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Why We Should Embrace Japanese Lingerie

I went on a fashion expedition to Japan this spring seeking inspiration. As a fashion designer, I try to balance the inward-looking process of coming up with new designs against the eyes-wide-open search for inspiration.

Japan was an exciting place to visit on this kind of trip. Just putting myself bodily in such a far-away place made me open my senses to the beauty and aesthetic possibilities of things natural and manmade. It's a place known for its unique take on fashion, where ancient ideals of beauty are constantly reinterpreted by vivacious young generations of designers and trend-setters.

Watching girls on the street, I noticed true commitment to particular looks. Their styles ran the gamut from the uber girly doll look to new punk to Japanese traditional kimono, but each girl seemed to undertake membership in this style group rigorously and absolutely. One thing that seemed generally true across the swath was an interest in surface embellishment and ornamentation. This is quite different from American preferences for casual, sleek, simple style (think Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Donna Karan).

Lingerie, in particular, tended toward soft hues like peach, pink and lavender, and flirted with dimensionality. Whereas Americans prize the perfect smooth-fitting bra, Japanese women like to make a lot of their bras and panties --- at least as far as volume. Padding and other bust-enhancing constructions create the foundational volume, and then there are ruffles, charms, and frills for extra femininity and loft.

When I got back home to New York, I was thrilled about the timely (to me, at least) launch of a new lingerie store, Bradelis. They carry other lines too, but their focus is on their own eponymous line, which is founded, designed, and made in Japan. At the packed launch party, I got to observe the brand new  digs --- an elegantly maximalist approach to boudoir decor --- sip champagne, and receive a bra fitting and consultation --- and this turned out to be a RACK-CHANGING EXPERIENCE.

Yes, I know the much-bandied-about statistics about the staggering majority of American women wearing the wrong size bra. But somehow I thought that, being a lingerie designer, I must be exempt. Ha, wrong! My Japanese fit expert was so jolly and knowing, I quickly surrendered my modesty and upper body to her. One look at me, fully clothed, and she exclaimed, "left side bigger --- we must balance!" and immediately bustled off my stretched out cotton bra ("Mm, too loose.") and positioned me in a gorgeous silk-lined black lace creation --- the Rosemary.

This process was more like shiatsu --- or maybe jujutsu --- than a typical bra fit. She pulled flesh from all over tarnation and repositioned it in my now-overflowing cups. Unlike other push-ups, this didn't just rely on extreme padding to create shape; it actually reshaped my own upper body and supported what I already had. As a fellow lingerie journalist noted after her fit, "my cleavage has never looked so... ostentatious" --- or so incredible.

I spoke with Bradelis's US Marketing Manager, Lana Sanders, about Bradelis's expansion from Japan into the US market and its unique philosophy of bra fitting. She noted that while the brand in Japan is constructed for an Asian body, in US stores the size range has been tailored to suit the greater variety of American body types. Styles, too, have been updated to appeal to American sensibilities, most notably with the introduction of the basic T-shirt bra, the Prima Mold.

Sanders says a Bradelis bra will "bring back that supple silhouette from when we were 16." The three-step process is designed to "redistribute tissue to where you want it by bringing tissue to the center and up from the lower breasts, back and underarms."

A Step 1 bra is the most constructed, with a strong underwire, sturdy shoulder straps, and a wider side band.  According to Sanders, "if you wear a step 1 bra every day for a couple of months, muscle memory helps reposition tissue toward the cup area." The idea then is that you graduate to a Step 2, and then finally a more fashion-focused Step 3, having trained your body to keep the ideal shape created in Step 1. She notes that women can do this repositioning themselves after getting their initial expert fit, and "it's an activity that you have to do to take an active part in redefining your silhouette."

Is it too much to say I felt as changed by my trip to the fitting room at Bradelis as I did by my trip to Japan? Either way, when I walked out of Bradelis with my new Rosemary bra, I felt like I was bringing a little piece of Japan home with me. Well, two little pieces.

Last Updated on

Laura a.k.a. Lola Haze

I’ve loved lingerie since before that was reasonable. I taught myself drawing, designing, and sewing, and after graduating from Harvard with an English degree, immediately went to work disregarding it and following my passion for fashion. After a few years designing for a big company, I went off on my own and started Lola Haze TM, (named after the title character in “Lolita,” my favorite book). Lola Haze is playwear for the bold woman who loves fun and dresses for herself! I feel happy and lucky that I get to love my job so much, and am thrilled to share my lingerie enthusiasm with The Lingerie Addict!

14 Comments on this post

  1. I absolutely love Japanese lingerie and the intricate and detailed patterns. It is a shame that Japanese lingerie has not really made its mark in the UK.

  2. Rubaya Binte Siraj says:

    I just lolololoooove Japanese Wacoal’s Salute, Parfage, Studio Five and Trefle sub-brands! Japanese bras are cuter and more versatile in their aesthetics. But sadly they lack in the department of strapless and seamless bras. It’s really hard to find strapless bras with silicone gel lining and plunging necklines. Most brands sell bandeau styled bras or the NuBras instead. And even the quality of renowned brands are not upto the mark in my opinion.

  3. Hinano says:

    FYI all Japanese bras are made this way..once you know your Japanese size its cheaper to go on Rakuten and buy a bra from there. Even with shipping from Japan it’s half the price of anything in Bradelis. I went on a shopping spree and bought like 8 of them – all were on clearance for about $12 each + shipping each bra ended up being $20. Best buy I ever made, I will never buy American bras again /

    • Thanks, Hinano.

      I went to Bradelis today. I can’t say I’ll make regular purchases there, but I’ll definitely go again. The set my chest to rights! Now that I have the size, I’ll definitely check out the website you gave. Thanks so much, that’s so helpful!

    • Deborah says:

      Where can I study lingerie design in Japan? I want to design this awesomeness! I don’t care what I have to do!! I’ll learn Japanese!!

  4. Lillefix says:

    I’m really hoping we will see more Japanese underwear!
    And I wish bradelis made their lovely bras in more sizes. It’s totally fair that not all brands makes all sizes (as long as every size has selctions of brands that do make their size, and make different shapes and options), but when brands do something so well (and bradelis’ aproach to fitting also, is so interesting), it is so annoying that it is not available to everybody.
    When a good bra shop do not sell all size it doesn’t only mean that only some can shop there, but it also means that only some can make use of their fitting service. Good fitting service should be available to all sizes too., but it can be so hard to find. While less common sizes, that you don’t find in any stores (or not in your country, or within reasonable distance or something) can buy their bras on the internet, fitting on the internet is not the same as being able to go to a store (that are good at fitting, plenty of stores are really bad, and it’s better not to go to them).
    Bradelis do have many sizes that most brands don’t make, so I do think that’s very good, but still, not everyone can share in it, and it would just be so nice if we could. And also simpler, if one place did have very very many sizes, and where good at fitting, maybe nobody would have to go dissapointed from store to store, but that’s an unrealistic idea I suppose :/ Somebody are always outsized.

  5. Ooh, I am definitely going to look at Bradelis now. Thank goodness New York has so many bra boutiques!

  6. Alisa says:

    I enjoyed this so much, thank you for a wonderful review! Now I must visit Bradelis when I’m in NYC.

  7. Aline says:

    I heard about Bradellis when it launched and I got so curious to get fitted by them. Their bra ftting method sounds to be the perfect one. Thanks Laura for your feedback, I may have to visit NYC soon! :-)

  8. Elegy says:

    That. Is. So. COOL!

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