In the Market for Some Highbrow Lingerie? London’s Grand Museums Are Trying Sensual New Ways to Merchandise Their Collections

Will art-inspired underwear become a lucrative new revenue stream for cash-strapped museums?

Coco de Mer X V&A - Golden Heron - Bandeau Bra High Waist Brief. Courtesy Coco de Mer.

Facing increasing cuts to public funding, museums in the UK and elsewhere are coming up with new business models to cover their derrieres—literally.

London’s Victoria & Albert museum has gotten into bed with the luxury lingerie brand, Coco de Mer, to create a new collection of silk, satin, and tulle lingerie featuring designs inspired by the V&A archives. Taking cues from objects in the museum’s collection, the underwear options variously echo the elegance of an 18th-century perfume bottle, a textile pattern by William Morris, fancy cushion covers, or a leaf motif from a collection of Korean lacquerware.

Coco de Mer X V&A – Golden Heron – Robe and Slip. Courtesy Coco de Mer.

The collection officially launches in September but will be available for pre-order on the Coco de Mer website. The line ranges in price from £65 ($83) for a lingerie bag to £595 ($758) for a kimono, and the museum hopes that sales from the collection will bring a much-needed boost to its bottom line. 

The V&A’s savvy marketing department has also been revamping the traditional revenue stream of the museum shop, stocking higher ticket items, such as jewelry, in addition to the standard fare of postcards and pencil erasers. The museum even introduced a swanky new jewelry pavilion during a £1 million ($1.27 million) refurbishment of its shop earlier this year.

Luxury brand partnerships potentially offer an even more lucrative income stream for museums, and bringing art to the boudoir seems to be something of a trend. Across town from the V&A, the National Gallery has partnered with a high-end bed retailer, Savoir Beds, to offer customers the chance to go to sleep on a bed of Monet’s water lilies—or any of the other paintings in its catalogue of 2,000-plus artworks. For a cool £30,000 ($38,200), customers can have entire paintings or details reproduced on the headboards and bases of these luxury beds.

Other institutions are getting in on the action, too. The British Museum now sells a cushion cover featuring Rodin’s masterpiece The Kiss, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has already sold out the Van Gogh-themed streetwear collection it created in partnership with Vans, although both carry lower price points than luxury brand deals.

Just imagine what could have been if the Louvre had partnered with Louis Vuitton before Jeff Koons.

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