The red bra. In the social imagination, it’s more or less shorthand for lingerie. The sanguine underpinning denotes power, passion, seduction, and desire. And if a single strap is seen peeking out of from under a woman’s dress or her silken robe, the innuendo more or less writes itself. But what if we thought about red lingerie in alternative terms? What about if red was left of center? A little more subtle? A little more artistic? Even other-worldly? These were the questions that CUUP’s Senior Vice President of Product, Materials, and Innovation Pascale Guéraçague wrestled with when landing on the quirky, subtler red tone for our latest color collection--Mars.
The designer and life-long art historian--whose impressive design innovation career stretches over tenures at Helmut Lang and Lululemon before she eventually landed at CUUP last year--began exploring the concept of red last summer. The results of an online survey fielded to our CUUP community came back soundly in support of the audacious color. It would seem that after a challenging year--when the idea of touch and sensuality had been redefined in the wake of social distancing--our fold was in need of a jolt of passion. Intrigued by the color’s demand and the challenge that red presents to a brand so decidedly minimalist like CUUP, Guéraçague began finding a happy medium. Could our brand DNA support such an overt shade? “I was like, ‘Give the people red!’” Guéraçague explains with a laugh. “We definitely have a self-awareness that [is] so on the nose. But then it's also kind of like, ‘We want to wear red. Let's not get in the way of ourselves; let’s just have what we want. Is there an interesting lens to think about it? Is there a cool way to think about it?’”
Referencing the work of artists whose masterful grasp of the exuberant pigment had always impressed, Guéraçague recalled the color theory of expressionist painter Alma Thomas. The designer had initially seen Thomas’s nearly life-size paintings at the Pompidou in Paris, France, and again at the Whitney Museum in New York. But it was the late painter’s “Mars Dust” painting that spoke to Guéraçague; the designer loved how it “vibrated.” “[Thomas] being a lifelong student of color emerges when you really sit with these works and study [them]. And at first, you’re [thinking], ‘Oh well, there's something childlike. There's something free and light in the art-making.’ But when you really sit with them, you're like, "This is real, considered, interesting perspectives on the interaction of color and color theory." Thomas’s juxtaposition of color on color and her desaturated orange cast in the painting felt in line with CUUP’s own considered nuance towards colors. The parallels and through lines between Thomas’s work and CUUP began emerging for Guéraçague, and as she dug in deeper, the designer also discovered that Thomas’s personal story was equally mesmerizing.
From the artist’s escape from Jim Crow South as a child to becoming Howard University’s first Visual Art graduate in 1924 to finally launching a massively successful painting career later in her life, after retiring from working as a high school art teacher. At the age of 82, Thomas would become the first Black female artist to be offered a solo show at the Whitney Museum in 1972. Connecting this ground-breaking personal history back to the collection, Guéraçague worked to imbue Thomas’s narrative into her design process. “This is someone who is both inspiring in their form, in their art, but also inspiring as a person. There are so many things to be inspired by. Alma Thomas as a woman and as a Black woman, as an artist, as an educator, as an inventor, as someone who created very much her own aesthetic. Very much how we created our own aesthetic. There's a lot to connect to there. But I also think that more than anything, if you can learn how to see--maybe not the way Alma Thomas has--but if you can connect to things the way she does, there's something just special that we all can learn from and that we all can find solace in or find comfort in. That's an idea that I love personally.”
Imbuing this all into the design process, Guéraçague was mixing and remastering Mars to perfection. “We go through many iterations, many rounds. Our bras have many components. So we need to get all of those components singing together in harmony, matching. That in and of itself, just from a technical colorist development perspective, is hard.” Deftly measuring the balance of tones, the designer and her team ensured that Mars was not too, say, yellow or too green, or too punchy like a cherry, but rather a more orange-infused shade. Going back and forth, the color development stage took months, with Guéraçague's team experimenting to see how the dyes took to the fabrics and textiles. Meditative and slow, Mars was not merely a red but an exploration in how to redefine the hue for lingerie. “I think that what's special about CUUP,” says Guéraçague. “This juxtaposition of here is the bra industry. Here is how women want to feel. Here's how they don't want to feel. Here are performance materials. Here's ultrasonic line bonding. How are you blending modern function into what people [want]?’ In [CUUP’s] DNA and identity, there is a spirit of invention.”
Tags: Body of Ideas