When I first gave you my criteria for a good lingerie store for women with large breasts, I thought it would be a regular feature on this blog. As it turns out, it’s rare to find one store that can meet all three criteria. So far I’ve only found three: (1) Barbara’s New Beginnings (more here and here, with an actual visit to the store by reader Karen here), (2) Zoe« & Co., reviewed by reader Zoe here) and (3) Lion’s Lair Designs, which I am writing about today. Ironically, I haven’t yet visited any of these stores. If you have a nomination for “One of the Good Ones”, please let me know!
When I was in Miami a couple of weeks ago, I met Kim Berger, the owner of Lion’s Lair, and her fitter Lizzy for dinner. One of the first things I did was share this (highly edited) email that I’d just received from a reader:
“I live in New York and have been to X bra store a few times. I follow the blogs, know my size (30G), and when I go into a lingerie brick and mortar store know what I want going in. I have had some negative experiences at X bra store but really want to swing by and try some new styles. Do you have a fitter you recommend that is easy to work with and won’t get offended if I ask for specific items?“
Kim laughed when she heard this and said, “She should come to Lion’s Lair. Our fitters are like personal shoppers.” She went on to tell me how Lion’s Lair fitters fill a basket with everything their customers could want on the way to the dressing room. Once there, the fitter will go back and forth for anything else her customer requests. “Basically, a fitting session at Lion’s Lair takes an hour to an hour and a half,” she said.
It isn’t only for bras. During the session, the fitter records everything that fits, including dresses, swimwear and loungewear. A lot of times a customer will only purchase one thing, fly back home (Lion’s Lair is located on Islamorada in the Florida Keys), and realize she can’t find the pieces she tried anywhere else. Lion’s Lair has everything on file, so she only has to call and have it shipped to her.
Lion’s Lair does a lot with phone calls, emails and photos. Even if you never visit their store in person (how many of us will make it to Islamorada Key?), they’re so confident in their fitting abilities that if you provide your measurements, shipping is free (you pay for returns). In fact, Freddy, Eveden’s fit guru, told me at Curve today that bra fitters can’t get much more analytical than Kim. (You can scroll to the bottom of this post to read some of the things I learned from her that night.)
I know that all of us have visited a lingerie store, ready for an expert fitting, only to find the B team on duty that day. How does Kim avoid that problem? Besides only taking one day off a week, she’s careful who she hires. Part of the interview process is to give the applicant a bra fitting. If the applicant digs her heels in (i.e., “I’m a 38D and am always going to be one!”), she’s out; if she embraces the experience, Kim knows she’ll work. She also does a lot with training. A fitter’s first couple of weeks are spent shadowing. Next she begins to measure and fit, but a senior fitter checks everything at the end. Finally, after 6-9 months, she’s a certified Lion’s Lair fitter. Kim even takes her fitters on a field trip to Victoria’s Secret for a fitting so that they understand what their customers have experienced in the past.
Now that you’ve seen how Lion’s Lair meets the people skills and expertise criteria for One of the Good Ones, let’s look at inventory. Does 180 sizes sound promising enough? At any given time, Kim has $250,000 tied up in inventory, ready to fit as many women as she can. But here’s what I really, really, really appreciate: if Lion’s Lair doesn’t carry something that works for you, they have no problem suggesting that you buy it online elsewhere. So many times I’ve watched bra fitters push almost-right bras on their customers, and even if the bra fitter is your friend, she DOES NOT LIKE IT if you suggest that the store special order the right size or if you tell the customer that she can find a more appropriate style online. Lion’s Lair, on the other hand, will even help you troubleshoot a swimsuit that you bought elsewhere (although they prefer you buy from them, of course).
There’s one more really great thing about Kim that isn’t part of my criteria but that all busty women everywhere will appreciate: she knows what her busty customers need and works with brands to get it to them. For the longest time, she and her staff were fitting customers into basic black Fantasie bikini tops to wear for support under other swimsuits. However, even with extenders their customers with 40+ bands needed something more. So guess what? She sold Eveden on the idea of a “swim bra”, and the Elomi swim bra concept was born. Pretty neat, right? (Since Lion’s Lair sells more Fantasie and Freya swimwear than any other brick and mortar store in the United States, Eveden is smart to listen to her.)
Ready for another example? Bolero Beachwear. That’s a Bolero Beachwear dress that you see Kim wearing in the photograph above. It’s one of the first iterations and looks amazing on Kim, but she worked with the designer to develop an A-line version that flatters women who have a less athletic physique.
Does all of this make you want to go to Islamorada Key for vacation soon? It does me. In fact, I’m dreaming of a girls’ getaway weekend with Hourglassy readers. Do you think that we could make that dream a reality?
Things I learned about bra fit from Kim
1. For all the breast shapes out there, Kim has narrowed it down to two: relaxed (like June from Braless in Brasil) and full (on top). The majority of Eveden bras are meant to fit full shapes. Although full shapes can fit bras that work for relaxed shapes, relaxed shapes cannot fit into bras that work for full shapes. Center pull straps are good for relaxed shapes.
2. Even Kim doesn’t have a fully tacking center gore most of the time–there’s a reason that I’ll add later because it isn’t in my notes. In fact, only the Cleo by Panache Lucy tacks on her. She finds the Lucy to work amazingly well on most women. However, the sizing is inconsistent by color. She wears a 32G in the yellow, a 30H in the purple, and she can’t even make the black fit her!
3. A short upper torso can affect sliding bra straps. It’s not necessarily from sloping shoulders.
4. If you often have unfilled space at the bottom of your cups, one solution is to grab your center gore and pull it up. Follow that by tucking yourself into the bra and giving yourself a little swoop.
5. The last thing Kim takes off at night is her bra. If you’re not comfortable and need a wireless bra after work, then there’s a fit issue going on. (After today’s session with Freddy, I’ve had a major breakthrough in how I put my bra on that may make me a believer about not needing a wireless.)
6. She believes the biggest fit and comfort issue is straps that are too tight.
7. If you explain to boyfriends and husbands why a tight band is better than a loose band, they will persuade their girlfriends and wives to go with the tighter band.