If you were to look under many a sheer gown or bodycon look worn with indelible confidence on the red carpet (think Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Zooey Deschanel) or runway (Altuzarra, Prabal Gurung and Nicole Miller), you’re likely to find Commando underthings — from shapewear to the brand’s signature seamless underwear and its patented waistbands.
While you might not notice these workhorse garments, you definitely do notice something that sets them apart: serene faces instead of moody grimaces from the dreaded pinch or sausage effect. Or, as founder and President Kerry O’Brien puts it, “smoothed, never stuffed,” due to those patented waistbands, almost imperceptible lines and high-quality materials.
O’Brien started the brand in 2003 after a career in public relations in New York City. Since then, her Burlington, Vt.- based company — which is committed to Made in America manufacturing — has seen sales increase at a healthy clip.
A year-round hosiery devotée, O’Brien sounds off on what’s underneath it all.
How do you approach warm-weather dressing and your love of legwear?
“I don’t want to say goodbye to my tights and my socks. It’s always a bad time when I have to put my opaques away for the season or go to a lighter denier. I’ve got hundreds of pairs.”
How do you find time to wear them all?
“Every single pair of hosiery that goes out this door, I wear and I test. Each one has its own statement, personality and reason for existing. They become a key part of my wardrobe, the same way a great dress is.”
Why do you think hosiery played such a key role in tying together looks on the runways for fall ’15?
“There’s no doubt that it’s a functional fashion statement — a tool to add visual interest to your look, but it also serves a purpose. Let’s face it: Every leg looks better with hosiery. I’m on the road constantly, and for travel, I love a good black dress. I probably have too many, just like everybody else, but you change the hosiery and it changes the entire look. It’s almost an accessory. And from a temperature standpoint, it makes a difference. It looks really silly in my mind if I ever see someone in the wintertime, unless we’re in the South, without hosiery on, because they must just be freezing.”
How did you get the idea to apply the same comfort factor and seamless technology from your undergarments to legwear?
“After I quit my corporate job, I threw out all of my hosiery. It was something I dreaded instead of enjoyed wearing. I always felt like it bit into my body — it was either sagging or biting. Shortly after I launched Commando, I was at an appearance [for the underwear] at a major department store. So there I am, sitting and standing at my event, and I realize I’m getting into a bad mood. It was the elastic from my hosiery. I thought, I can do better than this. I would never sacrifice the quality, but I want comfort ,too. Commando fits beautifully and looks gorgeous on the body. We’ve Commando-ized hosiery.”
What was the learning curve like in creating this kind of product?
“A cut-and-sewn garment is so much different than a hosiery garment. I didn’t have a fashion design or hosiery background, so I’m not afraid to ask questions and challenge the norms. Commando is a pioneer in underwear. I think one of the reasons is because I didn’t come from the industry, so I questioned why there needed to be a waistband in hosiery. People couldn’t possibly figure out another way to finish the garment. It is a very unique and unusual approach, how we decided to think about our hosiery — and we have a patent on it. I think the industry was so focused on fashion and control, and they never focused on the simplicity of comfort. That’s really the Commando mantra. It loves you and you love it. Crave-able things that you want to wear.”
From a technical standpoint, what stands out about Commando?
“Our approach to how we finish our waistband. We have our allover lace waistband and our microfiber version. It has everything to do with fit, and it has to do with the quality of the hose. I feel that Commando delivers on that promise. Our 70 denier has been voted the perfect black tight over and over again.”
How has the hosiery business affected allover sales?
“I’m a privately owned company, and the great thing about that is I don’t have to disclose numbers. I will say this: Commando has grown by double digits each year since its inception. Hosiery represents a meaningful part of our business. We now offer everything from a 10 denier to a 110 denier. People look to us for their luxury basics. That has been a part of our growth. We have a great fashion business, but we are also viewed as having the best staple styles.”
How have perceptions of legwear changed as of late?
“I think hosiery skipped a generation. There are a lot of people who don’t understand the [denier] system and what a hosiery garment is meant to do, which is not necessarily a bad thing because the hosiery of yesteryear is really a distant memory. The technology today has gone so far that it’s not your grandmother’s sheers anymore. They look and feel wonderful and can disappear on your skin. Certainly, the sheer trend started with The Duchess of Cambridge, but it is taking on a life of its own, at least for us as we look to educate a new generation. [Hosiery] gives that perfecting, airbrushed look. It’s like wearing foundation. One of our sheers is called The Gloss. We stamp on our marketing and packaging that it’s makeup for your legs. That’s the use of the garment.”
What do you see as the next big trend?
“Definitely fishnets, in black and neutrals. We are really not about a lot of color. Customers want to be able to pick their sheerness — it’s not just about the black opaque. It’s about more than that. Someone like Taylor Swift, who has legs for days, is young and fashion-forward, and she’s wearing black sheers, after all.”