Sweets Goes Shopping: A Continuing Education at the Atelier at Journelle

I participate in a few private Facebook groups for lingerie professionals and enthusiasts, and by and large I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences. I get to see so many different sides to the industry: other bloggers participate, yes, but I also hear from journalists, educators, retailers, designers, and marketing representatives. It’s so valuable to learn not only how bras and other lingerie pieces are created, made, and sold, but also to get a glimpse of all of the challenges and opportunities that arise along the way for everyone involved in the industry.

"Snow in September" camisole by I.D. Sarrieri

“Snow in September” camisole by I.D. Sarrieri at the Atelier at Journelle

Recently I read a conversation that really took me aback (I’m paraphrasing from memory, and I’m also deliberately fudging details to hide identities): a retailer tagged a fellow retailer in a post linking to an informal peer survey about the “worst/most difficult” customers to have in a bra fitting, and several other group members joined the thread, laughing in agreement.  So who’s the worst customer in a lingerie boutique?  A bra blogger.

Ouch.

I won’t lie, it kind of sucked to read that. My neuroses already do a good job of reminding me that I’m a problem customer, thanks. Between my height and my big feet and hands and my broad shoulders and thick waist and big boobs, yeah, don’t worry, I already know I’m a difficult fit in most stores, let alone in lingerie boutiques. Good to know my industry peers think I’m obnoxious, too, right?

On the other hand, if I’m really honest with myself, yeah, I’m kind of a defensive know-it-all when I go to a lingerie boutique. I’ve wearied of being offered a REAL, PROFESSIONAL!!! bra fitting, or being condescendingly asked if I’m aware that 80% of women wear the wrong size, over and over and OVER again. I’m tired of hearing “We carry all sizes!” only to learn that cup sizes stop at an F, or band sizes stop at a 40. It’s frustrating when I tell someone my size and specify the country of manufacture (UK vs. US vs. Europe), only to receive a handful of bras that are not the correct size (and are usually far too small). It makes me want to shop entirely online and deal with shipping/return hassles, or else grit my teeth and clench my shoulders in preparation for a shopping trip filled with disappointment and misunderstandings.

All that is kind of a terrible lead up to an absolutely WONDERFUL boutique shopping experience I had recently.

Spring Styles at the Atelier at Journelle

I received an invitation this Spring to try the Atelier at Journelle. Journelle is one of my favorite lingerie boutiques in New York City, and the Atelier offers a luxurious private shopping experience, with one-on-one attention from a fitter, mimosas, tea, sweet treats, and a fitting room generously stocked with a personalized selection of lingerie (plus a snuggly robe to wear between try-ons).

I made my appointment enthusiastically and sent along my sizes, but as the day approached, I grew increasingly nervous and apprehensive. I’d never once seen my size, or one of my “go-to” brands, in stock at Journelle. Journelle carries beautiful (largely European, although there are other international and US brands) lingerie and loungewear at prices that fall firmly into the “luxury” category of my budget. While there are some great mid-range offerings (like a lovely selection of Claudette, Evollove, and Gossard bras), these brands don’t make my size. I once came close to special-ordering a Miss Mandalay bra, but unfortunately my budget just didn’t allow it. Based on what I remembered from visits to Journelle with fit clients, I was afraid that my “too-big” body was, “as usual”,  going to be a problem (note: I put the scare quotes in deliberately; my body is my body, and it is just fine the way it is, but sometimes my brain tells me otherwise).

Sweet Treats at the Atelier at Journelle

I would have taken a picture with my mimosa but I drank it.

The Atelier is based in Journelle’s corporate headquarters in Chelsea, and, as Miss Underpinnings said upon our arrival, “I feel like I got more feminine just by walking in here.” The air smells of delicate linden blossoms (Journelle’s signature scent), and the walls are hung with gorgeous examples of some of the pieces Journelle has to offer, from everyday classics like Cosabella and Hanky Panky to more sophisticated styles from Chantal Thomass and Maison Lejaby all the way through to the truly luxurious and indulgent like Bordelle and I.D. Sarrieri.  One wall featured cheerful Spring styles, while another featured a collection of delicate white lingerie that would make a gorgeous bridal trousseau. After giving us a while to check out all the offerings on display, we were each guided to a fitting room.

