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Undress to impress

Sian Thomas left Marks & Spencer to join lingerie brand Madame V as creative director. She has developed the Brazilian label by upping its fashion credentials and focusing on underwear as outerwear. As a former senior lingerie designer at M&S she is a huge fan of its chief executive Stuart Rose, crediting him with teaching her about the value of communication across the supply chain.

- How much is the brand influenced by its Brazilian roots?

Madame V originated as a lifestyle concept in Brazil and we still produce and manufacture part of the range there. We've retained all the sexy and sensual connotations of Brazil, as well as a great cut on knickers, which the country is known for. However, we've given it a bit of a London edge since it launched in the UK two years ago.

- Where does your inspiration come from?

The inspiration for the autumn 07 collection came from a picture of Butterfly Wu, a famous Shanghai actress of the 1930s. Aspects of Shanghai in the 1930s were a lot like Hollywood, so the collection has an old versus new world influence, with a bit of an art deco feel. It depicts a love story, from start to finish, with all the good bits in the middle.

- How important is the brand's "entertainment" side?

It is a way for us to engage with our customers and to show how the art of seduction is a life-enhancing experience. We offer classes where instructors demonstrate how to use lingerie in a theatrical way. Our sex toys have more romantic, rather than overtly sexual, connotations. For example, our whips are for tickling and we sell hand-written love letters.

- What is your opinion of the lingerie on the UK high street?

There is a huge amount of choice out there, which I think can be quite daunting. But there are some great retailers and brands, including Bravissimo and Elle Macpherson Intimates, which have filled a gap in the market. Elle Macpherson created a new niche in the lingerie industry by offering comfortable, understated, yet pretty underwear. It's sexy without being raunchy. Bravissimo, meanwhile, made it easier for women who need larger cup sizes to shop. Before, they had to trawl through racks and racks of bras without necessarily finding their size. Now they have a whole shop to themselves, where they can buy any product in any colour or style. It's all about finding your niche. We're trying to assert ourselves in the luxury sector.

- What does the future hold for Madame V?

I'd like to open a store in the UK, but it's such a tough marketplace. For it to succeed we'd need to do something really different. My dream would be to open a Madame V lifestyle emporium in London, offering lingerie, bedding and classes. It would be like a meeting place, and would be more than just a lingerie shop.


- What is your biggest fashion weakness?

Vintage kimonos. I own about 20 of them and I can't leave Hammersmith Vintage Fair without buying one.

- What was your best fashion moment?

I used to be senior lingerie designer at Marks & Spencer and I had to create a bespoke corset to raise money for the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity. I put my heart and soul into it and it sold for £6,000 in an auction.

- And your worst?

Getting stuck in the toilets at the British Fashion Awards. I had a front row seat. Luckily, I managed to get myself out.

- Who is your industry icon and why?

Marks & Spencer's chief executive Stuart Rose. He's made an incredible impact on the fashion industry. He has the ability to bridge the gap between the commercial and creative industries.

- What would you be doing if not fashion?

A vet.

- Which is the best shop on the high street?

Zara is very stylish without being too on-trend. Topshop is always spot on.

- Who is your style icon?

The actress Faye Dunaway. She's always super-stylish and sexy, from Bonnie and Clyde to The Thomas Crown Affair.

- Who is your pop idol?

This is really embarrassing - it's Dolly Parton.

- Who is on your mobile phone's speed dial?

My best friend.

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