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The British company Agent Provocateur, founded in 1994 by Joseph Corre, the son of Vivienne Westwood, and his now ex-wife, Serena Rees, represents a turning point in lingerie’s modern history, Hill said. They opened their first boutique in 1996.
"They were selling lingerie that was highly eroticized, things that were high end and beautifully made, so they’re classy yet they’re taking a cue from things like the old Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogs that are just really overtly erotic," she said.
The evocative nature combined with high-end craftsmanship offered by Agent Provocateur led to a greater acceptance of eroticized undergarments and lingerie, Hill said. The company now operates boutiques around the world.
Pre-Wonderbra, women looking for some help in the bust department relied on "gay deceivers," an early 20th-century euphemism for falsies that could be placed inside bras, Hill said.
"Even some corsets from the 19th century have these kind of falsies built into them, so the idea of augmenting your natural breast size in some way is very old and probably impossible to trace all the way back," she said.
Enter the Wonderbra, with its plunge, padding and pushup via underwire. According to some reports, the name was first trademarked in the U.S. in 1955 but came out of Canada in 1939 as developed by Moses Nadler, founder of a corset company. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Wonderbra really took off, Hill said.
Sales were driven by a 1994 ad campaign that featured smiling model Eva Herzigova looking down at her breasts in a Wonderbra with the tagline: "Hello Boys." The popularity of the ad, including billboards, sent sales skyrocketing. At one point demand exceeded supplies, Hill said.
"There’s an urban legend that when people saw these billboards on the street they would literally cause traffic accidents," she said.
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