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Intimate Insight: Backstage with Bra*Tenders

10 Jan

Alan and Lori Kaplan are very serious about the business of bras.  Their boutique, Bra*Tenders, is a quirky and vibrant shop with a Broadway-theme tucked inside The Film Center Building on Ninth Avenue in NYC’s Theater district.  This hidden gem is not your typical bra store.  There’s no store front.  Passersby would never know it was there.  Non-theatrical clients (civilians like you and me) are required to make an appointment.  And they do very little advertising.  They don’t need to….  Alan and Lori carved out their niche nearly thirty years ago and have maintained loyalty to the clients that supported them in those early days when they hand-delivered undergarments to Broadway Theater stage doors from their home in Brooklyn.  They have built their business by catering to “theatrical clients” in the entertainment industry.  Over the years they have provided undergarments, stockings and other unique intimate accessories (like the “Houdini” for men) to thousands of performers in showbiz. 

Bra*Tenders

Besides the occasional listing in a Playbill, Alan and Lori get little credit for the work they do.  But they have vowed to help all of their customers find the undergarments that help them look and feel their best.  This commitment to providing impeccable customer service sets them apart from other intimate apparel shops in the area.  They dedicate a full hour to every customer that comes through the door.  This is why non-theatrical clients are required to schedule an appointment.  Professional Fit Specialist, Cristal Gordon, sees a client every hour of every day, five to six days per week.  She says, “Every hour is a different boob; and that’s a lot of boob!”  Dedicating a full hour to every client ensures a loyal customer.  As Cristal says, “Finding the right bra isn’t an easy task.”  The unique store often sees brides-to-be looking for a solution-type undergarment to wear on that special day, full-busted and full-figure women that are “hard to fit,” and simply women that are struggling to find a great bra that fits properly and feels good.  The store has held private bridal parties, bachelorette parties and even “Bra-Mitzvahs!”  Bra*Tenders carries every brand imaginable including top-sellers such as Wacoal, Fantasie, Freya, Chantelle, Panache, Cleo, Le Mystere, Simone Perele, The Little Bra Company, and b’temptd.

Bra*Tenders- Racks & Racks of Bras

Although this is plenty to keep any lingerie aficionado satisfied, what really intrigues me about Bra*Tenders is what goes on “behind the scenes.”  Bra*Tenders has a team devoted to filling orders for the shop’s theatrical clients.  Wardrobe supervisors and costume designers are not required to make an appointment.  They often walk in with a cast list as long as your arm.  They provide the Bra*Tenders staff with their requirements and a list of measurements and the team gets to work filling the order.  Behind the “stage door” are racks and racks of bras and other specialty undergarments and accessories.  And there are half a dozen people picking and packing undergarments for shipment or hand delivery to theaters and studios around the globe.  Bra*Tenders has such strong relationships with their theatrical clients that they often send out garments on “memo.”  This means that the staff will select a handful of styles and sizes that they think will suit the performer.  They messenger the garments to the client.  She (or he) tries on the assorted styles and picks the best ones.  Then, they return the balance.  The cast members never have to set foot in the store!  And, Bra*Tenders keeps track of each performer’s prior purchases and sizes.  So when they’re performing in their next show, the wardrobe supervisor simply asks Bra*Tenders to check their records.  This level of service is unheard of in the fast-paced environment we’ve all grown accustomed to.  But Lori says, “Our theatrical clients come before everything else.  I don’t know how to do it any other way.”  I can see why the Kaplan’s have dedicated their business to serving this unique client…..  A typical performer goes through a dozen pairs of pantyhose a week!  By providing undergarments to theater, television and film, Alan and Lori have built a “Broadway Bra Empire.”  Further attesting to their dedication, although the shop is only open from 10am-6pm, Alan and Lori are available 24 hours a day to solve a costume emergency or wardrobe malfunction.

This highly unique bra boutique will play the role of “host” in Bra La Mode’s Debut Intimate Affair on Sunday, January 29, 2012 from noon to 4pm.  The in-store bra fit event will provide women of all ages, shapes, and sizes the opportunity to receive a free bra fitting as well as education on the importance of a proper fit courtesy of Bra*Tenders. Various designers, authors, photographers, and “Bra-lebrities” will also be on hand to showcase everything from newly released books to the classic white work shirt.  Attendees will snack on champagne and cupcakes while they mix and mingle with the hottest lingerie professionals in the New York area. The event is sponsored in collaboration with the world- renowned French lingerie brand, Chantelle Paris, and in association with the leading lingerie trade publication, The Lingerie Journal. 

