PORTLAND, Maine — The women who will appear, wearing colorful or lacy underwear, in advertisements for Portland’s new lingerie store are not supermodels from Los Angeles. They’re local customers.
Andrea King, owner of the bra fitting and fine lingerie boutique shop Aristelle, said 85 percent of all women are wearing the wrong size bra. So her implied message in the ads is: Real, everyday women don’t need airbrushing to feel confident and sexy — they need bras that fit correctly.
“I’ve had women cry, saying, ‘I’ve never been comfortable before,’” King said. “[The reaction] is always, ‘wow,’ amazement, joy.”
The Aristelle that opened Saturday at 92 Exchange St. in the Old Port is King’s second store. Her first opened in February in Burlington, Vt.
She and Scarborough photographer Shelly Rose will begin taking pictures of customers who stop at the Portland store next week — current ads circulating online and in local print publications feature women who have shopped at the Vermont location.
King said she put out a local call for shoppers who might be willing to double as models.
“I’ve said, ‘If you want to be put in the newspaper or all over Facebook in your underwear, I’d love to put you there,’” she recalled with a laugh. “It’s amazing how many people say, ‘yes’ to that.
“Every single ad I do features local, real women,” King continued.
King arrived in the world of lingerie sales in a very roundabout way. She had no retail experience before deciding almost a year ago to launch what she hoped would become a small chain of boutique shops.
The Newfoundland native spent years working in international development, for the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where she focused her attention on gender equality programs and microfinancing around the globe.
By the time she had resettled back in North America — Burlington, where her husband had family connections — she had an unusual combination of specialties in money management and helping build women’s confidence.
Her retired mother raved about a part-time job she had started at a lingerie store in Canada, and a light went off for King, who was searching for a new business venture.
King immersed herself in the subject matter and became something of a bra scientist — she spends between four and six weeks training each of her Aristelle employees before she lets them fit customers unsupervised.
“I don’t even see it as sales,” King said. “I see it as education.”
She said more than half of all women should be wearing a D cup or larger, but most don’t realize it, as evidenced by that aforementioned 85 percent statistic.
Women wearing the wrong size bra — a group to which almost nine out of every 10 women belong — can suffer from sore back and neck muscles, abrasions from material rubbing against their skin and self-image problems, King said.
A correctly fitting bra can lift a woman’s breasts in a healthy way to relieve the weight burden on her shoulders, expose a more flattering section of her torso, help provide her the profile shape she wants, straighten her posture and prevent her from constantly having to tug at her straps throughout the day, King said.
And with a size range that goes from 28A to 56M — with the largest of those arriving in stock soon — she said the store has bras available to provide those benefits to any woman who walks through the door. The store also carries special bridal, maternal, nursing and post-mastectomy products.
Aristelle is marketed as the Old Port’s first bra fitting store, and King said the shop will carry swimwear in addition to its stock of underwear and pajamas. Besides the size range, King said she considers the variety of colors and styles of all products to be an attraction.
But the best sales pitch of all perhaps comes from her customers, who can be seen in advertisements all over the city wearing nothing but lingerie.
“It’s been really rewarding and exciting,” King said.