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Volker Goerhardt

The head of design at underwear brand Jockey tells Laura Havlin why the humble Y-front is as popular as ever

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Y-front. How important is the Y-front to Jockey?
Jockey invented the Y-front. It’s a classic and not just a bestseller worldwide for Jockey, but it is the biggest-selling men’s brief. It was the first underwear style that gave men support.

It came to the UK in 1938 and that was the first time underwear was really displayed in shops; before that it was tucked under the table and treated kind of
like pornography.

Could you talk us through some of the high-profile fans of the Y-front?
Andy Warhol was a huge fan. He customised a pair of Y-fronts and printed a dollar sign on them and gave them to Jockey. They are now behind glass on display at the travelling exhibition, The Evolution of Underwear, [which started in Madrid last December]. They are worth US$300,000 (£204,000) and are the most expensive underpants in the world.

A lot of men still feel there is something old-fashioned about the Y-front. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
Y-fronts are very popular with young people. They see Jockey as a heritage brand, especially in the US where it has such a big name. They say “jocks”
to refer to underpants. British fashion brands like Lyle & Scott with its jumpers and Fred Perry with its polo shirts have this heritage too and it is popular with young customers. There is no one in the underwear world who has a history; we are that heritage brand. The Y-fronts themselves are being updated in bright colours including pink and orange.

What defines and drives the trends in men’s underwear?
In the past five years or so it was new technology and techniques, which has been a very strong trend in Europe. Maybe in 10 years we will have new materials. Even in underwear we need innovation.

You have a large collection of antique underwear. Could you tell us about that?
I have a collection of underwear that dates back to 1790. I built it up by travelling around and going to flea markets. My favourite is a special piece from 1790 when only very high-class people had underwear. An old people’s home in Paris shut down and they had a flea market to sell everything. I found this T-shirt that would have been worn in the day with a collar and at night as a night shirt. Another standout piece is a pair of brightly coloured boxer shorts from the Great Depression-era US.

Things are tough economically right now. What is Jockey doing to get through this period?
Right now people want good quality but don’t want to spend too much. In uncertain times people want to buy things without risk. We have been working on a new collection called Modern Classic, which will launch in the UK in August and the rest of the world throughout the summer. It is 100% cotton, with a fine gauge and no labels, just heat sealed.

  • Volker Goerhardt is head of design at underwear brand Jockey

Quickfire questions

Who is your favourite designer?
Giorgio Armani. He has been around in his field for so long and consistently produces great, classic men’s suits with good quality and a touch of innovation.

What is the last thing you bought?
I bought some Camper shoes in New York which I’ve not had the chance to wear yet.

Which is your favourite city to shop in?
I like Italy very much (Milan pictured above). I like the treatment you get in stores and having my purchases wrapped in tissue and put in a box.

What was the last film you saw?
Slumdog Millionaire. It was a great movie.

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