Trans lingerie designer Carmen Liu wants every transgender woman to be able to experience the feeling of cotton on her skin.
The idea of designing lingerie for trans women first came to Liu two years ago and she toyed with it in her mind while simultaneously wondering why no one else had found a sexy, flattering and comfortable alternative to the transgender gaff.
Liu had transitioned in her early 20s, on December 13 of 2014—a date she considers to be her “birth day”—having previously identified as a gay male for lack of knowledge about transgender issues.
She tells PinkNews: “I lived my childhood as male and my femininity was seen as me being gay, not me being supposed to be a woman—back in those days, being transgender is not something you heard about.”
Transitioning brought her true happiness.
“I thought I was truly happy previously, but then I found a whole new level of happiness when I transitioned, and hearing people address me as female, as she, and also Carmen,” she said, adding: “It was just another level of happiness I didn’t really think I could get that high.”
“The first time I’ve ever put the lingerie on, I got really emotional and started crying.”
— Carmen Liu
Liu was not going to let the transgender gaff —the underwear often worn by trans women pre-surgery —stand in the way of her happiness. So, one day in July 2018, she decided to take matters quite literally into her own hands and design the lingerie of her dreams, despite having no experience in fashion.
Speaking to PinkNews two weeks ahead of her GI collection launch, billed to be the world’s first lingerie line for transgender women, Liu says she’s been working “pretty much seven days a week” to prepare her products for their debut.
Unlike most transgender gaff available on the market, made of swimwear fabric and commercial elastic, Liu’s products are made of Italian satin, featuring a cotton gusset, come in a range of colours and sizes, and looks as feminine as any lingerie.
“The first time I’ve ever put the lingerie on, I got really emotional and started crying,” Liu said.
She explained: “The feeling of the cotton against my skin was just something I’ve never experienced, whilst I’m actually able to look in the mirror and see something that resembles cisgender lingerie, but it’s also tucking what I need to tuck and it feels comfortable.
“It was a very off feeling. It’s hard to explain when you haven’t had something, to then have it and then just to know how much it’s going to change a lot of women’s lives when they first put it on. I know they are going to feel the same thing as well, so that’s really amazing.”
Why transgender lingerie designer Carmen Liu models her own creations
Liu had initially set out to only do knickers, but then decided that her GI collection would feel incomplete without bras. And so she sketched a few nice designs and sent them for production just two weeks ahead of the show. Trying on one of the prototypes of the matching set convinced the designer her choice was the right one.
“I cried once again when I tried the bra. It’s an odd feeling,” she said.
She added: “It’s just a really nice feeling. Without sounding weird, if I could be there every time a trans woman tried it on to see that expression, when they did, that would make me feel so good because I know I’m going to put a lot of smiles on a lot of women’s faces.”
Liu and other five models walked the runway, showcasing a total 12 matching sets, on February 28 at an event in London. Modelling was not something Liu—a former ballet dancer—had initially considered.
“Our community has been excluded way too much and has gone through too much pain. The entire event is about being inclusive.”
— Carmen Liu
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“The reason why I became the model, the face of everything, was because there is a major lack of trans models. We’ve even struggled to find models for the runway, which I find very shocking. If in the UK alone we got between 300,000-400,000 trans women, is that saying not one of these women is beautiful enough to be a model?” Liu wondered.
She added: “I’ve called seven of the biggest modelling agencies in London and only one of them had one trans model, who was in New York, and that’s not much use to us. Modelling agencies need to include us. People do need to start including us everywhere.”
Liu eventually managed to recruit five models with one goal in mind: inclusivity.
“Our community has been excluded way too much and has gone through too much pain. The entire event is about being inclusive,” she said.
Transgender lingerie designer Carmen Liu on what inspires her
Liu credited the transgender community for providing her with the inspiration for her designs.
She said: “It is the feeling when you take your clothes off and you see the transgender gaff and you see these adverts of this beautiful lingerie and these women in this lovely lingerie and you’re thinking—why can’t we have that.
“The inspiration comes from that, because I want all transgender women to have all the same feelings that all other women can as well… We deserve to be able to feel feminine and sexy as well.”
Liu believes that her experience as a transgender woman is key to the success of her products. While she would love to create products for trans men too, she does believe the product needs to be designed by a trans man to be just perfect.
“Unless you know how it feels to wear those products and what it feels like in your mind, I don’t think you’d be able to physically make a product that would actually be beneficial,” she said.