If you are a tourist with a penchant for vintage lingerie, then the unassuming piles on the bancarelle of Rome boast treasures untold. Not of particular value or even interest to most young Italians, there are unplundered silk negligees, La Perla bras and lacy unmentionables to pull up from the stands’ shallows. Fashion designer Cecily Travers has been known to dive in, finding pieces for her own wardrobe as well as archival research materials for her lingerie line, Isosceles.
The London-born, Rome-based designer’s favorite season for scavenging is pre-Carnival, when costumes migrate into the mix. Or at least that’s when she found her beloved fringed onesie. She is always looking for new forms. “I like a little squidge of bum sticking out, a peek of pointed nipples, a visible panty line. Those kinds of reveals are what makes something sexy,” she tells me. “I don’t go in for Spanks, Skims, that whole Kim Kardashian look. The body is not supposed to be one homogeneous plane.” Her own designs embody this distinction. Like lovers under the sheets, her conical bras, Grecian draped drawers and high-waisted bottoms, assert themselves through their wearer’s clothes, creating bold lines that draw the eye.
“When it comes to lingerie, it’s all about fit,” Travers says. “Like me, most brands, for the sake of production coasts, have to carry a certain size run, but women’s bodies are so impossibly diverse. My job as a designer is to try to make garments that can fit a variety of bodies well.” Travers accomplishes this in her own line by introducing lots of adjustable straps that can accommodate those with large cups and small backs and vice versa. “There is nothing worse than that sinking feeling when a swimsuit from last summer no longer fits,” Travers says. “Our bodies are always changing, and when I create pieces I take that into account. And while I do appreciate the delicate things in life, I never want to be making something that will be worn once.”
The creative process for Travers begins often on the mannequin, where she uses draping to sketch out possible forms with pins. Fabric seems to speak to Travers directly, as an artist’s pastels might. The label’s genesis can be traced to Travers’s obsession with the meshy synthetics introduced in the 1940s used originally to add definition and structure to the wearer’s silhouette. Dead stock leads the dance at Isosceles: this year the designer came upon some bolts of vintage crepe de chine in red check and blue stripe, whipping them into a made-to-order triangle set for her followers. Working only with a handful of retailers and through her own online shop, the she is able to be spontaneous in this way, a resource she treasures in her current configuration.
Favorite experiments for Travers include her first campaign, which took the designer and a friend, photographer Amy Gwatkin, and a gaggle of models, into the streets of Rome to flash their undergarments at onlookers. The photo series underline the comic cheek and dramatic flair that imbue the designer’s garments with a sense of self-possessed sexiness.
Next up for Isosceles in the early new year will be a collaboration with artist friend Zoe Williams, which will likely launch during the would-be fashion week. Travers’s audience remains a global one despite the label’s small-scale production and atelier vision for itself. “Italians still buy their underwear in shops where the people behind the counter help you find the right size. There is the tradition here of getting everything tailored,” the designer explains. “The US and UK doesn’t have those same resources or ideas about shopping, which is why fit has to be considered from the beginning.” Taking in the best attributes of the city around her—its history, its pleasure in craft, its time-tested materials, its theatricality—Travers is opening up a small window for those who appreciate the carbonating sensation that accompanies the discovery of a comfortably outspoken garment.