra History: Elsa Peretti

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Just like Rudi Gernreich, John Kloss and the bra burning myth, I’m taking a stroll down memory lane and exploring the history of lingerie. Elsa Peretti is the topic today. She’s most famous for her work for Tiffany & Co., but it’s her mesh bra that she made for Halston that interests me most. Surprise, surprise.

Florence born, Elsa was first drawn to mesh when she saw it being made by hand in India. Wanting to do something with the material, she sought out Samuel Beizer, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Together, they reached out to Whiting and Davis, a company based in Massachusetts that specialized in making mesh. They (W + D) told Peretti that the mesh that was used to make jeweled evening bags could not be done anymore. Undeterred, Beizer and Elsa discovered old, mesh making machines and found an 80-year-old employee who had once worked on them. In 1974, they were able to produce their own mesh, and today, it is still made the same way. Jewelry is the way you’ll see the mesh used most, but its debut was a gold bra/halter top for Halston’s fall collection in 1975.

Two fun facts – the mesh is made using machine knitting technology similar to how a stocking. A mesh scarf contains about 43,000 links. Pretty impressive, right?

Not much is said about that bra. In fact, that’s that only thing I could find about it – that it was made. But a lot is said about her as a jewelry designer, which I think is worth noting. “Jewelry is not fashion. It has to last, not be discarded when something else comes along.” Organic, refined and simple, what she created was wildly inventive and innovative. She started her career as a model in Barcelona, where she dove into the art world. She hung out with Dali and was even muse. Then she began traveling – Japan, Hong Kong and later New York. Her circle in the big city were the artiest elite – Warhol, Capote, Minelli, Vreeland and more – and Studio 54 was her stomping ground. She served model in this famous photo by Helmut Newton, and her and Halston were a team that collaborated on many projects; the mesh bra was their first or their last rodeo. Then, in 1974, she joined Tiffany & Co., Her collection selling out. Just one of her most famous designs was the open heart pendant. She spent months alongside artisans in order to get the hang just right. It was and still is elegantly and eternally simple and graceful.

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When I was a student at SCAD, my final exam for a basic sewing class was to reconstruct a garment into something that was completely unlike the initial design. I bought a men’s suit, size 12, and made a women’s jumpsuit, size 6. Yeh, I thought it was pretty (it won first place!), but it was unwearable. It met the criteria of the project and that’s it. Elsa did just this, but way more. To transform something into something else is one thing – anyone can do that – but to transform something into something else that is usable, wearable, classic, and timeless is another. Who would have thought to make a bra out of mesh? I wouldn’t.

What do you know about Elsa? Do you, or did you, own one of her pieces? I had her open heart pendant necklace in high school. That reminds me, I should dig that out of my jewelry box and give a good cleaning.

Resources:

The Tiffany Story: Elsa Peretti
The Mesh Genesis
Classic Hearts and Imperishable Beans 

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    redflaminghair

    GOSH, that’s my favourite Newton photo of all time, I didn’t know who the model was, now I know. 🙂
    Actually I haven’t known anything about her. Thanks for the lesson!

    Is the mesh bra heavy? Comfortable? Wearable? Cold? I just wonder 🙂 Looks good anyway.

  2. Reply

    lynne

    Thanks for information. Love to play connect the dots…or in this case…connect the art…even better:)

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