The event will include a trunk show by Darlene Campbell of the full-busted clothing company Campbell and Kate.  Darlene will be showcasing her innovative“CEO Shirt for the D.E.F. Woman” which ensures that all women can own a classic white shirt that fits them beautifully all over.  Author and bra-fit expert Ali Cudby will be signing copies of her recently released book “Busted: The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras that Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic.”  Professional photographer Michael Steele who is known for “capturing the female form” will be snapping candid shots of guests enjoying the soiree.  Guests will be treated to champagne and cupcakes courtesy of M Squared Sweet and Chic Treats.  All sponsors of the event have generously contributed product for giveaways and/or gifts with purchase.

The highlight of the Intimate Affair will be the raffle for a Grand Prize basket that is estimated as having a value of over $600.  Contributors to the raffle prize include Bra La Mode, Chantelle Paris, The Lingerie Journal, Campbell and Kate, author Ali Cudby, Ann Deal of Fashion Forms, international intimate apparel brand Anita, photographer Michael Steele, and “Bra-lebrity” Jene’ Luciani.  Additional sponsors of the event include the wholesale buying platform Monkey N Middle and guitarist Alan Brace.  All guests at the event will receive one entry into the raffle and guests that make a purchase of a bra at the event will receive a second entry into the raffle. Attendees can purchase a third entry for the raffle by donating to pediatric rehabilitation at a prominent NYC medical center, supporting the non-profit Intimate Apparel Square Club and their fundraising efforts.

Guests are encouraged to RSVP for the Intimate Affair at: www.bralamode.eventbrite.com

Bra*Tenders resident feline "Phineas" at the "Bra Bar"

Bra*Tenders is located at:

630 Ninth Avenue at 44th Street, Suite # 601

New York City, NY

Intimate Insight: The Sweetest Thing by Liz

9 Nov

I live in a great town, with a main drag and side streets full of stores and restaurants, shops and bars.  It’s toted as “the Hippest Town in NJ”, but that moniker makes it seem a little square. 

Downtown Red Bank, New Jersey

In any case, it’s a destination.  Are you ready for this???  People actually move out of NYC to live in my town!  Shocking, but true.  And those that don’t actually move here… apparently they drive in for the day or night to take advantage of all that the town has to offer (if the license plates and the line at Starbucks can be believed.)

I am in our downtown five days out of seven, as I drop off and pick my child up from school mere steps from the action.  Part of that time I spend running errands in my town.  I’m into shopping local.  I like parking and walking, and I enjoy local shopkeepers and good old-fashioned customer service.  I will pay more for a CD from the local record store; I will run through the rain for something I can download at home for less money.  I’m dedicated.  Still, I’d never been inside the local lingerie shop.  I walked past this store time and time again, preferring my mad dash through Target for my undergarment needs.  Why?

Simple.  It didn’t look like me.

To me, this local, attractively merchandised store screamed two things– “money!” and (forgive me, Angie) “mistress.”  Oh, you know what I mean.  The kind of store that sells high-priced lingerie to women who are skinny, rich, having an affair, or possibly splurging for a marriage rekindling 25th wedding anniversary trip.  I assumed they would not have anything that I could afford or that would fit me.  So I walked by.  Time and time again.

When Moira took her mom for a fitting, I asked if I got to go for one, too.  I’d already picked out the store I wanted to try, a well-known lingerie boutique in Soho.  Clearly everything in the city is better!  They would know how to fit me.  Moira replied that, yes, it was my turn, but we were going to a store in our hometown.  We were going to the very store I’d told her, in an impassioned conversation over coffee, wasn’t for me.

I knew my local store, Sweetest Sin, had won a Best of Intima award for Best Store, but that didn’t mean anything to me.  What do I know of industry awards?  Target, sometimes Kohl’s, maybe Victoria’s Secret if I’m feeling indulgent… To say I’m not aware of the industry is possibly overstating things.  So instead of relying on an award, I made my friend Moira promise me.  She swore she wouldn’t let me buy anything that wasn’t perfect for me.  She promised that if this store was indeed what I’d thought of it, I could leave.  If at any moment it turned snooty, awful, or embarrassing, I could skeedadle.