Atelier at Journelle full-bust

My personalized bra selection. From left to right: Maison Lejaby, All Undone, Miss Mandalay, Triumph, and Evollove

I found a generous selection of G and G+ bras in my fitting room, certainly more than I expected to see, including the really stunning-in-person “Lottie” by All Undone. Even though All Undone doesn’t make my size, just getting to try it on, even in a cup size too small, was a real treat (my quick take: this felt extra small, even in the wrong size, as well as quite shallow. I’d recommend sizing up in the cups, especially if you’re between sizes). I started with Lottie, as I’d been itching to try All Undone, and then … I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked at a wall of bras that I was sure were too small for me, and began to get that creeping feeling of self-consciousness and embarrassment that’s been my shopping companion since middle school. There was Miss Underpinnings, trying on Claudette and Mimi Holliday and All Undone and looking completely darling, and there were the two Journelle staff members looking all fabulous and chic and slender, and then there was … me, with my giant self (or so my brain was telling me).

And then Allison, Journelle’s lovely Marketing Director, swanned over in MY NEW FAVORITE ROBE, literally took it off her own back so I could try it on, and said “I really think you should try the Maison Lejaby, as our fitters find that it runs really nice and deep in the cups.”

I feigned enthusiasm, but I felt like I was about to start crying. Once I passed a certain bra size, I pretty much wrote off European brands. A European G-cup is equivalent to a UK F-cup, so this definitely wasn’t going to work, right?

I don’t normally share my bra size, but since it’s relevant to the story, I’ve been wearing a UK 34H pretty consistently over the last year. I’ve lost a little weight in the last two months, so sometimes it’s a 34GG, but with very few exceptions, 34H has been the best size. The Maison Lejaby bra? A 36G. My Europe-UK conversion chart tells me that a Euro 36G “should” be a 36F in UK brands. AND OH, THIS BRA FITS SO BEAUTIFULLY.

By all accounts it shouldn’t! Everything I’ve ever held to be true tells me that a European 36G should be way, WAY too small in the cups– like, four or five cup sizes too small. Truthfully I think I’d probably be happiest in a 34H in Maison Lejaby (which is bananas– a French 34H and a UK 34H are usually NOT the same size), but this particular style stops at a G-cup, so I’m happy to sister size and wear it on the middle hooks instead of the loosest because the bra is black and it’s lace and it’s soft and it’s sexy and it gives a beautifully rounded shape and the straps are beautiful and seriously why aren’t there more good non-padded black lace bras in a UK 34H anywhere?  Ahem.  The point is, if I hadn’t forced myself to listen to a new fitter and try something out of my comfort zone, I would have missed out on a truly fantastic bra.

My Atelier picks: "Layla" by Miss Mandalay and "Idole" by Maison Lejaby

My Atelier picks: “Layla” by Miss Mandalay and “Idole” by Maison Lejaby, and oh gosh this picture is so terrible

All in all, I tried on five bras (Simone Perele, Maison Lejaby, and Miss Mandalay) that were great fits, or were at least close fits. I wanted to take home two full sets (and the Dear Bowie robe, of course), but I eventually decided to get the Maison Lejaby black lace bra (sorry Miss Mandalay, I’m just not a white lingerie girl).  It was a definite splurge for me (even with, full disclosure, a press discount), and I tried it on again when I got home, fully expecting that I’d decide to return it as an impulse purchase. Yeah, no, not gonna happen. This is a bra that was worth the splurge: the wires are a perfect fit for my boobs (Panache and Eveden are often too wide), the cups are deep and very rounded, the center gore tacks beautifully, and the lace-edged top of the cup lies smoothly with no digging. I feel totally sexy wearing such a delicate, decidedly French bra, and if my budget allows it in the future (DOUBTFUL, alas), I’d love to invest in the matching knickers. It was also super comfortable on the first day of wear at work, with no digging or slipping.

