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The Legend of the Mermaid

Seashell detail featured in our Ada set

Seashell detail featured in our Ada set

Mermaids can be found in legends across the world dating back to around 2000 B.C. While many are familiar with Disney’s lighthearted production of the Little Mermaid, most underwater spirits in mystical folk tales were described not only as beautiful and enchanting, but also dangerous and murderous. These sirens of the ocean have always been portrayed with quite a contradictory personality: while on one hand they were often described as gorgeous maidens tempting lonely sailors at sea, they were also often portrayed as beasts drowning men in the depths of the deep black ocean. The conflicting personality of the mermaid has allowed her to remain intriguing still today.

One well known tale of the seductive deception of the mermaid is the Greek myth of Ulysses and the Sirens. Before setting sail back home to Greece, Ulysses was warned by a prophetess Circe about the beautiful but deadly song of the sirens that was known to sweetly lure sailors into the ocean to drown. When passing through the waters that these mermaidens inhabited, Ulysses ordered his crew to put wax in their ears so that they would not be able to hear the deadly song. Ulysses, wanting to hear the song himself without being influenced to jump to his death, had his crew tie him to a mast and keep him there, though he was driven to insanity begged to be released to them once he heard their beautiful song. 

John William Waterhouse, Ulysses and the Sirens, 1910

John William Waterhouse, Ulysses and the Sirens, 1910

The most typical storyline of a mermaid folklore across all culture involves a mermaid falling in love with a young man. If the man accepts her, she drags him down to his death in the sea, in some stories out of malice and in others simply because she forgets that mortals cannot live underwater. On the other hand if the man rejects her love, she would simply kill him. Regardless of the choice the man makes, it seems that the enchanting beauty of the legendary mermaids resulted in death for her unfortunate victim of attraction either way.

John William Waterhouse, A Mermaid, 1900

John William Waterhouse, A Mermaid, 1900

A somewhat happier example of this type of story is the Cornish legend of a mysterious woman in church one day who attracts the attention of all the young men, specifically a Mathey Trewella. At the end of the service, she lures Mathey towards the end of the cliffs at the edge of town and he is never seen again. Years later, a Cornish sailor from this town is greeted by a mermaid who sweetly asks him to remove the anchor from the entrance of her home, as it is blocking her on her way back to see her husband, Mathey Trewella. The sailor returns home startled, as mermaids were also a sign of unfortunate events to come, and puts up a mermaid figure to honor Mathey’s fate.

Frederic Leighton, The Fisherman and the Syren, 1856-1858

Frederic Leighton, The Fisherman and the Syren, 1856-1858

While marine biology was still in its infancy during the Age of Exploration, sightings of these beautiful creatures throughout Age of Exploration was quite common. In 1614 John Smith, known as the love of Pocahontas, reported spotting a lovely sea maiden “swimming about with all possible grace” and noted that “her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive”.  Christopher Columbus also mentioned having seen three mermaids frolicking on the coast of Haiti during his seafaring journeys.

Disney, Peter Pan, 1953

Disney, Peter Pan, 1953

While today’s stories describe merfolk as a bit more gentle than the manipulative maidens of old tales, many depictions, like the mermaids from Disney’s 1953 Peter Pan, still have quite a bit of sass and seduction. Additionally, the most recent film from the Pirates of the Caribbean series in 2015 depicts a group of mermaids as their classic, seductive, murderous selves, luring pirates into the ocean to drown.

Our Ada collection draws inspiration from the enchanting sensuality of the mermaid legends with a modern retro twist. The peach satin cup is delicately embroidered to highlight the shell shape of the bra and features a delicate bow at center front. A sheer mesh above the lower shell cup adds a beautiful enticement to the bra. The peach satin brief is shaped into a shell on the front panel, topped with embroidery to pick out the details. The rest of the brief is comprised of sheer show-off mesh and a matching centre bow. This set allows the modern enchantress to show off her elegance and charm, taking a page out of the legendary mermaids’ book of seduction.

- Kristi