"The Ladies" at our Sweetest Sin "Bra Fitting Party"

We gathered some other ladies for a “bra fitting party” and set a date.  There was wine, there were snickerdoodles (don’t knock that combo until you’ve tried it) and there were bras.  And bras.  And more bras.

First off, the store was not what I’d expected.  Yes, it was nicely laid out and had pretty things and I’ll be darned if I could have found something on my own.  But it wasn’t the intimidating  monster I’d thought it would be.  Maybe it’s because I had a friend at my side, and more friends inside.  Maybe it was the owner, Angie, who, yes, was young and skinny and wearing impossibly high heels, but who was just so open and friendly and normal.  She didn’t make me feel like a schlubby mom who should head back to the discount rack.  Instead, she made me feel like I should have nice bras and it was just a matter of finding the very nicest one for me.

Moira told me ahead of time that most women are wearing the band size too big and the cup size too small.  I believed her, but only in the general way.  As in, yes, you have lots of experience, I am sure you are right…but not about me.  I didn’t think it applied to me.  I’m different, and special…hmm I wonder where my seven year old gets that from!  Well, right away Angie said my band size was too big.  The space I’d thought I needed wasn’t right at all.  More give in the band means less support for the girls, and why wear a bra if you’re not going to hold them up?  Also, I was wearing my straps way too loose, a common problem.  And, naturally, my cup size was too small.  Hmm, I guess I’m not so special!  Back to average woman for me!

Sweetest Sin Boutique's 2011 Best of Intima Award for "Best Shop"

Angie brought out a huge selection of bras for me to try on.  I never would have thought there could be this many – in my size, or in the store!  It made me realize how much we settle for the “fits most” approach we get with so many things, from bras to shoes to jeans.  What works for me might not work for you, and at every stage in our lives, something else might work.  I tried on many bras, but unlike most shopping trips, it didn’t feel depressing or exhausting.  It felt kind of fun.

I soon discovered that the idea we have in our heads of cup size is completely irrelevant.  Completely.  Actually, most of what we think we know about sizing and clothing and certainly intimate apparel is way off base, but for now, let me assure you that your idea of a D and an actual D are not the same thing.  You have to let all that stuff you think you know fly out of your head, and you have to be in the moment.  You have to be in your body, seeing what’s in the mirror and not your interior image of yourself and your breast size.

I also learned where your breasts were supposed to be.  I’ve always worn bras because that’s what you do.  It never occurred to me to think about where bras placed my breasts…in truth, I think very little about my breasts, or my lingerie, or my intimate apparel.  I think a lot about what to make for dinner, and if we can get a babysitter for Saturday night, and how much homework my child does or doesn’t have.  But not a lot about something which I guess I should know.

A good bra, it turns out, should place your breasts front and center –  not off to the sides, or too scrunched up in the middle.  They should look rounded and soft, not pointy and hard (unless you’re going for the 40’s pin-up look, in which case I think you’ve got that covered without my help.)  A good bra fits snugly, because as time goes on it will stretch out.  You should be able to hook it on the very last hook, and as you wear it you will stretch it until it needs on be on the first set of hooks.  A good bra has straps that lay flat on your body and those straps should be a bit tighter than I bet you are wearing them.  Mine for instance, were way down and then I’d be annoyed they slipped.  There should not be gaping or riding or any movement at all.  Think corset.  No, really, a good bra makes you feel like it’s holding you up.  You stand a little straighter, a little taller.

Also, there is this essential trick that I managed to go 37  years without learning; you have to place your breasts in the cup.  Yes, its true.  Lift them up and put them in the cup, and see the difference!  Wow.  Totally changed how I tried on bras.

In the end, after my glass of wine and a few snickerdoodles, I bought two bras.  One was Lace Tisha by Le Mystere in Natural and the other was Rhapsody in Lace by B.tempt’d by Wacoal.

So my advice is this: get yourself to a local lingerie store, stat.  Give yourself a few hours, and a realistic budget.  Don’t rush this.  Make an appointment, and bring a good friend.  Choose this friend wisely: not too critical, truth telling, but complimentary.  Go in with an open mind and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.  And let me know how you do!

Jodi and I in our new bras – fully supported and ready to go out!

DSCN0910

Resources:

Sweetest Sin Boutique – Red Bank, New Jersey

www.SweetestSinBras.com

Follow @SweetestSinBras

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