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How to shop for lingerie

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You may not have heard of Marlies Dekkers, but the Dutch lingerie designer is a bit of a legend in the underwear world.

After becoming frustrated with frumpy lingerie, Marlies set up her business from her bedroom 20 years ago, and has since elevated the bra and pant into an art form. Her cage-like Dame de Paris bra designs enjoy cult status, with a celebrity following that counts Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, Mila Kunis and Dita von Tees amongst its fans.

Now, with a pop up store in Harrods under her belt and her range available online from the luxury retailer, Marlies is bringing her own brand of fashionable lingerie to the UK (we've tried her bras, and they look great). No one is better placed to talk underwear, so we asked the designer for her rules for buying stylish underwear that actually fits .

Shape is just as crucial as size

So many women don’t wear the right size bra, (the under bust and cup size are the parts of the breast they need to check) but the shape is just as important, as different shapes work for different breasts. When you are eighteen, your breasts are perky and follow a certain line away from the body – it’s quite high and rounded, and as you get older that line gets lower and less rounded. A soft bra follows the shape of the breast exactly, whereas a moulded cup reshapes the line of your breasts with the wiring. So if you put on a moulded cup, it gives you back the breasts you had when you were eighteen! But it’s best to try on different bra shapes and see what you prefer – some women find a soft moulded cup as it’s a little more comfortable.

There is no such thing as the ‘perfect cleavage’

In my opinion, the only “perfect cleavage” is one that gives a woman sparkles in her eyes! But for that to happen plunge or push up styles need to fit and shape your breasts properly. I put numbers on each bra’s hang tag that refer to shape as well as size, so once you know your number you can easily find a bra that works for you.

There is no ‘right time’ to shop for lingerie

All women have different right and left sized breasts, and with your changing hormones, their size can often fluctuate. But a good moulded cup bra (not a soft one) can cope with changes in breast size. My bras still fit women who have had breast cancer and a small part of their breast removed from surgery. If your weight or breast size really fluctuates a lot, then a moulded cup is the best shape for you.

Don’t hide your breast size

I’m always asked what the best bras are for small breasts, but it depends what you want. If you are happy with your size ( my sister has a small B cup, but she is very proud of them!) then go for a soft bra and relaxed fit. If you are worried they are too small, then go for a push up – or double push up – to get a cleavage.

A lot of woman with big breasts think they have to wear a minimiser – but the breasts have to go somewhere! With a minimiser your breasts are squished downstairs, so you look thicker, like you have an extra layer of flesh under your bust – not very flattering!

I always recommend women with big breasts to wear a moulded cup bra – you get your full shape back which makes a huge difference and it makes you looks slimmer. People didn’t believe me until they try it – but now more and more women are taking my advice and being proud of their breasts.

ABOVE: Marlies, in her own designs.

ABOVE: Marlies' Undressed collection, available at harrods.com

Sexy underwear is so much more than black

When I started out, I described the world of lingerie as an alphabet –when you thought of “sexy underwear”, there was only ABC – so a black bra, stocking and garters, red, and lace. I am trying to create the rest of the alphabet– the whole range of what ‘sexy’ underwear can be. So don’t think underwear just has to be black –you can make great combinations with it, and even match your outfit with it! I really try to make different, fashionable things for women, so this season, it’s all about really bright colours for me – watermelon and yellow, strong blue. Black and white will always be popular – they’re practical, but there are other colours to try.

Lingerie is fashion – think of it like your clothes

I really want design lingerie, to change the industry and make it more fashionable. I showed my lingerie two years ago in Paris, and it wasn't even allowed on the main catwalk schedule. So I showed off schedule, but then Sarkozy’s son and a lot of other celebrities came – far more than the official show at that time. It shows how much people love lingerie, and I was very proud - I still don’t understand why some people don’t see it as fashion!

Spend as much time choosing knickers as you would a bra

It’s important to remember that as you have different breast shapes, you also have a wide range of bottoms, and the right knickers can be incredibly flattering. If you have a larger behind, then it’s better to wear a thong or pant with more material, which is more flattering, but if it’s small and you want to emphasize it, get a higher cut thong or bikini shape with less material. We also make knickers with more coverage at the front and with longer shorts, so you can cover your legs and belly if you are self-conscious. Try different styles on and find out what fits your body the best. You can do a lot with the right pants!

Celebrity lingerie designers are ok – if they’re passionate about underwear

For the models and celebrities that have started designing lingerie, I'd say it’s a great way to make money, and they are good businesswomen! But then a lot of women dream of creating the perfect set of lingerie – so if they are following their dreams and are really passionate about it, then that’s a good thing.

Marlies Dekker's designs are available at harrods.com

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