Inspiring desire, self-confessed Francophile Gentry Lane creates indulgent intimates and luxurious loungewear inspired by Paris's prurient past.
Beauty comes from within as lingerie designer Gentry Lane reveals more than a passing penchant for covetable corsetry and provocative panties, inspired by the desire of Paris's golden years.
What could be more sensual than slipping into a luxurious silk gown, sewn in the finest silk thread, deftly adorned with exquisite French couture lace created true to original 18th-century savoir-faire? Like an accomplished alchemist, Gentry Lane, founder of the Parisian luxury lingerie label Gentry de Paris, draws from the city's dearth of spectacular attributes, producing sumptuously sublime intimates harking back to the golden age of glamour.
Tipped as this year's Entrepreneur of the Year for the forthcoming European Women of Achievement Award, Lane has built an empire based on the boudoir, taking the art of undressing to tantalizing new heights. Exploiting the incredible success of burlesque chic, Gentry de Paris is moving beyond the second skin into antique-inspired footwear and seductive accoutrements for the hedonist home, celebrating the return of the Parisian parlor.
What prompted your move to Paris?
I came here to write a book about Paris in the Twenties, but the market is so oversaturated with books on the subject... However, it was fun to study, and I got my master's degree in this subject, so it was a pleasurable way to waste a few years and get a degree.
Most women dream of inspiring a creative talent. How did you become ready-to-wear designer Andrew Gn's muse at the outset of your career?
I met him at the Ritz. I was lucky in that when I moved here, I fell into a fashion crowd. I was friends – still am friends – with Miles Socha of Women's Wear Daily, who introduced me to him, and we just hit it off. Andrew has an amazing aesthetic, great taste and his clothes are beautiful. He doesn't cut any corners, he applies luxury on top of luxury on top of luxury, embroidery on top of encrusted lace. I was there for less than a year, but that was my first experience in fashion.
How was Gentry de Paris born?
I was working for a designer called Frederic Molignac. I was vice-president of marketing, and I was charged with conducting a study. At the time, he was doing ready-to-wear and haute couture, and he wanted to expand, but he didn't know into what, whether it would be perfume, shoes, handbags or lingerie. They flew me all around the world, and I met with every buyer in every major department store in the world and said, "What do you need? What can we offer that will just sell out?" Everyone said, "There's no French lingerie." I came back with a presentation and said, OK, we have silk suppliers, factories that can do it; we should do lingerie, but instead, we went with shoes, then the company closed and I found myself out of a job, so I decided to launch my own label. I'd already done my market research, so it made sense.
Were you inspired by the idea of "maisons closes," the Parisian bordellos of the 1920s?
Absolutely! I even have a "pink guide" from the 1920s, which is a publication put out by the brothels, which listed their locations, specialties and rates. I love the romantic ideas that endure about Paris in the 1920s. The famous brothels like Chez Suzy, Le Panier Fleuri and Le Monocle were the physical embodiment of French sensuality. Lingerie and sex are invariably linked. The red velvet curtains and opium haze you would find in these secret dens of iniquity are still titillating to this day. Just like the lingerie of yore, my lingerie is actually quite modest. I think what you don't see is often more exciting than what you do see.
What are the most popular pieces in the collection?
Always the nightgowns. The most expensive things always sell, because men walk into department stores and ask, "What's the most expensive thing you have?" and they are shown my silk gowns. They have beautiful details like hand embroidery. The more couture the better.
Gentry de Paris lingerie sumptuously supports some of the world's most beautiful women. Who are some of your celebrity clients?
Dita Von Teese, Sienna Miller, Sarah Jessica Parker and the lovely Isabella Blow, who was a good friend; she really helped me a lot.
Purchasing elegant lingerie such as Gentry de Paris has become a pleasure shared by men just as much as women. What is the ratio of male to female buyers?
Purchases made through my website are pretty close, 60/40, women to men.
What is your favorite era in the city's history?
I particularly love Paris between the wars, because there was an expatriate community that came from everywhere, and nobody spoke French. Everyone thinks about the Americans like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, but I really like the painters like Modigliani, who was Italian, and Picasso, who was Spanish. Nobody spoke a common language; they could barely talk to one another, but they all got along. They all helped each other and they shared paint, models and studio space. It was just an amazing creative time. The artists stuck with the artists, the writers with the writers, and there was a cool lesbian community, too, of publishers and ladies who lunch. It was amazing that there was so much creativity when they could hardly communicate with each other.
Like Josephine Baker, one of Paris's most illustrious icons, you are also American. Do you feel that there is a special relationship between the French and Americans?
There's a mutual fascination, and there are a lot of things about us that are alike – both good and bad. I think that both countries are fiercely nationalistic and patriotic. Both countries are very idealistic and they're both really enthusiastic. People have this perception of the French being cold and reserved, but that hasn't been my experience at all.
As an adopted Parisian, what is the allure of the most visited city in the world?
Aesthetically it never disappoints. You step outside, and it's the Paris that you dream of, it really is. I also like the sun in Paris in summer, because the palette, the color, the ecru of the building matches the slate gray of the roofs, which matches the grayish-blue sky, which goes with cobblestones; everything matches in this country! I love that. Paris is very soothing on my eyes.
What do you think defines the 'vrai Parisien'?
I think Parisians have this tenacity, which I find appealing. They are good at figuring out what's important and what's not. I love that.
What is the quintessence of Parisian chic?
Who is the quintessential Parisienne?
I'm in love with Catherine Deneuve, but that's an obvious answer. I also really love Valerie Lemercier, she's just really kooky. Maybe she's not quintessential, but I admire her a lot. Sylvie Guillem, because she's like an icy femme fatale and she's an amazing dancer. I guess it would have to be Catherine Deneuve.
Gentry Lane's Paris itinerary
You have to get a dog so that he can go everywhere with you. I like to mix the highbrow with the lowbrow, so I'd start with tea and a macaron at Ladurée, because that's my favorite. A trip to the Musée Carnavalet (History of Paris). The interiors are beautiful. It's incredible to see the actual salon of Louis XV and the old Lalique store. And you can't miss karaoke at Le Baron. One of my grand pleasures is sitting on a terrace drinking champagne. Georges is my favorite restaurant, because they have the most handsome waiters in the world. I melt when I see Radwane the maître d'. He kisses me and brings me a glass of champagne, and with the spectacular view, life couldn't be better.
Astier, which I like because it is the typical French bistro. I often have a jones for the chocolate André cakes at the Hôtel Amour, and I often visit the Marché aux Puces at the Porte de Clignancourt, particularly the Maison Beys.
Gentry Lane's definition of luxury:
The difficulty and skill of craftsmanship. A difficult construction.
If luxury were a moment
When you pop a champagne cork.
My lingerie! A silk satin slip trimmed with lace that was made on a machine from the 1870's and sewn with silk thread in a turn-of-the-century factory.
Cary Grant, for his accent, and Marie Antoinette, which I suppose is an obvious answer. The two together don't make sense, but for me that's my total aesthetic for their elegant sophistication and taste.
My favorite beach in Cannes. They have the most perfect white sand which they comb, beautiful white couches which are kept pristine, and waiters wait on you out on the beach. I want to live there.