Xiaodan “Emily” Yu, Fashion Design ’99

When they talk about intimate apparel in China, most people talk about the bra and panties. Before the housing reform in the late ’90s, homes were smaller, so there wasn’t space to wear other categories of intimate apparel. The reform allowed people to buy larger homes, giving parents and children separate spaces. Suddenly they could wear more beautiful sleepwear in the bedroom and loungewear in the living room. I wrote a book called Lingerie Lessons to introduce these concepts to my Chinese readers.
In researching my book, I came across Hidden Underneath, a book about the history of lingerie. The concept of trousseau fascinated me. In the 19th century, a girl spent her whole young life preparing a collection of undergarments and table and bed linens to ready herself for marriage. She revealed herself through stitches and embroidery. A woman was not allowed to expose her body to her husband, so sleepwear was vitally important. Nowadays your nightgown still protects you and helps you feel comfortable. It’s like part of your body.
My first intimate-apparel collection, called Trousseau, is based on designs I created for my book. Everything is made of fine linen and lace, with some embroidery, and all in white. I hand-sew everything, made to order in very small quantities, because I want my customers to have a very personal connection to it.

An intimate-apparel designer for 15 years, for Komar and Maidenform, Yu is also a writer and translator. She translated Lolita and The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov into Chinese, and in 1992 became the first Chinese translator of Raymond Carver stories. She has published a novel and three other books. Lingerie Lessons and a book of stories come out in 2015.

Featured Image: This delicate, revealing nightgown from 1907, made of cotton, bobbin lace, and silk ribbon, was sewn by a mother for her daughter’s trousseau.