In 1980, Quartet published a coffee-table book which celebrated the quality lingerie of Janet Reger, who did as much as anyone in Britain to revive the idea of women’s underwear as a fashion accessory with erotic trimmings.
She brought to the London scene what the French have always known: that it is possible to combine excellent taste with overt sex appeal.
The Foreword was by Francesca Thyssen, a daughter of baron Heini Thyssen and Fiona Campbell-Walker, the famous model of the 1950s. The design of the book, devised around a large selection of fashion plates of the Janet Reger range, was by Brian Clarke, an artist in stained-glass whom Bevis Hillier once described as ‘a most extraordinary and atavistic phenomenon in the England of today.’
The book has the titleChastity In Focus, which I chose. It provoked murmurings of disapproval from the feminists, not only for its contents, but also for the manner of its launch.
A party was held at the newly-built Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden where the literati, celebrities and journalists mingled with model girls wearing saucy underwear, stockings and suspender belts – enough to make a deep impression on any susceptible male.
The cavernous studio space was infused with a bizarre fetishistic glamour; there had never been a publishing party quite like it before.
As the evening went on, Francesca helped me to compère the proceedings when we raffled some of the lingerie items to a rapturous audience. Some ladies, lucky enough to have a winning number, were urged on by the crowd to try on their prizes there and then. Only a very few had the courage to oblige, to the delight of their fellow guests. Francesca was the ‘It Girl’ of her generation during her time in London, and later became an empress when she married the archduke of Austria.
In his full-page write up for the Glasgow Herald, Alex Hamilton proclaimed that it had been a jolly good party even if some of us felt overdressed. He concluded his piece with a witty evocation of the atmosphere: ‘Everybody behaved beautifully. I’m not aware of any of those fourteen girls, draped each one in a few ounces of diaphanous, provocative tissues being molested. But, come to think of it, what does that say for the product? Or for us, effete good mannered creatures? What other point could there be in prancing about in the stuff? Old Veblen, the sociologist, would have said “conspicuous consumption”. If these girls didn’t look so healthy you might suppose he was thinking of pneumonia.’