Letter from Paris – an introduction
Kathryn Kemp-Griffin founded the lingerie company Soyelle in 1993. After selling Soyelle in 2009, Kathryn founded Pink Bra Bazaar, a lingerie charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for breast cancer (www.pinkbrabazaar.org). Kathryn also organizes exclusive lingerie tours in Paris as an unusual alternative to the regular tourist attractions. A Toronto native and a Princeton graduate, Kathryn lives with her husband, five children, four cats and a dog in a 500-year-old mill outside of Paris.
Bonjour from Paris. The lingerie capital of the world. Where a whisper of lace, a shadow of mystery, and the caress of silk make dreams float.
Sometimes in the business of lingerie we forget that we are dream makers.
Lingerie, like any other business, is a mosaic of details and logistics – buying, selling, minimums, advertising, deliveries, returns, trends, merchandising, fidelity programs– all for the sole purpose of satisfying the customer. But what if the customer wants something other than 2-for-1 panties?
Sometimes she is looking for a little reverie. A sprinkle of stardust.
I certainly thought I was dreaming when I landed in Paris on a sunny day in September twenty years ago. Armed with a Larousse dictionary, five hundred dollars, and a passion for everything French, I handed my passport to the customs official and smiled when he said, “Bienvenue à Paris,” confident that everything would work out for the best – even though I didn’t speak the language, or have my luggage. The airline apologized for losing it, gave me a check for the replacement costs and wished me a Bonne Journée.
Sometimes in the business of lingerie we forget that we are dream makers – Kathryn Kemp-Griffin
A quick trip to Monoprix, the French mecca for basics let me stock up on toiletries, jeans and a t-shirt, but I needed a new bra. The bra I was wearing was on the verge of disintegrating.
At this point, I should probably confess that I was more concerned about verb agreements and understanding the passé simple than about what underwear to wear. Although ashamed to admit it, I was one of those women who buy a new bra when the washing machine finally rips the one I’m wearing to shreds. I change my shoes more often than that, but they’re different. I can see my shoes. I can’t see my own bra, so what’s the point of buying new ones all the time? A bra is a basic necessity. Functional. Nothing more.
At least that’s what I thought until I walked into a small lingerie boutique nestled in the heart of the sixth arrondissement called Madame Annabelle, and asked in my basic French for a soutien-gorge blanc, a white bra, please.“Avec ou sans dentelle ?” said Madame Annabelle. I quickly flipped through my Larousse. Dentelle = Lace. I had no idea if I was a lace person. It was like being asked if I believed in God. She sensed my hesitation, scanned the row of boxes lining the shelves behind the counter and pulled out a lovely bra with a hint of lace and tiny pleats. She ushered me into a minuscule changing room and waited an appropriate amount of time before coming in.
Madame Annabelle deftly adjusted the back hooks and tightened the straps, running her fingers over the bra like she was tuning a violin. When she was done, she took a small step back. My silhouette in the mirror was so close I could reach out and touch it. It was me, at least it looked like me. A better me.
“It’s beautiful,” I murmured, turning sideways to admire my new shape. Madame Annabelle stood quietly and watched. Not in a voyeuristic way, but like a mother deer watching her fawn learn to stand for the first time. I traced the edges of the pleats, running my fingers over their smoothness, and then backwards, ruffling the pleats upwards. The silence gave me time to feel and appreciate a sensation that I had never felt before; an awakening, like stumbling upon a field of wildflowers. A day brimming with promise.
It wasn’t because the bra was on sale, gave the ultimate lift, screamed sexy diva, or performed miracles and promised weight loss. It was a softer revelation. One that was nestled in the silk folds and lace contours, waiting to be discovered. Madame Annabelle caught my eye in the mirror and smiled. I smiled back.
I still have that pleated bra – even though it has been retired from service. When I open my drawer in the morning, caught in the bustle of remember this, and do that, I see the pearly white folds and pause for a moment to remember that I have a choice: I can have an ordinary day or an extraordinary one.
I smile to myself as I make my lingerie selection, eager to slip into the dream of my story.
Merci Madame Annabelle
Kathryn Kemp-Griffin founded the lingerie company Soyelle in 1993. After selling Soyelle in 2009, Kathryn founded Pink Bra Bazaar, a lingerie charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for breast cancer. Kathryn also organizes exclusive lingerie tours in Paris as an unusual alternative to the regular tourist attractions. A Toronto native and a Princeton graduate, Kathryn lives with her husband, five children, four cats and a dog in a 500-year-old mill outside of Paris. Email: email@example.com