This week, as a lover of lingerie, I attended the launch event for the excellent Lingerie Française exhibition, held at the London Film Museum for a very limited run of five days.  The retrospective showcases iconic underwear from the twentieth century to the present day, featuring vintage photograpy, video installation, retro advertising and and hundreds of garments.

The history behind the changing shape of women is fascinating; post-war designs were created to model the silhouette of Christian Dior's New Look from 1947 onwards; prominent bustline, slim waist and curved hips - the classic pin-up silhouette we know and love.  In the 1960s, pantyhose replaced stockings and garter belts to cater for the high hemlines of the miniskirts.

at the launch event

After the bigger and bolder is better fashion of the 80s, the 90s kept a low profile.  Soft, "second skin" underwear using light microfibres in nude tones blend in with the skin, allowing increasingly popular tattoos and piercings to express individuality and contrast to fashions which are uniform and minimalistic.

Thongs and tangas became popular with the rise of the dreaded low-rise jeans and tacky push-up and padded-cup bras are a hit across the world.  Moving into the 00s, smart, reshaping fabrics are used in figure-enhancing lingerie which promise to sculpt body shapes yet repulse men (hello Bridget Jones big pants)...

It was interesting reading about the discovery of revolutionary new fabrics such as nylon in 1938, which washes easily, dries quickly, doesn't require ironing, can be made in a rainbow of colours and is relatively inexpensive.  Cheaper, improved fabrics + industrialised brands = mass production is born.  Corsetry changed for the better in 1959 with the invention of DuPont de Nemours' comfortable Nylon elastane.

I loved the holographic striptease, which depicts the evolution of the feminine silhouette since the restrictive, rib-crushing turn of the century undergarments to the modern shapes in our wardrobes today.

"The Belle Epoque corset makes a woman a beautiful but unproductive object"

The exhibition is a great display of the wealth of designs from the best French brands' archives from which to draw inspiration today - you'll leave it vowing to wear more beautiful corsets - and you can catch it in London, Shanghai and Dubai after its Paris debut this summer.

Lingerie Française: The Exhibition runs in London 2-7 October 2012