With campaign images that celebrate body fuzz, stretch marks and full figures, lingerie label MARIEYAT is redefining a new kind of sexy. In conversation with its founder Maria Yeung, she reveals how to love our bodies and cultivate greater intimacy with ourselves.
Lingerie designer Maria Yeung is inviting women to embrace every contour of their bodies, flaws and all. Creating pieces that tread the fine line between allure and subversion, she seeks to challenge how women dress and who they do it for. Speaking with the Hong-Kong born designer, we discuss adolescence, growing up and learning how to embrace our bodies in all their glorious imperfections.
TBE: What was it like growing up in Hong Kong?
Maria: Being raised in Hong Kong was very interesting for me because I was always surrounded by fashion. Over there, it’s very trend and label-led, so in many ways, it’s harder to express yourself and it can be quite limiting when it comes to discovering your own personal style. In London, people have more freedom. I found it very refreshing to see that people here, women especially, are more open to exploring their gender and sexuality. It’s still quite a new thing, but more and more people are becoming aware that they need to take care of themselves and be nicer to their body instead of following an ideal.
TBE: What was your relationship with your body like?
M: Growing up, I was a bit of an awkward teenager. I never really liked buying bras or underwear and I could be a bit of a drama when my mum would take me shopping. I couldn’t relate to anything that was available in the market back then and I didn’t understand why lingerie had to be made in a specific material, have a specific fit and make me not feel like myself.
“Why change the form of your body to make yourself look good when you can embrace what you have been given.”
TBE: How would you define the place of lingerie in a woman’s wardrobe?
M: Lingerie is the closest layer to your body. You put it on before you put on anything else so that initial feeling is very important. Obviously, when I was a teenager I saw things differently. Now I’m a woman I can understand that I can play with different styles and I don’t have to be one thing. I’ve always liked the idea of combining allure with comfort and my intention is to blur the lines between lingerie and seamless underwear. MARIEYAT is about being nice to your body and showing love to it. Why change the form of your body to make yourself look good when you can embrace what you have been given.
TBE: Do you feel some social responsibility as a designer to contribute to the narrative that exists around our bodies?
M: Understanding why I sometimes don’t like parts of myself is something that I still struggle with. We all have days when you think ‘I look ugly today’ and that’s normal. But, I think if I had seen more brands like MARIEYAT as a teenager, I wouldn’t have these kinds of insecurities. Obviously, there will always be a mainstream ideal, but I feel that it is important for me as an independent designer to not conform to it and to take care of the people who can’t relate to it either.
It’s important for women to open up the discussion about the relationship they have with their mind and body by talking and sharing similar or opposite feelings and experiences. It is a great way to learn from each other and understand that a lot of us are going through similar things, then it becomes less of a challenge.
“you have to find a balance between real life and living online. The internet is great for discovery and meeting like-minded people but only in real life do you experience real intimacy.”
TBE: How has internet culture played a role in this?
M: With the Internet, people are able to express their own themselves freely and I have seen how that has had a big impact on how people see themselves, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender. At the same time, you have to find a balance between real life and living online. The internet is great for discovery and meeting like-minded people but only in real life do you experience real intimacy. When talking about these issues you need to actually see a person to feel their emotions and have an instinctive response. As a brand, we are trying to focus our efforts to create cosy, intimate experiences with our followers.
“The MARIEYAT woman is free-spirited and strong…She doesn’t want to compromise her comfort to look good, and she doesn’t want to look good to please anyone else.”
TBE: What keeps you inspired?
M: Telling stories about powerful women and fusing my East Asian background into my work. My current collection is inspired by the female “Ama” freedivers in Japan. A lot of aspects in my designs were taken from footage of these women diving into the sea to collect pearls and the details of the clothes that they were wearing.
Artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jenny Saville have had a lot of influence on me growing up with an understanding of what power a woman’s body holds. Film Director, Wong Kar Wai has always been my favourite as his films are so beautifully filmed with a sense of romance you can find with objects, places and memories. The small details that matter in life.
Born in Hong Kong, Maria Yeung is the London based designer behind alternative underwear and swimwear brand MARIEYAT. After completing a BA in Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins Yeung went on to work in the studio of Hussien Chayalan and the altier of Yang Li before taking the leap to launch her own line. Her current and third collection is sold by major high-fashion retailers including Ssense.com and SHOWStudio.