When Bluebella cast a transgender model as the face of their Valentine’s Day campaign, the world broke into applause. Sophie Cockett chats to the brains behind this all-important movement.
“I always felt that the imagery in the lingerie industry as it was didn’t speak to me”, reflects Emily Bendell as she looks back on how she felt in her early twenties. “It was often narrow, submissive and focused on dressing up for someone else, but for me, wearing amazing lingerie is about strength, attitude, pleasing yourself and feeling great. I wanted to create a brand that was empowered.” And that is exactly what she did.
I chat to Emily a few months after her brand went viral for making transgender model Munro Bergdorf the face of their 2019 Valentine’s Day campaign. Emily has had a little while to reflect on the madness that was generated from her choice, and really look back on how far her brand has come since its founding, but more on that later.
It was in 2006 that Bluebella was born: a stylish and forward-thinking lingerie brand with a love of fashion at its heart. Among other things, it is that beating, fashionable centre which has left the brand in a rocketing ascent ever since. Emily, who nervously waved farewell to a flourishing career as a journalist to found the brand, continued: “To me, lingerie is a fashion purchase, an expression of my personal style just like buying shoes or a handbag might be.”
If nothing else, Bluebella’s designs are totally unique. Modernity is at the heart, and they love nothing more than bold strapping, graphic print and statement hardware against whispy lace. Such design features represent a harmonious marriage between strength and femininity, traits which are present in the women who wear Bluebella also.
Emily said: “Bluebella is all about self-love, about feeling strong and about feeling beautiful. We have conducted numerous campaigns to promote that important message.” From a guerrilla fashion show across Oxford Circus featuring Bluebella Instagram fans to a shoot with Team GB Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Emily and her team are making waves when it comes to being a brand which is inclusive and representative of all.
This year, Emily selected transgender model Munro Bergdorf to be the face of their range for Valentine’s Day. About her choice to do so, she told me: “Not only is she fierce, strong, eloquent and beautiful, she has been on a very poignant and inspiring personal journey of self-acceptance so was the perfect face of the campaign.”
The selection came just months after Victoria’s Secret chief marketing officer Ed Razek made controversial comments about refusing to hire transgender models.
31 year old Munro underwent gender transition treatment when she was 24. Now 31, she is over the moon to have been part of Bluebella’s ground breaking movements and quite literally stick a middle finger up at those who fail to be accepting. She told the Independent that she was delighted to be able to work with Bluebella due to her admiration for it as one of the first brands in the industry to represent something other than stereotypical perfection.
I wondered whether being a front-runner in the conversation surrounding equality and acceptance was something Emily set out for her brand to be, or whether it just happened accidentally, and I was pleased to learn it is quite intentional. “I want to make changes to the conversation we have about any minority group or anyone ‘a bit different’ in society. The sooner we are accepting and celebrating of one another and all our differences, the better every single one of us will be.” Amen.
Even after huge steps forward like this, it must be pretty frustrating that the battle for acceptance never seems to be over, I say. “Absolutely, it’s a journey we’re still on”, says Emily in agreement. “As a small independent brand we cannot do as much as we want as quickly as we want – we can only run so many shoots and campaigns per year and we have to grow our size range gradually for obvious production reasons. But we are doing our best and we are committed and its authentic, something we feel very strongly about – we know there is a long way still to go.”
However far along their journey Bluebella are, Emily always finds her biggest supporters over on Instagram. Knock it all you may, but Emily’s experiences show it’s a power for so much good as well as all the ugly stuff. “Instagram is such a life force”, says Emily. It gives us this amazing connected window to our kind of people – a showroom to what we’re all about but also an opportunity to talk to them, ask them what they think and be genuinely connected to our customer base.” For these reasons, she calls it her “creative circle”. In return for putting her work out there, Emily gets all sorts of inspiration bouncing right back.
To me, it’s pretty clear where Bluebella are going – but how would Emily describe her label’s future? “Global domination”, she said. “I want Bluebella to be the first thing that springs to mind when a girl would like some beautiful self-indulgence.” To be honest, I’d argue it already is.
Words: Sophie Cockett