“Anyone, any size, any shape shouldn’t feel they’re not beautiful or sexy.”
When Vienne Cheung Brown couldn’t find thigh-high stockings that would stay up on her leg, she launched VienneMilano, sourcing hosiery from Italian suppliers. Today, the Boston-based brand rings in its 10th year.
“I’m a petite woman. Regular pantyhose comes up to my belly and is very restrictive,” Brown said. “What was available on the market were stockings for Halloween costumes or hosiery that cost more than $100 a pair. I felt sure I wasn’t the only woman having difficulty finding hosiery.”
VienneMilano has won rave reviews for its hosiery, and especially for its range of sizes.
Photographer Shawn Black and his wife Michelle Sheehy-Black offer boudoir photo shoots through their studio Couture Black. Models recommended VienneMilano hosiery for Black’s clients, as the stockings gave women a boost of confidence.
“I shoot for all shapes and sizes of women. Anyone, any size, any shape shouldn’t feel they’re not beautiful or sexy,” Black said. “The biggest complaint for stockings is women feel like they have a muffin top or the stockings make them feel like a sausage in a casing.”
Sheehy-Black had thrown out every pair of stockings she’d bought—until she tried on a VienneMilano pair. She immediately showed the black stockings to her husband in the middle of summer, elated to find hosiery that did not pinch.
“The VienneMilano line of stockings fit me to a T,” Sheehy-Black said. “It’s such a nice feeling as a plus-size woman, knowing there’s something out there that makes me feel comfortable.”
Brown wanted to create an inclusive brand, making VienneMilano unique in the lingerie industry.
“Within the past 10 years, we have launched one of the largest collections of thigh-high stockings ever,” Brown said, with multiple colors to match different skin tones. “We have five sizes ranging from small to 3XL, and have used materials which have never been seen before to create thigh highs. In particular, we now have eco-friendly stockings which are made from reusable nylons.”
The pandemic disrupted Brown’s supply chain. Most of her 2020 inventory barely made it out of northern Italy, shipping a day before the country locked down. Later in the year, VienneMilano postponed its fall collection by a month.
However, the pandemic gave Couture Black a record year for photo shoots in 2020, as many looked for light at the end of the tunnel. The couple gave away free sessions to frontline workers, providing a day of relief for nurses and medical workers.
“Women are taking advantage of a photo shoot to give themselves some self-pampering, from homeschooling and working at home,” Black said.
Brown has worked with Couture Black over five years, with Black shooting a content campaign for VienneMilano in 2017.
“With VienneMilano, you can have the same woman strike the same pose, one with and without stockings,” Black said. “You see that final finishing touch with stockings. It affects the overall look of a piece of lingerie.”
Client demand has been so strong that the Couture Black studio stocks VienneMilano hosiery, often delivered by Brown herself.
“Vienne’s been very gracious, very nice to work with and always willing to help,” Sheehy-Black said. “She takes feedback wonderfully.”
A recent Couture Black client had trouble finding stockings for her legs, which were too slender. Sheehy-Black worked with Brown to identify a suitable product—a first in Brown’s experience—even considering hosiery outside of VienneMilano’s offerings.
“Vienne’s an excellent resource,” Black said. “She has greater reach and knowledge than we do.”
Brown credits her dedicated work ethic to her upbringing. She was born in Hong Kong and moved to America with her parents as a child.
“My tip for aspiring entrepreneurs is to just do it; there’s no better time than now,” Brown said. “For many Asians, it’s common for us to have ancestors who were also entrepreneurs. My inspiration comes from my grandparents, who were hardworking business owners.”
Before launching VienneMilano, Brown worked in high tech. She felt working in software with product managers was good preparation for launching a physical product.
“The idea to launch a product and service is a good baseline to start a business,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you come from.”
With 10 years under her belt, Brown is excited to develop products focused on sustainability. She believes making women look beautiful does not have to come at a cost to the environment, researching biodegradable materials for stockings that can be thrown out and break down over time.
“Moving forward, we plan on launching more eco-friendly styles,” Brown said. “We also plan on focusing on customers who plan on wearing hosiery for their glamor shots and boudoir photography sessions.”
Brown launched VienneMilano for hosiery with staying power, but also to make women feel good about themselves.
“My brand position was women who want to reveal their style and confidence by being elegant, playful, and sexy on every occasion,” Brown said. “I wanted to play up the elegance of thigh-highs, rather than just being a sexy product.”
Ling-Mei is a Boston-based journalist via Taipei and Hong Kong and was the editor of Sampan from 2012 - 2020.