Popular bras boost the not-so-savage breast

May 13, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Have no fear, Wonderbra is here.

The current superheroine of the lingerie galaxy has flown into Gotham and is poised to save American women from the evil forces of . . . gravity.

Once available only across the Atlantic, the Wonderbra -- which has pushed up, padded out and created cleavage for even waif model Kate Moss -- debuted in New York this week with promises of nationwide availability in August. But already, other companies' versions of the bra are flying out of stores across the country in a testament to the enduring belief that less can indeed be more.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, you can, if you're lucky, get a "Super-Uplift." At Victoria's Secret, they sell the "Miracle Bra." Another manufacturer plans to start selling "Magic Bra" next month. They're all, to varying degrees, versions of the Wonderbra that has sold at the rate of 20,000 a week in Great Britain.

"I've ordered one myself," says Lola Abt, general manager of the Saks in Owings Mills, where more than 200 women -- and men, presumbly in gift-buying mode -- have either bought or ordered a $39.50 Gossard Super-Uplift. "It certainly gives you that extra cleavage. It makes a woman feel good."

Ah, the retro push-up bra finds a place in the babe-feminism era. As one newspaper columnist declared of her Super-Uplifted self: "I am not defined by my breasts. I am empowered by them."

What makes the Wonderbra and its ilk different from the same old push-ups that have long played on the same old insecurities? lot of engineering, but at least as much hype -- the Wonderbra, for example, arrived in New York on Monday via armored trucks, a motorcade of limousines and models displaying their wares.

The bras are indeed highly constructed -- the Wonderbra boasts 54 different components, the Super-Uplift, 46. The deeply plunging cups have removable pads -- called "cookies" in the trade -- tucked into the sides, the supporting underwires don't come up quite so high in the center as other bras, and the straps are angled outward.

The effect is to push whatever you have up front and center. Previously, push-up bras generally just pushed northward, rather than north, east and west, to create the cups-runneth-over effect at the center of all that pressure.

"It's not just only the uplift but also the push-in," Herman Greiner, vice president of merchandising for a competing company, Lilyette, says of the Wonderbra. "It's more or less like pressing your breasts together with your hands, but this is done mechanically."

Still, the 30-year veteran of the bra biz says, what's new about the Wonderbra is not so much engineering as salesmanship.

"It's certainly nothing radically different," Mr. Greiner says. "It's just a very smart marketing approach that keeps the drums beating."

Indeed, the Wonderbra has been around for 30 years -- a period in which more natural-looking, unpadded and seamless styles were developed and proved popular. After years of selling at a respectable rate of 250,000 a year, word began circulating among models and other fashion-savvy types about the bra that a 1992 British Vogue article called "a wonderful piece of engineering." Soon, the buzz was such that 1.5 million Wonderbras were sold in 1992 alone.

Ironically, the Wonderbra message was delivered to the United States by Ms. Moss, the British model who is so hyperthin she's nearly concave and who advertises Calvin Klein's more androgynous underwear of briefs and tanks. "I've got a couple of those Gossard Wonderbras. They are so brilliant, I swear, even I get cleavage with them," Ms. Moss said in an interview in the January issue of Vanity Fair magazine. (It is another model, though -- the cat-eyed Eva Herzigova, who serves as the official Wonderbra mannequin -- in the black Wonderbra looming on a 2,800-square-foot billboard over New York's Times Square.)

The Moss endorsement set the quest in motion in America: Soon, the New York Times was in pursuit, with its writer Emily Prager test-driving her A cups in a Wonderbra and reporting, yes, men ogled.

In the midst of the frenzy, there was also some behind-the-scenes wrangling over the Wonderbra franchise. In fact, the history of Wonderbra manufacturing is about as complicated as its construction.

The bra was designed in 1964 by one Louise Poirier, herself none too overly endowed, a designer for Canadelle, a Canadian lingerie company. In the food chain that is modern retailing, Canadelle is now part of Playtex, which in turn is part of Sara Lee (yes, the cheesecake company).

Canadelle licensed Gossard, a London-based company, to make the Wonderbra, which it did to relative obscurity for years. But, just as Wonderbra was becoming all the rage, Gossard's license to make it expired, at the end of last year. Sara Lee, in a no-brainer of a business decision, took the rights back, and now its subsidiary, Playtex, makes what it calls "the one and only Wonderbra."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.