“Cover thy bosom, which I cannot endure to look upon, (…) it fills our minds with sinful thoughts.” 1 Women did not need to wait for Tartuffe to tell them to cover their breasts; since ancient times they had been hidden under large strips of linen. Then in the Middle Ages, cleavage became highly celebrated thanks to the invention of laced dresses. These were later replaced by the corset, which reigned supreme for close to 400 years.
One of the first feminists, Herminie Cadolle, a corset-maker and a close Communard friend of Louise Michèle, decided to bring an end to the torture device…
One of the first feminists, Herminie Cadolle, a corset-maker and a close Communard friend of Louise Michèle, decided to bring an end to the torture device (so-called because of the body deformation and fainting that it caused). Yet at the time, nearly one million corsets are sold per year in Paris. With the political climate as it was, Herminie’s ideas fell on rather indignant ears, and a stay in prison convinces her to take refuge in Argentina. She then launches a lingerie boutique in Buenos Aires, wherein she designs the precursor to the bra: the corselet gorge. In order to further liberate women’s bodies, she has the brilliant idea to cut the corset in half, and to make it less rigid by using flexible, elastic threads, adding two shoulder straps, and constructing a "W"-shaped frame.
As a well-informed businesswoman, she filed a patent in 1898 and unveiled her model, called "bien être” or “well-being", at the World’s Fair in Paris.
As a well-informed businesswoman, she filed a patent in 1898 and unveiled her model, called "bien être” or “well-being", at the World’s Fair in Paris. She was also one of the first to sell products via a catalog. Her collections could be found from London to New York and St. Petersburg. She opened a shop in Paris, which she entrusted to her daughter-in-law, and after six generations Cadolle lingerie is still revered to this day as a symbol of wealth and elegance.
Yet it was an American lover of a singer who designed a prototype bra to help his love sing better, but he did not think of filing a patent. A Frenchman living in New York did it for him and ever since then, Americans have used the word "bra" for the famous underwear.
1 Tartuffe, ou l'imposteur (1664), III, 2, de Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, dit Molière.