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A MOMENT WITH… Margot Vidgen, underwear designer and creative director

Freelance lingerie designer Margot Vidgen reveals how her much-travelled lifestyle took her first from Australia to Paris - and now sees her working, from her studio in the French capital, almost exclusively in China

Describe what your job involves

I’ve been designing underwear for years, working with high-profile brands in Paris and worldwide.  In the last couple of years I’ve become freelance, which gives me more control over my working life, and means that I can explore other passions of mine, such as sculpting and mentoring.   

As well as designing underwear, my job now involves raising the profile of the brands I work with, running photo shoots and helping to increase a brand’s customer base. At the moment, I am working with fashion brands in China, both in Shanghai and Shenzhen and, as I’ve previously worked in European fashion, it’s been really stimulating to develop designs and a campaign that appeals to a whole new market.

I’ve also had the opportunity to judge some design competitions in China recently, which was a really great experience.

My Chinese clients know their market quite well, but I am actually trying to help them move forward towards underwear that’s younger – more sexy and sensual – in order to appeal to a wider demographic whilst being very careful to help them maintain their current customer base.  

Developing a new range is not an easy job, especially as China’s so huge. You have temperature differences of 10 – 15 degrees between North and South in any one season, which is also something that needs to be considered.  

Plus, in China, there are large cities that are becoming very cosmopolitan, like Shanghai, and smaller villages with very different customers.  It’s a really exciting challenge.

How did you end up doing it – was it planned?

Originally, I wanted to design clothing. Underwear wasn’t necessarily my big plan, but plans are there to be changed. I’m Australian so a long way from home, but as an aspiring designer, when my dad offered me the chance to travel to and study in Paris, it was a fantastic opportunity and I was determined to make a success of it.

When I arrived, I couldn’t speak a word of French, and all the courses were taught in French, so it was very stimulating and challenging. In the first year you have to specialise and it turned out that I was very good at designing underwear.

Then I ended up winning the Esmod University’s Prize for Lingerie and Swimwear Design, so becoming an underwear designer was a natural progression.  After I finished my course, I got picked up by Vanity Fair who offered me an internship.  I worked there as a designer, but soon moved on to the concept team.  I travelled the world to share trends with various well-known labels within the group, including Variance and NafNaf.

Is this your first job?  If not, what did you do before?

Most of my career has been spent in underwear, loungewear and swimwear design, although in my twenties I worked for a year at Fortnum and Mason as a trainee buyer.  Funnily enough, that was in the lingerie department.

After my internship, I changed companies and eventually became the design manager at Etam Lingerie, another lingerie company in France.  I stayed there for 13 years, becoming design manager of the team for corsetry and swimwear.  I managed the underwear and swimwear lines and helped launch the fashion parades and large communication events, enabling the brand to become a market leader.

I then accepted an offer to be the creative director at Princess TamTam, a fashion-conscious label in the lingerie world.  There, I looked after more or less everything as far as the product was concerned including the studio/designers, pattern makers, research and development. I collaborated closely with the marketing team in building the image of the label and the product and lifestyle approach of the loungewear and underwear collection. I left in 2014 to work as a freelance consultant and now I’m above-all working on a contract in China as artistic director for the Chinese market.

What attracted you to your current role?

After working for so long in Europe, having the opportunity to find out about a whole new culture was a very stimulating prospect.  The Chinese market is another world. You can’t just go there with preconceived ideas, it’s really a case of adapting to their market and their needs.

I chose to go freelance to enjoy more freedom over how I spend my time.  As well as exploring some of my other passions, I’ve been contributing some of my time to a project involving aquaponics and urban agriculture, working with a few young men who have launched a start-up called ‘My Food’ – a company specialising in advising people who wish to produce their own food.  They aim to help people to become self-sufficient, grow organic food and offer advice on energy efficiency and sustainability.  I am someone very connected to nature, so this commitment has come quite naturally.

What qualifications or training did you need?

I studied at Esmond Paris for three years on a double diploma course and am qualified as a styliste/modeliste. In the fashion industry, it’s really important to have the right training.  Although people do sometimes create their own brands, or try something new, it really is a coup de chance to make it work without any formal training. The best way to succeed is to gain a suitable qualification and plenty of experience!  

Where do you work?

I have a studio in my home, so I organise my planning between my office and travel between Shenzhen and Shanghai in China.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I’d say organising the artistic direction of the photo shoot. I’m very interested in the artistic contribution and the image of a label so I look after the production and what we’re going to do in the shoots. I work with Chinese photographers and through the use of various mood boards and attitude examples, I organise the rhythm and planning of the shoot.  It’s really important that all aspects of a campaign appeal to the target market, so I need to have an overview of the whole campaign.  

I also love coming up with a new range of underwear for a label. I have a vision as to where a collection should go and what the market is requesting today. For me it’s very important to bring a strong notion of fashion to underwear and to try to make it relevant to the woman the label is trying to reach.

Although I’ve been designing and working with underwear for years now, I’m not bored with it! Compared to other fashion items, it’s very architectural in a way – structured, sculpted, every detail counts. There are so many elements in a bra. Designing a T-shirt for example, you might have two or three pieces of material, perhaps you’ll decide on a pattern.  With a bra, you can have 15 or 20 pieces to deal with, so it’s a far more complex.

What is the hardest part of your job?

At the moment, it’s probably that I don’t speak Chinese!  I have a full-time assistant in China, but it isn’t always easy to understand everything that’s going on.  In the fashion industry, everything moves quickly – but in China the pace is even faster, so I’ve had to adapt to that too.

Living in France, I’m also a long way from my native Australia and I miss it terribly.  I do go back to visit, but with work it can be difficult. I have three children who are half-French and half-Australian; they live in France but also enjoy visiting Australia when they can.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

That’s not necessarily a straightforward and easy question to answer. I would like to take my expertise and experience towards something that makes sense to me today. By that I mean working with companies that are environmentally conscious and who understand that ecological issues are the big business subjects of the 21st century. I believe that the fashion industry will need to rebuild their foundations in order to move with confidence and desirability into the future. After all, fashion has always been a story about history, inspiration and the must-have desire for a new collection. So if it’s beautiful and it’s also ethically viable, what a bright and brilliant future that will be! I’d like to help make that happen.

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