LIZ JONESFASHION THERAPYSpanx a billion! Even the A-list owe their curves to the control pant revolution
08:55 GMT, 12 March 2012
Forget all the big names in fashion – Galliano, McQueen, Lagerfeld – there is one woman who has shaped the way women look and feel more than any other.
She is Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx, who last week made it on to the cover of Forbes magazine’s annual billionaires issue, at the age of just 41.
Blakely admits her own bottom inspired her patented control underwear. ‘I didn’t like the way it looked in white trousers, and I couldn’t find anything to work underneath them,’ she told the website MyDaily.
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‘Out of frustration, I cut the feet off my control-top tights one night to go to a party, but they rolled up my legs all night. My bottom looked great, though, and I thought, I need to figure this out.’
She developed her idea without a loan, and was able to manufacture samples of her revolutionary shapewear because of an advance in technology: the Santoni, a machine that allows garments to be made with no side seams.
Finally, the former fax machine saleswoman, who’d learned never to take no for an answer, wrestled the buyer from Neiman Marcus (America’s equivalent of John Lewis) into the ladies to try on a pair. Instantly convinced, the buyer placed an order on the spot and the nationwide chain began stocking them.
Kate Winslet wearing the Stella McCartney trompe l'oeil dress on the red carpet which used colour and design to give the illusion of an hourglass figure
Blakely was catapulted into a new league, however, when her invention was worn by Oprah Winfrey, who looked instantly 10 lb lighter. Today, Blakely has no debt, owns 100 per cent of her company, and has never spent a penny on advertising.
She chose the name Spanx simply because ‘people find it funny… no one forgot it’.
succeeds over the fashion designers who can only dress girls with the
vital statistics of a bicycle spoke by using her own body as a
Hose that girl Sara Blakely is Forbes' youngest self-made billionaire thanks to the invention of Spanx
woman, she knows what it’s like to be too hot in a pair of tights, to
see the seam at the toe stick out of a sandal, or to stand up after a
black tie dinner and have to use your stole to cover your tummy.
out, she sold her wares from a table at Neiman Marcus with
before-and-after photographs of herself wearing just bikini bottoms, and
then with a pair of Spanx Power Panties so you could see the
difference. She never looked back.
Spanx have been worn on the red
carpet by every star you care to mention, from actresses Kristen Stewart
and Jessica Biel to singers Kelly Rowland and Beyonce.
they talk openly about the fact they are wearing a support garment is
testimony to Blakely’s clever marketing and buzz words — the witty
‘Haute Contour’ is a more expensive range and there is also
‘Undie-tectable’, which is a version so smooth and soft, it’s invisible
This is where Spanx has really moved with the times, away from Bridget Jones’s big pants territory and towards shape underwear that is pretty and sexy enough to be seen in its own right, without clothes on top. Blakely injected fun, fashion and glamour into garments that were seen formerly as sort of ghastly trusses, made in fabric the colour of dentures.
But the main reason the stars are open about their Spanx addiction is that the whole ethos fits in with their desire to appear more ‘normal’, and not addicted to exercise such as Pilates or the GI diet.
A woman admitting she wears Spanx is the sartorial equivalent of saying she doesn’t employ a nanny. Anyway, who has the time to attain the body of an Olympic athlete, when thanks to Spanx you can pull on something that does the job in seconds
For the past 12 years, Spanx has made a fortune from women all over the world who want shapelier buttocks, a flatter tummy, and thinner thighs.
The ‘shapewear’ market is estimated to be worth 135 million in the UK alone
Last year, the company even introduced
Spanx for men, slimming undershirts created to give them firmer chests
and flatter tummies. And, for
summer 2012, there’s a range of swimwear designed to flatter the body
and disguise imperfections from bust to buttocks: the tankini, skirtini
and swim dress cover a multitude of sins.
The next big thing in shapewear According to Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie design at Marks & Spencer, it is the return of the hourglass figure, thanks to TV programmes such as The Hour and Mad Men, which requires a nipped-in waist — a part of the anatomy most of us have completely forgotten about.
M&S’s Flatter Me bras and knickers, launched today, have had to resurrect largely forgotten, vintage corsetry techniques, such as panelling, stitching and boning, but this time using super-soft plastic in place of whalebones. Spanx, too, has not been caught napping.
They have been developing the high-waisted panty to nip in the waist and accentuate the hips, allowing women to create a silhouette that even two years ago was unthinkable.
Slimline: Plans for expansion of the brand include a diffusion line
But the simple reason shapewear is the
best performing sector in womenswear (up 30 per cent in 2012 compared
with the same period last year) is that it has become light and stretchy
enough to pull on fast, meaning you can wear it every day, not just for
that special occasion.
Spanx’s great USP, too, is that you can type any flaw into the website, such as ‘back fat’ or ‘bingo wings’, and come up with a myriad number of ways to fix it.
You can choose your level of constraint: from low to ‘super duper’, which I imagine means you can barely breathe, let alone finish off that bowl of pasta.
Interestingly, Marks & Spencer reports the bestselling size in shapewear is a ten, which only goes to show that all women think that they have flaws and could do better.
While new technology is largely the driving force in this upsurge, so too is the fact that needing a little bit of support is no longer anything to be ashamed of.
Just look at Kate Winslet in that Stella McCartney trompe l’oeil dress on the red carpet.
It not only used colour and design to give the illusion of an hourglass figure, but the fabric too acted as one giant corset, resembling an enormous, incredibly costly pair of Spanx.
Sara Blakely, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, says she was spurred on to achieve by witnessing her best friend being killed by a car at the age of 16.
She should feel very proud indeed that a garment that holds you in in all the right places has at last come out of the closet.