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Steam Up The Boudoir In Naja’s Fall 2015 Courtesan Collection

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In January, I introduced you to some of lingerie brand Naja’s naughtiest cotton knickers, featuring playful graphics that referenced frisky double entendres in the cheekiest of manners. Only a few months later, the one-year-old start-up brand is receiving a great deal of attention — largely thanks to a partnership  forged between Naja CEO Catalina Girald and Golden Globe-winning Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, a venture that was announced on October 6th. Girald and Rodriguez met while being filmed for a “Nine Up and Coming Nueva Latinas” video series spearheaded by Procter & Gamble’s Orgullosa platform. As they chatted, the two visionaries and feminists discovered their many shared passions and interests — including their desire to empower women by promoting body acceptance, demanding that all the many beautiful iterations of the female form be represented in a celebratory manner within the media, encouraging women to look for validation within themselves rather than from men (or society at large), and creating employment opportunities for underprivileged women that would allow them to become financially independent. Floored by Naja’s unique point-of-view, its eco-minded business model, and its prioritization of living wages and flexible hours for its largely female workforce, Rodriguez decided to join the team. Now, with Rodriguez’s celebrity profile attached to the brand name, Naja is certain to continue thriving and, in the process, change the lives of the many women manufacturing its wares.

Part of what makes Naja so unique is its commitment to workers. In the global fashion arena, many garment companies employ subcontractors who, in turn, outsource manufacturing to factories in developing countries, worrying only about which facility cites the lowest cost — even if achieving a certain cost threshold or meeting an unrealistic production output  means violating workers’ rights within that facility (later, of course, the parent company claims it new of no such abuses). Naja, however, not only accepts but embraces its ethical responsibilities, ensuring that all its goods are made in a safe environment where workers are appropriately compensated and treated with respect and dignity. Naja, then, produces its lingerie within its own factory in Colombia, employing primarily women who are single mothers or heads of households and who hail from poor neighborhoods where access to employment and childcare is limited. These female employees are paid living wages, offered health care benefits, and given flexible working hours so they can balance their work and childcare responsibilities. Moreover, Naja foots the bill for the books, school supplies, uniforms, and meals of every employee’s child.

Already feeling good about a new lingerie purchase? Well, there’s more: two percent of the proceeds from each sale funds an Underwear for Hope sewing program organized by local foundations, thereby equipping women with the skills they’ll need to become micro-entrepreneurs. Each washing machine-ready bag that accompanies your lingerie purchase (and safeguards your precious undergarments as they go through the spin cycle) is sewn by a woman employed through the Underwear for Hope program.

In addition to implementing an ethical business model, Naja has devised an eco-friendly manufacturing process that minimizes water waste through the use of digital and sublimation printing technologies rather than traditional (and often wasteful) dyeing techniques and that involves the usage of revolutionary fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles and other green materials.

For Fall 2015, Naja created the sexy and striking Courtesan collection, which includes bustiers, high-waisted bottoms, low-slung briefs, banded demi bras, and lacy bralettes — all inspired by the French courtesans of the mid-to-late 19th century. During La Belle Epoque in Paris, courtesans were considered powerful women who often rubbed elbows with the aristocracy, their lavish lifestyles and extravagant fashions invoking both awe and intrigue. Rather than being shunned for their participation within the sex industry, as was the case with street prostitutes, the grand cocottes were prized as treasures of sorts, signs of wealth and status. Often regarded as fashion trendsetters and artistic muses, their theatrical mannerisms and conspicuous consumption (as evidenced by their expensive and lavish dwellings, glamorous dresses, and opulent jewels) inspired the works of novelists like Emile Zola and Alexandre Dumas, as well as the paintings of Edouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, among others. Some of these beautiful and magnetic women — among them Liane de Pougy, Apollonie Sabatier, and La Belle Otero — became boldfaced names, their trysts as talked-about as the Kardashian sisters’ escapades in contemporary times.

The Courtesan collection, then, incorporates elements associated with the art of seduction — among them pink satin and lace trim — but it juxtaposes these against strong and modern motifs such as oversize houndstooth and skull prints.  The showstopper in the collection is the Naja Noelle Royal Hound Bustier ($125 at Naja.co), pictured above at top, which winks to the waist-cinching corsets of yore and features molded memory foam cups that conform to the shape of each woman’s bosom, an underwire for lift and support, removable bra straps, and lace-trimmed side-boning. To hearken back to a bygone century, the bustier features a blush pink print inspired by the classic wallpapers of the era, but this period-specific aesthetic reference is then upturned through the usage of a houndstooth print along the top of the bra cups. Moreover, this bra contains its own naughty little secret: the inside lining features a defiant skull print meant to reference the coy and manipulative side of every seemingly fragile courtesan.

Similarly, the Naja Antoinette High-Waisted Royal Hound Brief ($58 at Naja.co) fuses together stylistic elements from different eras, embellishing a delicate soft pink printed fabric with seductive black nylon lace, then contrasting these elements with a bold houndstooth pattern along the sides. The cut of the panty, meanwhile, offers a vintage flair along with a dose of tummy control, making it perfect for women who want to feel like femme fatales but wince at the notion of showing off their midsections. For even more coverage and a shapewear effect, women can turn to the Antoinette’s taller sister, the Naja Justine Royal Hound High-Waisted Brief ($110 at Naja.co), pictured eighth above, an ultra-high panty featuring  a control top and similarly slimming sides that smooth the silhouette rather than digging into sin or creating unseemly panty lines.

The mash-up of a nostalgic and almost regal blush pink with a graphic houndstooth pattern again appears in the Naja Anais Royal Hound Bra ($85 at Naja.co), pictured third above, a convertible demi bra with memory foam cups and a supportive underwire, as well as in the Naja Carmen High-Waisted Royal Hound Brief ($38 at Naja.co), shown fourth above, which is more of a mid-waisted style, with the band sitting right below the belly button but still creating the illusion of a high-waisted panty.

Since lace was a pivotal tool of seduction in the era, it’s presence seems necessary in the collection. Enter the Naja Chloe Bra ($65 at Naja.co), shown fifth above, an unlined black lace bra with a U-shaped underwire. Though there’s a classicality to the style, there’s a modern functionality to the design: the soft mesh piping along the center of the cup prevents the fabric from over-stretching while the underwire gives breasts a nice round shape. To give the look a boudoir-worthy but decidedly retro feel, try pairing it with the Naja Audrey High-Waisted Black Mesh Brief (at Naja.co), shown sixth above, a cheeky panty with a nylon body and sheer mesh side panels that give an otherwise conservative silhouette a come-hither feel.

For a look that touches upon the commanding allure of courtesans but interprets it within a contemporary context, the collection includes the dominatrix-flavored Naja Ada Black Bra ($85 at Naja.co), pictured seventh above, a multi-strap demi bra with memory foam cups that brings to mind bondage practices.

If you prefer more muted, soft, languid lingerie looks, then you’ll appreciate the lace-trimmed, nude-colored, triangular-shaped Naja Marie Bralette ($45 at Naja.co), shown ninth above, with its deep plunge, and wide lace band or, for that matter, the Naja Catherine Brief ($38 at Naja.co), a coquettish panty made of a deceptively comfortable cotton jersey layered beneath sheer lace and adorned with a hint of Can-Can chic ruching at the leg holes and waistband.

When you’re wearing one of these pieces, you’ll feel as naughty and desired as the most infamous of Parisian courtesans — except, of course, you’ll know you don’t need a man to pay for your fabulous garb! A fiercely independent, confident woman who owns her sexuality? Now that’s sexy!

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