Bonnie Chen modelling the winning entry
Last month, my editor appointed me to go to Shanghai for the finals of the Triumph Inspiration Awards 2012 (TIA), an international lingerie design competition for fashion students. Why me? His reason was, "I don't want to send a dude and get a story that's all about boobs".
He should have known better, really, since, when it comes to our bosoms, we women are notorious for having "issues" of the obsessive variety. Personally, I quite like my own. But I'd be lying if I said the thought has never crossed my mind that just once, I'd like to really fill a bra. I'm just saying.
GETTING IT OFF HER CHEST
But I'm not the only one. Because apparently, so would Hong Kong pop icon, actress and recent panda champion, Karen Mok.
Wing Shya and Karen Mok.
The 42-year-old was on the panel of judges at the TIA - along with Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, British designer Matthew Williamson, Chinese designer Uma Wang, photographer Wing Shya and top Chinese model Bonnie Chen - and they were going to score the designs as they were paraded down the runway.
You'd think that celebs wouldn't have body issues. But it seems, they do.
"Of course! You would sometimes wonder, hmm, what if ...? If I had a few more kgs ... " Mok trailed off, laughing hard, and proving that she's human like the rest of us.
But at the end of the day, she doesn't indulge in such insecurities. "I'm a nature chick - I'm not into trying to alter the way I look unnecessarily," she said. "Everyone's born in his or her own individual way - you should live with what you have and make the best of it and feel good about yourself."
That's why, even though Sociology 101 taught us that a brassiere's practical function might technically be questionable, the emotional and psychological value of pretty underwear can never be underestimated.
"When you wear it, you want to feel good about yourself," said Mok, who stated that her shopping weaknesses are "shoes and lingerie", and that she often uses lingerie in her concerts.
"Just like any sort of clothing or accessories, you should put on something which makes you feel good, otherwise there's no point to it. And especially lingerie because it's kind of like a second skin. It's so personal. Even though people can't actually see what's inside, you can feel it.
"And if you feel good about yourself, you carry yourself a little bit better; you look better."
COMFORT IS KEY
That feel-good factor is why Mok "splashed out" on innerwear for her wedding in October last year. And after the wedding, as well. Happily, her husband, Johannes, shares her taste in lingerie.
"Oh, he likes everything! Anything I wear!" she said.
Giggling, she said that her dream lingerie piece would be "probably made with diamonds and pearls and maybe gold, or whatever". But she said she'd pass on anything of the edible variety. "I'm not going to eat it, no!"
But don't expect Mok to just grab anything on display at the lingerie counter. According to her, the things she looks out for include "the colour, the design, what sort of lace - you would consider those things, too".
However, she added, the most important criterion is comfort. "Even if you have an absolutely stunning piece of lingerie, but it just doesn't fit well or the you don't feel good in (the fabric) ... that's the real, crucial point about lingerie, I think … In the end, comfort is a very important factor."
So, when she judged the pieces on the runway later, what would make a design stand out in her memory? "Obviously it should look beautiful; aesthetically, it should catch your eye. It should enhance the femininity of a woman," she said.
Of dragons and butterflies
Singapore's Josiah Chua's design
Since the TIA was first held in 2008, the design competition - which has been dubbed "the world's leading lingerie award" - has seen around 2,000 entries per year, each putting their individual stamp on the various themes, such as Icons or Female Fascination. This year's TIA took on an east-meets-west, Dragons And Butterflies theme, and there were over 2,000 participants worldwide. Finalists from 31 countries - Singapore's representative was 24-year-old Lasalle College Of The Arts student Josiah Chua - had the opportunity to showcase their work in a runway show at Shanghai's Minsheng Art Museum.
The eventual winner was Sian Whitefoot from the United Kingdom, while Italy's design placed second and Hungary's third. Whitefoot received €15,000 (S$23,600) for her butterfly-inspired white lace concoction, and the opportunity to commercialise and sell it in Triumph stores.
My curiosity was piqued. As a woman, is Karen Mok more "dragon" or "butterfly"?
"I hope 'butterfly'. Who wants to be a dragon lady?" she laughed.
"Well, if you equate 'dragon' with being powerful and strong, then of course I'm that, too. But then I tend to go for the butterfly a little bit more, because we normally associate the butterfly with changing - it evolves and transcends into something else.
"I try to do that a lot, especially in my work and my creative work: To always be reborn into something else."
Well, maybe the next push-up bra I buy will turn my butterflies into dragons. I'm just saying.