Finding Might in Mystery at Wylie Wilson
So there I am, wandering the back alleys of Venice Beach, admiring a killer lingerie mural, when this effusive woman in a killer red dress appears from the ether. She says there are actual bras behind that wall. Wireless bras. Her bras. She's so dang charming, and the notion of a pretty, comfortable bra is so tempting. And suddenly, like some kind of oddly-practical fairy tale, I am whisked away to the magical land of Wylie Wilson, where the lingerie is one part Fine Art and two parts self guided therapy.
The first thing that hits me as I step into the store is that all of the lingerie is displayed gallery-style, on walls and wires, with gorgeous natural light filtering in through the windows. I know every bra store uses visual displays, but this feels very different from the normal consumer eye candy. Everything is one of a kind, and every nook and cranny invites you to linger, ponder, and enjoy the pieces for their workmanship and design. It really is like looking at Art - and when I begin to talk with Australian-born Peta Wilson (the owner/founder/designer/decorator/mastermind behind the brand, who you may remember from her considerable acting career) it's clear that the interior design is no accident.
Instead of jumping into a sales pitch about her awesome products, Peta first tells me about spending her early years in Papua New Guinea, experiencing a diversity of cultures, and developing a wonderful passion for freedom. She speaks of freedom of imagination, freedom from boredom, and ultimately the dream of being free from our personal challenges.
I think the burning desire I had when I made my first pair of underwear was freedom from my sadness and my grief... I was in terrible grief from my grandmother's death and my manager's death... and I thought, you should probably go out and flirt. Flirting makes you feel good. But the problem is you're really depressed... then I Frankensteined my first pair of knit panties, I went on a date, and all I could think about was that I couldn't wait to get home and make more panties. I just followed that feeling of feeling good. My medication was to make things.
One thing led to another. She gave underwear away to friends to lift their spirits, and they all fell in love. Before she knew it, her lingerie was in Italian Vogue and she had to start a full-fledged company. If Peta's art was medication, then you could say people were addicted.
I was looking at Truffaut and Godard and Fellini and Cubric and all the masters, and I was looking at all the beautiful women - and that's what inspired me... Looking at beautiful film, and looking at the actresses and how much power and beauty they had - regality without trying, without anything fake.
At this point in the interview, women are already starting to flood the gallery, and I can see the appreciation on their faces.
"We were just talking about this concept this morning," one customer says, "wishing we could find a push-up bra that didn't have a bunch of padding in it."
Spurred by that, Peta shows them a set of stunning photos of real women with busts as small as AA, explaining how she arrived at 4 main bra styles by letting 500 women design their own bras based on what they liked and what they hated. Stiff wires were replaced with military-grade elastic (a suggestion from her dad!), support was added through strategically-placed mesh panels, and all the styles were made fully convertible to halter, racerback, and low-back versions. Anyone who doesn't fit the basic styles can get a custom bra in mere days - larger-busted women, petites, breast cancer survivors, and those with augmented breasts included - and any custom bra pattern that solves the same issue for 10 women gets added to the main line.
On her passion for making custom bra solutions, Peta tells me:
I had the great fortune of working with women who had breast cancer... when I made that first bra, this woman came inside and said, "Well what do you have for people like me?" I said, "Anything in the shop. You're not an invalid. Your not invalid. Everything in this shop you can have. We just have to make it so it fits you."
The brand's attitude has carried over into other garments, too. The shop is also filled with wonderful swimwear, custom-printed silk-cashmere coverups, and one-of-a-kind clothing done in velvet, lace, and softly draped jersey (the latter of which I now have on a client myself). When asked how she thinks lingerie relates to street wear, Peta replies:
It's all about how you hold yourself. I let ballerinas do shows in my store, and they just wear my underwear, but they hold themselves so beautifully - like art - that the mind doesn't go to a low-brow place. It goes to a more elevated place.
For, I think this elevated mind-set is the key to taking something as mundane as underpants and turning it into a vehicle for change. Donning these gorgeous pieces makes each wearer realize that she herself is Art - a mysterious concoction of the feminine wiles for which the brand is named - and that feeling holds tremendous value.
If you are ever in Southern California, definitely make a stop at Wylie Wilson, 1301 Abbot Kinney, in Venice Beach. Also check out www.wyliewilson.com and experience the range online.
Your boobs will love the wire-free bras, and you just might end up loving yourself a little more, too.