Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Shopping for bras, corsets and thing-high stockings may sound like a seductive mission fit for a Bond girl or a Playboy bunny, but in reality, bad lighting, long lines and blaring music tend to make the actual experience anything but sexy. Enter Sarah Wizemann — a “lingerie curator” and owner of Portland boutique Lille.
Upon arriving at Wizemann’s East Burnside boutique, visitors can expect to be offered a cup of vanilla black tea while they peruse the collection of delicate underthings, each panty and stocking neatly presented on antique tables (which are for sale, along with all of the fixtures, furniture and clothing inside the store). The store’s comfortable, well-lit dressing rooms are filled with homey antique vanities and mirrors for multi-angle viewing.
“I never thought I’d end up in retail or fashion since it was something I sort of took for granted,” says Wizemann. The daughter of a seamstress, she credits her mother’s small business ownership for her own appreciation of well-made garments and fabrics. “But I guess it’s in the blood.”
While studying dance and living in New York with her web developer husband Alan, the two eventually sought a smaller city atmosphere, and she an entrepreneurial dream. Not wanting to lose access to a thriving music and cultural scene, the couple chose Portland as their relocation destination, and Wizemann chose the city’s 198-year-old Dunham Building (which once served as a dance studio) as the future home of her store. She called on New York-based architect and furniture designer Matthew Hoey to design her new space, and upon seeing it, he urged her to preserve the exposed lathe and plaster walls to create a rustic French country feeling. Wizemann chose to name her store Lille, due to its French connection and namesake lace pattern, and because of how the moniker looked in print. The Lille lace design now graces both the boutique’s website and its business cards.
Three years after opening, the store has found its footing with Portland’s selective clientele, which includes local artisans, musicians and clothing designers. Of her collections, Wizemann says she gravitates towards vintage-inspired goods like tap pants and teddies. “Form and function are both important in selecting which lines to carry,” she says. Currently, one of her favorite lines is a collection of camis, bras and other all-silk offerings from Unforeseen Circumstances. “The pieces are inspired by antique furniture — think pleated French crème cotton that resembles crown molding on a Craftsman home.” Wizemann keeps the collections she carries varied and on the cutting edge of fashion. She mixes traditional lines with collections like macabre-inspired tights from Les Queues de Sardines — a line that uses graphic prints such as marching ants and bright blue Cyclops eyes.
“There are certain timeless styles that will always sell: a basic silk slip, a cotton bikini. That being said, I think my store is more fashion-forward than many of my competitors’ shops because I gravitate towards things that are a bit edgier and riskier — colors like coral and army green, rather than the typical lipstick red and black. Rompers and onesies; unusual prints and patterns; lingerie as outerwear.”
Right now, Wizemann is happy helping the women of Portland shop from her incredibly select, hand-picked collections of bras, panties and lingerie specialty items like floor-length chemises and silk garter belts. Because one doesn’t become a “lingerie curator” without a carefully curated collection.
Although Wizemann says she’s wary of fashion ‘rules’, she shares her top five nuggets of lingerie wisdom:
1. Always hand-wash your lingerie to increase the life span. Machines cause too much wear and tear on delicate undergarments.
2. When buying a bra, make sure you get the right fit on the loosest hook, so that you can tighten to the second and third hooks as the bra stretches out. If you start on the tightest hook, you have no where to go, and the bra won’t last you as long.
3. Don’t get hung up on your size. Bra sizes vary so much from brand to brand, and especially from country to country, that you could be a 34B in one and a 32D in another, depending on how they run. Be sure to try before you buy!
4. If your bra is riding up in the back, the band is too big for you. A lot of women buy a band size too big, which is a big mistake because that is where your support comes from - it should be snug, but you should be able to fit two fingers between your skin and the garment comfortably.
5. Assess your wardrobe needs before you go lingerie shopping, and seek out a shop that will provide excellent customer service (including bra fittings to figure out your correct size) and a wide range of products and not just one type of bra - there is no “one perfect bra” for everyone, regardless of what clever marketing the company has employed to make you think that the multifunctional t-shirt bra at the mall will fit you perfectly.
Emily Goligoski is a San Francisco-based digital strategist and writer whose arts and culture commentary can be found on TheSanFranista.com.
Chris Hornbecker is a Portland-based photographer. www.hornbeckerphoto.com.