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Little dirty laundry

By Xu Junqian | Shanghai Star | Updated: 2014-11-07 08:50

Little dirty laundry

Vintage corsets from Ghislaine Rayer's collection. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/Shanghai Star]

She can boast the largest individual collection of underwear in France,and now Ghislaine Rayer has brought her collection to Shanghai. Xu Junqian takes a peek.

When Ghislaine Rayer decided to start collecting vintage lingerie, more than 20 years ago, the French lady had barely glanced at or even touched a delicate, handmade, decade-or-even-century-old corset.

An avid reader of 19th century novels, the then twenty-something employee of a Parisian recording company was simply intrigued after reading Emile Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames (Ladies' Paradise).

Set in a department store, the book details how the shop's owner manages to overwhelm the senses of his female customers and entice them to spend their money on beautiful lingerie. The story details the fabrics, styles and how they tailor-made lingerie, among many other garments and accessories.

Rayer was very taken with the descriptions, and began to view corsets as the "ultimate symbol of femininity".

Now with a collection of over 6,000 pieces of vintage underwear, including faux bustle and swimwear from the 19th century, and a linen petticoat that dates back to the early 1820s, Rayer can boast the largest individual collection of underwear in France, if not the world.

In October, she brought more than 30 examples of the crème de la crème of her collection to Shanghai for the 10th Shanghai Mode Lingerie exhibition and aired some of her "little dirty laundry".

"When I started, it was no more than a hobby," the 59-year-old says. "But when you become a well known collector, people come to you from all over the world, bringing all those dated pieces from their grandmas' wardrobes."

Advertisements, packaging and magazines featuring hour-glass-waisted women in lingerie that was mass produced by American companies since the 20th century also takes up a lion's share of Rayer's collection, usually stored in a specialized warehouse on the outskirt of Paris.

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