Women in Action

Sexy lingerie for breast cancer survivors

Cécile Pasquinelli Vu-Hong, founder of Garance   | Photo Credit: Garance

The model in the poster is gorgeous, and so is her lingerie. Nothing would give away the fact that the bra was made to measure for a woman who had been operated on to treat breast cancer. This is the true story behind lingerie and swimwear brand Garance, which offers women who’ve had a mastectomy a glamourous range of garments to pick from.

It may seem trivial to some, yet those who have been in this situation know that it’s far from being the case. “After this type of operation, you need a whole new wardrobe and to make an appointment with someone in a white coat on the orthopedic department, who fits you out with clothing that’s adapted to wear with a prosthesis,” Cécile Pasquinelli Vu-Hong, the brand’s founder said. She still has bad memories of what felt like an assault course, an experience that in her eyes constantly reminds the patient of her illness, at the exact moment when she’s trying to move on and rebuild herself. The types of medical garment offered on the conventional route she found austere and outdated—and not especially feminine.

70 percent of women who undergo a mastectomy wear a breast prosthesis

A turquoise bikini top, part of the Garance collection

A turquoise bikini top, part of the Garance collection   | Photo Credit: Garance


30 percent of the 50,000 women in France who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year undergo a partial or complete removal of one or both breasts (mastectomy) and 70 percent of these women do not go on to have surgical reconstruction, meaning that in France, 300,000 women wear breast prostheses.


“After having cancer seven years ago, I wanted to be able to buy my underwear where I wanted,” the elegant Pasquinelli revealed. “I was on sickness leave for two years, so I had some free time and, having worked as an executive in marketing for 17 years, I came up with the idea of launching my own line of lingerie,” the founder explained. The products are designed to be not only comfortable (without underwiring to avoid discomfort), and to cover a bit more than average (to hide scars), but above all to be more fashionable than existing models currently on the market.

Keen buyers of the brand have no doubts about the products, like Fabienne P., who wrote on Facebook: “It’s thanks to Garance that I feel like I’m myself again, the person I was before cancer… Your brand has helped me to rediscover that pleasure, as well as the desire to be seductive for my boyfriend again. It’s vital for getting one’s self-esteem back. Thank you for giving me a second chance to be me again.”

Boosted by major retailers, like French chain Monoprix

It took Pasquinelli two years to set up her business. Unlike competitors, she wasn’t satisfied with the idea of her products only being sold in medical outlets (at orthopedic centers, hospitals and in pharmacies)—she also won over major retailers, like top-ranked French e-commerce and mail order company La Redoute, or the famous Galeries Lafayette. All the while making sales via her own website, which enabled her to establish the brand’s look, identity and values. Today the majority of her sales are made through the website. Since September, seven big Monoprix stores—located near cancer support centres both in Paris and outside the capital—have been selling the range, which has given the brand stronger publicity and has boosted the company’s turnover.

A pink swimsuit, part of the Garance collection

A pink swimsuit, part of the Garance collection   | Photo Credit: Garance


Having used her own funds to start out in 2012, Pasquinelli—who won the ‘Pink Prize for Female Entrepreneur’ by specialist women’s cancer magazine Rose in the same year—joined the ESSEC Business School’s Antropia social incubator programme before launching her first funding round in July 2015. With the support of ethical investor Garrigue, the start-up, which received accreditation as a social and solidarity economy enterprise in 2016, raised a further 200,000 euros (US$ 235,000) via the crowdfunding platform 1001pact.com (recently renamed Lita.co) which is dedicated to financing projects with a strong social and environmental impact.

Collaboration with high-profile French designer Stella Cadente

The founder of Garance has been able to count on the support of willing volunteers since an early stage: fashion designer Stella Cadente, who Pasquinelli met while she was presiding over the jury of a fashion design competition organised by Galeries Lafayette and Garance, and then there’s Valérie, a former patient, who described posing for the brand as an “obvious choice”. Currently Garance has two employees and works with three external suppliers.

Thanks to Monoprix, the company’s sales, which had been growing by 20 percent per year on average, have almost doubled in 2017 compared to 2016. “If an additional five Monoprix stores decide to stock the brand at the end of the year and if we continue to develop with the chain in 2018, then next year we will step up to a higher level of expansion by going international”, Pasquinelli said. The company, which has launched an English language version of its website, has already established contact with distributors in Russia, Canada and the United States. Seven years after her cancer diagnosis, Cécile Pasquinelli Vu-Hong’s mantra hasn’t changed: keep moving forward, keep aiming higher.


This article was originally published by Le Figaro (France).

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 4:04:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/specials/women-in-action/sexy-lingerie-for-breast-cancer-survivors/article20869936.ece

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