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The Underwear on the Fashion Week Runway is Just as Important as the Clothes

And the founder of Commando tells us what happens to the undies AFTER the show.
Commando's classic thong not distracting from this sparkly, see-through, nip-slippy Naeem Khan fall 2016 gown. Photo: Imaxtree

Commando's classic thong not distracting from this sparkly, see-through, nip-slippy Naeem Khan fall 2016 gown. Photo: Imaxtree

While we all are wondering what trends, models and crazy carnival stunts the New York Fashion Week runways will introduce this week for spring 2017, we might forget to think about one very important element that isn't seen with the naked eye (most of the time, anyway): the undergarments.

Well, invisible underwear brand Commando has been on top of that task since 2011 when they began working with a handful of designers. In the five years since, the company has supplied up to 30 NYFW designers, including, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Altuzarra, Rag & Bone, Zac Posen and Opening Ceremony, with the foundation underthings to literally support next season's looks. 

"Whatever [the designers] were looking to achieve aesthetically, they knew that Commando would have something for them," says founder Kerry O'Brien. "It started off that way and it has grown 100 percent organically since then." Interestingly, the company's relationship with the designers isn't a paid sponsorship, just a "natural collaboration." 

Fashion designers, as well as celebrity stylists and even brides-to-be, are drawn to Commando's raw-edged, microfiber thongs, bralettes, slips, etc., which don't create visible lines or unsightly bunching underneath the most body-con of clothes — after all, VPL can really ruin the look of, say, the latest skintight dress at Hervé Leger.

"When you want your clothing to be the highlight, you don't want a distraction from your clothing," says O'Brien of designers seeking out Commando products.

A look from the Milly fall 2016 collection co-starring the Commando Classic High-Rise Panty. Photo: Imaxtree

A look from the Milly fall 2016 collection co-starring the Commando Classic High-Rise Panty. Photo: Imaxtree

Although, these days, underwear on the runway isn't always about being unseen. "When we started working with designers, it was all about the thong and the tiny thong. That has changed dramatically over the last two years," O'Brien says. "It has gone from wanting underwear to be invisible to very much visible or a part of the entire look of the outfit." Now, she sees designers, such as Milly for the fall 2016 collection, mass calling in the granny-pants-esque Classic High-Rise Panty in black to stand out underneath the sheer trend that's been going strong on the runway for multiple seasons now.

Commando custom-dyed undies for Rodarte fall 2016. Can you see it?! Photos: Imaxtree

Commando custom-dyed undies for Rodarte fall 2016. Can you see it?! Photos: Imaxtree

Commando doesn't just offer their existing undergarment designs to designers. The company also custom-creates and dyes pieces to perfectly match and supplement looks shown on the runway, as they've done with longtime collaborator Rodarte. "Especially if it's a layered effect and they want a monochromatic look," O'Brien explains. For fall 2016, Commando created custom-dyed panties to layer under sheer, lacy pants and, for fall 2015, floral fishnet tights, which O'Brien now refers to as the "Runway Floral."

"Hosiery can dramatically change an aesthetic of an outfit," she adds.

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The floral custom-designed tights for Rodarte's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

The floral custom-designed tights for Rodarte's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

Commando also created custom pieces for Tracy Reese's color-saturated and texture-meets-sheer collection for spring 2016. The brand worked with the Reese's Pantone palette to create bold bralette and briefs sets to intentionally pop out under see-through looks and bright-colored sheer hosiery. 

For Bridal Week spring 2017 (i.e., this past April and, yes, the calendar is very confusing), Commando collaborated with Houghton and its see now, buy now wedding offerings with immediately purchasable lace bodysuits. But the brand isn't necessarily looking to expand into designer collabs to sell directly to consumers. "It's not an area of growth from a business standpoint, but it's an area of inspiration," O'Brien says.

Since Commando's manufacturing is based in the U.S., custom-producing pieces based on a designer's needs and vision is actually really straightforward — especially when requests come pretty close to fashion week.

Commando custom bralette and briefs (left) and sheer hosiery (right) for Tracy Reese spring 2016. Photos: Imaxtree

Commando custom bralette and briefs (left) and sheer hosiery (right) for Tracy Reese spring 2016. Photos: Imaxtree

"We would like it to start as early as possible, but then it never seems to [happen]," O'Brien says about the lead time in working with designers before NYFW begins. "And that's fine. We try to do as much as we can given the timetable." The flexibility is pretty impressive considering that Commando can send up to "hundreds and hundreds" of pieces to a designer for a show — and that's one out of their roster of possibly 30 shows. 

But there's another reason for the profusion of underwear sent to designers before fashion week. After each show, the undergarments — especially the custom-designed pieces — are packaged with each sample runway look and sent out as an entire top-to-bottom outfit for press shoots and celebrity loans. That explains why the designers are sent additional matching undies to spare.

"We don't get extras back," O'Brien confirms, after we inquired about post-show underwear returns (had to, sorry). 'Hopefully they're all being used and photographed and everyone is loving wearing them."

While she won't give any spoilers as to on which runways we'll see (or not see) Commando undergarments and custom-designs on this coming NYFW, O'Brien will talk general fashion trends she's anticipating based on the foundation garment requests she's received. (Although, she also admits it's vague as to whether we're looking at fall 2016 or spring 2017 trends considering the movement toward more "see now, buy now" shows for this coming NYFW.)

Based on the calls for strapless undergarments, shoulder-baring silhouettes will most-likely continue to be a thing well through spring. We also might want to embrace wearing sheer hosiery well past winter. "It just gives a finishing look," O'Brien says. And in general, "underwear is going to continue to be part of the ready-to-wear look." Here's to another season of naked dresses — better make sure your underwear is on-point.

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