THE windswept sands of Aberdeen beach might not be considered fertile breeding ground for the most exotic of swimwear and erotic of lingerie.
And, indeed, while Lara Ventura (real name Larissa Virdee) was born and brought up in the Granite City, studying at Cults Academy before heading to London and Central Saint Martin’s, her first fashion job was in a seemingly much more likely role for a doughty Scot – designing cosy woollies for Pringle.
“I was doing really quite traditional woollies – Fair Isles and golf styles – and went to completely the opposite side of the spectrum, to sexy, Brazilian lingerie and really extravagant swimwear,” says the 30-year-old designer. “It was such a big change, but I love doing it, it’s so much fun.”
She won a place at the prestigious fashion college in London at the age of 19, graduating with a first in fashion design and knitwear, and was working as a freelance before “kind of stumbling into lingerie”, thanks to a friend who had a wholesale underwear business.
“As soon as I got into it, I realised I was really good at it. I had a lot of one-off clients, I started doing custom-made pieces and it just snowballed into Lara Ventura. I’ve done costumes for burlesque performers, for striptease dancers in Paris and London and I’ve done custom-pieces for dancers in New York.
“I work with a lot of girls who are dancers in Ibiza. They go over there and work in the clubs and I do a lot of custom-made swimwear for them, for when they’re dancing on the podium.” Not only do the pieces have to be secure enough to stay in place during the most energetic of bumping and grinding, they have to look the part too.
“Even though it’s a small amount of material, it has to make a big impact,” says Virdee. “That little bikini will be completely encrusted with diamante, with studs, feathers, handwork patterns. It’s not really like lingerie; they really are costumes. They’re very glitzy, very showgirl, but I like to keep them very elegant – they’re not too revealing.”
A performance piece like this can cost up to £300, while a bikini for those of us not necessarily planning on removing our clothing in public is closer to £130.
“The engineering is the hardest part,” says Virdee, “getting everything to fit around the bust. I’ve learned everything myself. I work with the body – a lot of lingerie designers study it at college but they’re not seeing their customer on a day-to-day basis.
“I learned to make the perfect pair of briefs that give nice bum cleavage and don’t sag. That’s one of the specialities of my swimwear brand, that all my bikinis are Brazilian cut, which means they don’t allow any sagging when you come out of the water. They’re built like jeans.”
But while other lingerie designers may be embracing the lace-and-ribbons French boudoir trend, with the crop boy shorts or 1940s-style big pants, she’s determined to break the rules. “I’m bringing back the G-string,” she says proudly. “I have a limited edition coming out at the end of the year. They are going to be made from French velvet and the highest quality fabrics from Italy.
“People don’t realise how practical they are – and they can be chic,” she insists. “You can wear them with a dress and you don’t get any of the lines you get with traditional pants, and they’re really comfortable because they’re so small you don’t really realise you’re wearing them.”
The business is a year old and entirely self-financed, but even in that brief time she has already attracted a celebrity following. “Rita Ora has quite a few bikinis. Suki Waterhouse – she’s Bradley Cooper’s girlfriend and she’s gorgeous – has worn a couple of the pieces on her holidays. And the blogger Bip Ling – who is massively influential in the fashion world – she absolutely loves it, she wears it all the time. So it’s been amazing.”
Virdee is often back in Scotland – “all my family are still in Aberdeen and a lot of friends, so I’m still very connected to it” – so can she see her bikinis on her home beach? “Maybe on a really lucky, very hot day,” she laughs. “Yes, I can see Aberdonian girls in Lara Ventura, absolutely.”
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