Local artist Marin Camille remembers the first time she bought lingerie. She will tell you that it was the perfect thing and the right occasion, and it is an experience she wants you to have. Marin has also always wanted to design her own line of vintage lingerie, and this year, that lace-and-silk fantasy is becoming reality.
This weekend, Blackbird Underpinnings is hosting a soirée to promote the lingerie startup’s Kickstarter campaign, featuring designs from their upcoming MAVEN collection. Marin and co-founder Julia Zolinsky are inviting you to join them for a peek on Sunday, November 17 at 6 p.m. at The New Parish, 579 18th Street in Oakland. The event promises the atmosphere of Coney Island in the 1920s, with dance performances and a DJ.
When Blackbird Underpinnings was only a twinkle in her eye, Marin invited friends to monthly ateliers in her apartment on Piedmont Avenue to share work and map dream projects. The supportive community fostered in these workshops inspired her. Marin found a willing partner in Julia, whose creative business sense and development experience are the perfect complement.
Two years ago, at the end of a very long day, Marin leaned around the cubicle wall where they worked together in development at SFMOMA, and said to Julia, “We have got to do this!” Julia says she didn’t hesitate. “I have 100 percent faith in her.” Ever since they set a course, the universe has been saying, “Yes!”
Since the fashion boom in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s, corporate fashion has moved manufacturing overseas, leaving infrastructure and skilled workers behind. The Bay Area has become one of the best places in the world for independent designers who want to produce small lines, Julia explains, because the minimums are so low.
In the run up to forming their LLC this year, Marin and Julia have benefited from programs such as the East Bay Score — which offers low-cost workshops in business development, as well as garment industry mentors such as Lana Hogue of Peoplewearsf — as they developed the nuts and bolts of their plan, identified fabric sources, retooled their website, and finalized their designs. The partners have spent the past year getting ready for the anticipated launch this spring.
Marin, a skilled embroiderer, says her mother taught her to sew on her great-grandmother’s pedal Singer, and she has been designing her own clothes ever since. Marin’s interest in fashion deepened through her experiences in the F. W. Olin Library’s special collections while an art history major at Mills College. “I remember handling manuscripts of the rare book room: Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen…”
After Mills, it took a number of years to reconcile the literary feminist she had become with an industry that seemed to have forsaken mind for body. But later, Marin had what she describes as a lightning bolt moment: “It’s not about being a certain kind of feminist, it’s about being true to yourself.” This is the message she brings to the business.
When Marin discovered The Lingerie Handbook, a publication of famed New York boutique Le Petite Coquette, something resonated. She loved the practical advice in the book, and put it to work. She quickly found herself invited along with friends as their personal lingerie shopper. Marin’s lingerie vocabulary includes words like, “galloon lace” (new to me), lace with a decorative woven trim. The company is a natural extension of her love and talents.
The MAVEN Collection line of bloomers, bralets, camisoles and panties are inspired by five icons of the 1920s and -30s, women Marin and Julia believe embody a playful and authentic self-expression. Not the airbrushed clotheshorses that are all too often used to sell to women, but unapologetic women with a history, gender-bending, show-stopping, artistically and socially conscious.
Julia and Marin call Anaïs Nin “the heroine of the company.” She joins Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf and Coco Chanel. Marin and Julia claim that their designs suit and will fit a range of body types. The price range for these silk garments will run anywhere from $55 to $165.
In the November issue of Smithsonian magazine, Andrew Chaikin describes how Neil Armstrong’s space suit was designed by International Latex Corporation, the manufacturer of Platex bras. Aircraft cables were used to provide the underwire that held the structure of the suit in place.
The MAVEN Collection is blessedly wire-free and celebrates silky comfort. A mix-and-match of silk and velvet in a palette of champagne and black may not work in space, but these pieces are weightless and unrestricting. The patterns are inspired by delicate designs of Art Deco and are detailed with the aforementioned galloon lace. The joy that Blackbird is bringing its creators is clear on their faces, and the two hope to share that joy, starting with velvet knickers on up.
In Henry and June, Anaïs Nin writes, “What can I do with my happiness? How can I keep it, conceal it, bury it where I may never lose it? I want to kneel as it falls over me like rain, gather it up with lace and silk, and press it over myself again.