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It’s hard to imagine the same fashion brand being a hit with both Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian — but that’s exactly what Wolford, the luxury label beloved for its $50 Velvet de Luxe tights and $250 thong bodysuits, has managed to accomplish. Today, Wolford’s seamless undergarments and curve-hugging separates are a staple among everyone from society types to Hollywood stylists — but that wasn’t always the case.
Founded in Austria in 1950 by Reinhold Wolff and Walter Palmers, Wolford focused exclusively on hosiery for its first few decades in business; nylon stockings, which had appeared on the market just before World War II, were a hot commodity at the time. It wasn’t until the early ’90s, however, that the brand landed stateside. After discovering Wolford during a trip to Paris, longtime fashion director Ellin Saltzman and her Vogue-editor daughter Elizabeth (now a celebrity stylist who counts Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman among her clients) brought a bunch of the brand’s tights home to New York — and sparked a frenzy.
“Those two women were very influential in the fashion and ready-to-wear scene, so when they shared [the tights] with friends and colleagues, word caught on,” says Brian Lange, Wolford’s CEO for the Americas. A New York Times piece from 1992 amusingly (albeit accurately) titled “Thing: Wolford Stockings,” similarly gives credit to the Saltzmans: “Half the fashion editors in town have taken to the tights (including Elizabeth Saltzman's colleagues at Vogue, Anna Wintour and Candy Pratts Price). So have designers like Thierry Mugler and Isaac Mizrahi, who have clad runway models' legs in Wolford.”
In 1992, Wolford opened its first US store on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, making its signature stockings readily accessible to uptown shoppers and style-industry insiders. It wasn’t just editors, designers, and ladies who lunch who swore by Wolford, though. Fashion photographers also played a key role in popularizing the brand — like Helmut Newton, whose racy mid-’90s campaign images for the company have been both celebrated in coffee table books and museum exhibitions and banned from Times Square billboards.
Despite its popularity in Europe (Princess Diana reportedly only wore Wolford hosiery) and within the fashion world, Wolford’s celebrity breakthrough wouldn’t come until the early aughts, when two of Hollywood’s biggest stars — Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — made their love for the label known. In Ashley’s August 2007 Marie Claire profile, writer Lucy Kaylin notes, “That black mini she's wearing? It's actually a Wolford bodysuit pulled down — she shows me the strappy part tucked in around her waist, under her shirt.” That same month, her twin Mary-Kate arrived for an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in a similar outfit: “She is wearing a nautical striped T-shirt... tucked into two black Wolford slips rolled down and turned into a tight, Robert-Palmer-video-style mini.”
The Olsens continued to rely on the brand’s body-con basics — the perfect antidote to the “bobo” layers they favored during their time at New York University — throughout the following few years. Certain designs from the twins’ own high-end label, The Row, like a snug leather mini skirt that remains in the collection to this day, even appear inspired by their Wolford favorites.
Lange points out that these placements on the world’s most famous twins coincided with a turning point in pop culture; people were beginning to follow what their favorite stars were wearing off of the red carpet. “It was around that time that you really started to see an increase in interest in the brand in the United States,” he says.
This growing fascination with superstar street style heralded the rise of the celebrity stylist — who, according to Lange, played a key role in making Wolford a household name. “I think a lot of our celebrity endorsements grew out of stars doing a photo shoot for a magazine cover or a movie or TV promo, and being introduced to the brand either through a stylist or someone else working behind the scenes,” he says, adding that the company is constantly in touch with stylists to gauge which products might work best for their clients, both on and off the red carpet.
Celebrity stylist Annabelle Harron, who dresses Jaime King, Salma Hayek, and Teresa Palmer, is a longtime fan of the label. “I started using Wolford for shoots probably eight years ago,” she says. “They were really the only brand that was doing fun, creative, colorful hosiery at the time.” When Harron later pivoted from editorial to celebrity styling, she continued incorporating Wolford into her work — particularly for looks for Jaime King, who’d been a fan of the brand since her ’90s modeling days.
Asked for an explanation for Wolford’s current domination in its department, Harron points to its comfort and versatility. “No other company is making bodysuits and undergarments that luxurious; they’re like a second skin,” she says. The stylist names Wolford’s bestselling Colorado Bodysuit (recently seen on everyone from Selena Gomez to Michelle Monaghan) as a particular favorite. “Instead of styling a look with a coat, I’ll use it under a dress to add warmth as well as a cool visual layer,” she says. “They were invaluable when my girls went to Sundance.”
She also likes the Cotton Contour Forming Bodysuit. “I’ll put it underneath sheer tops, since it offers so much support that you don’t need a bra,” she says, adding that the recent popularity of the “naked dress” has helped to boost the brand’s visibility. “All those sheer pieces have brought on a need for attractive undergarments to accompany those looks,” she explains.
And while Wolford’s clearly a red carpet classic, Lange notes that it’s the candid celebrity placements he finds particularly gratifying. “For people like Karlie Kloss and Jaime King, [Wolford] has become very much a part of their basic core wardrobe in their personal lives in additional to their professional lives,” he says. “Then you have Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian, who wore the Fatal Dress through their entire pregnancies.”
Kim Kardashian, of course, may just be Wolford’s most ardent celebrity superfan. In addition to owning the aforementioned tube dress in countless colors (and recommending it to Teigen), she’s frequently photographed in the brand’s bodysuits and has even been known to take scissors to a piece in order to customize the look. Rarely a week goes by when she — or any other member of the Kardashian-Jenner extended family — doesn’t wear Wolford. And while prepping for the launch of his Yeezy collection, Kanye West sharpened his design skills by “re-tailoring Wolford,” according to a 2015 interview with Style.com.
In case you were wondering, by the way, the Kardashian Effect is very real. “Everyone is always watching them, and their lives are so public — everything they do, everything they wear, everywhere they go,” Lange says. “So yes, you absolutely see a bump in sales [when they wear something].”
Ultimately, says Lange, it’s the company’s focus on innovation that’s made Wolford a Hollywood hit. “We made the first seamless tights back in the ’50s, the first tights that were sheer all the way to the waistband, the first tights with an adjustable waistband. We’re problem solvers. And that’s what attracted the stylists, and in turn attracted celebrities.”