Designer Spotlight: Pillowbook

History

Irene Lu started Pillowbook in 2012 after growing up in Taiwan and studying at FIT in New York and working with a prestigious costume designer, Yip Kam-Tim (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) for a few years. 

Lu’s collection debuted in 2014 with production in Beijing, and focused on the sensuality of smaller busts through modernizing traditional Chinese undergarments, like the duduo. 

Liz wearing the Empress Noir duduo by Pillowbook, made from black silk, with textural floral lace at the top with red silk button knots down the centre.
Liz wearing the ‘Empress Noir’ duduo by Pillowbook, (c) 2021

For those not of Chinese heritage, you’ll often hear your mothers and grandmothers tell you to ‘keep your stomach warm’ – and this garment is meant to solve for exactly that. While some may call it a “Chinese chemise” (which in function, it’s similar to), there’s a whole history of medicinal and cultural significance behind it that likening it to a chemise loses. (For those wondering, no, this white girl is not Chinese or with Chinese heritage – I did spend a year in China teaching English after graduating uni in a relatively small city and became a part of the culture rather quickly. Anything I’ve gotten wrong please let me know and I’ll happily correct). 

The name comes from the intensely personal Chinese version of the Kama Sutra. Pillowbooks are a somewhat (deliberately) obscured Qing dynasty era tradition in China due to Maoist destruction – essentially small instructional scrolls(NSFW) on sex and lovemaking given to new brides in lieu of having “that awkward conversation” with their parents. Though the purpose of it may have evolved throughout the dynasty, as scholars contend that an emperor had a naughty-pillowbook version of another commissioned work praising his garden made in the 1800’s, that still praised his garden but also included some rather acrobatic representations of his sexual prowess. 

Liz’s introduction

I’m pretty sure I was actually introduced to Pillowbook and Irene through Cora (The Lingerie Addict) and her article I linked to earlier in this article. 

If you read through some of my (let’s be honest – any) of my Instagram posts when I share Pillowbook, you’ll see that my experience in China has deeply etched on a part of my soul, and to a large extent helped define the person I am today. 

Fabric, cuts and styles

Silk and lace. All the way through, plus some naughty stitching if you request it. While she was based in Beijing, Lu says she got her silk almost exclusively from Hangzhou, with her clasps from France. Now that she’s moved to Paris, I would assume she’s also found a local source. 

So if you’re used to measurements for stretch fabrics add a few cms to your measurements for Irene and the team. Not too much – if any – give here. 

Who the designer works for

Irene and the Pillowbook team work exclusively in bralettes in ready to wear (and I don’t believe they do bespoke in wired) – and I know bralettes can be…difficult, to say the least, for larger busts. If you’re a larger bust and would like to try Pillowbook’s designs, it may be worth going the duoduo way rather than a bralette, and with the duduo, you can wear a bra of choice underneath if you so desire. Or, y’know, freeball it. That being said, I am notlarger busted myself, and in my books anything that anyone wears that makes them feel good is good in my books. 

So if you want to try Pillowbook regardless, I’m all in. A simple consideration in this instance with Pillowbook’s designs. 

What I like

The better question is ‘what don’t I like.’ For a detailed review, take a look at my review of the Empress Noir set I own from Pillowbook. 

Cost

As with all luxury lingerie, Pillowbook is not inexpensive, and rightly so, to properly compensate the artisans building these pieces for you (I couldn’t pull together these designs on a weekend, could you?) 

High $100’s to mid-$200’s for bottoms/suspenders, high $200’s for bralette and near $400 for a duduo. All prices AUD. So a full set (bra, brief, suspender, duduo) could run about $1,100AUD. 

Sustainability

Irene has long spoken about how she doesn’t have the heart to scrap her scraps, and created a full collection made from those scraps over the years she called “Harmony”. 

Plus if you scroll for a moment through the socials of her and her brand you can see that the now-relocated-to-Paris creator is experimenting almost exclusively with natural dyes and dye processes. 

Historically as Love, Pillowbook is a relatively small-batch design house, Lu worked hard to ensure the working conditions of the seamstresses she worked with.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hope Pillowbook stays around for a long time in some form or another. What Cora said at the launch of this brand in 2014 is still true today – lingerie is still very white, very Eurocentric. Pillowbook beats to it’s own drum in the best way possible and celebrates a centuries old culture that deserves some attention and recognition of elegance.

By liz

Lingerie, body confidence, books, tea, awkward hand placements and klutzy walks, big smiles, glasses and weightlifting - in no particular order a few random words about me.

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