Sweets in a Miss Mandalay bra and the Kate maxi robe by Dear Bowie

Yours truly, wearing “Layla” by Miss Mandalay and the “Kate” maxi robe by Dear Bowie, which is currently topping my “when I win the lottery lingerie wishlist”.  It looks like silk chiffon and feels like pajamas. It’s the best. Oh! There’s my mimosa! Found it.

I think my takeaway from the two experiences, firstly being shamed for being a “problem customer” and secondly taking a chance on a brand/size outside my comfort zone, is to check in with yourself and trust your gut. I don’t think there’s any need to try to force a fitting experience to be a good one, especially if you’re getting bad vibes or you’re made to feel that you’re being difficult or annoying. On the other hand, if you’re getting otherwise great service, why not give something new a try, even if you’re sure it’s not going to work? After the success of the Maison Lejaby, I tried on an Evollove G-cup and a Chantelle G-cup, and yeah, those suckers were too small, as I would have expected. But because I listened to my fitter, now I have this totally awesome black lace bra that I can add to my stash of “Lingerie for when I become a fabulous lady detective in Australia in the 1920s“.

"Rockin Josephine" by Chantal Thomass

“Rockin’ Josephine” by Chantal Thomass. We just thought this was adorable.

The Atelier at Journelle is open by appointment only. Journelle has several NYC locations, as well as e-commerce. If you see a bra you want and it looks like your size is unavailable, just give Customer Service a call, and they can call up additional sizes from their brick-and-mortar locations, as well as place special orders.

18 Comments on Sweets Goes Shopping: A Continuing Education at the Atelier at Journelle

  1. Angela Friedman
    April 29, 2014 at 10:31 am (5 years ago)

    Wow, what a lovely experience! I’m always very skeptical of bra fitters in general, probably because they’re usually largely untrained and often patronizing… but this sounds like the complete opposite and delightful in every way.

    Not going to lie, my favorite part was about the mimosa missing from your photo! 🙂

    Reply
    • Sweets
      April 29, 2014 at 11:41 am (5 years ago)

      I know, I’m often caught between trying not look like a condescending know it all whilst simultaneously trying to guage if I do, in fact, know more than the person fitting me. It’s a tricky line to walk!

      Reply
  2. Erica of A Sophisticated Pair
    April 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm (5 years ago)

    First, I love your reference to Miss Fisher’s murder mysteries. 😀 Secondly, as a retail owner myself, I don’t think you should take away that you are a problem customer or are thought of that way by most of us. Anyone who has ever worked retail (lingerie related or not) will tell you that there are some customers which make you want to go home and pour yourself a stiff drink (maybe two). Some do it intentionally; others do it by accident. There’s very little recourse either because retailers, especially small businesses, are so petrified of negative reviews or bad feedback that they will put up with abuse from customers just to keep their reputation. As a result, I think sometimes we vent in private to keep our sanity. With that in mind, I totally disagree with labeling or making sweeping generalizations about who is a “bad customer.” I have had two bra bloggers visit the shop now, and both were totally delightful. There’s no universal set of attributes which equates to a bad customer, and I think retailers do themselves a disservice by profiling or stereotyping their customers. For what it’s worth, most of the retailers I know personally do not feel this way either about bloggers or their customers in general. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sweets
      April 29, 2014 at 3:29 pm (5 years ago)

      Aw, thank you Erica! I love everything you said here, particularly because it’s easy for those of us on the customer side of things to get into the mindset of “I’ve had one bad store experience, therefore they’re all bad.” Thanks for the reminder that sweeping generalizations work both ways and are equally unhelpful (and likely inaccurate). 🙂

      Reply
    • Sweets
      April 29, 2014 at 3:58 pm (5 years ago)

      ALSO I LOVE MISS FISHER SO MUCH WHERE IS SEASON 2, NETFLIX?!?!?

      Reply
      • sophisticatedpair
        April 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm (5 years ago)

        Right???? I couldn’t understand all the controversy over her. I went into the series expecting something totally different, but it is such a great show! Also, I want her hair . . . and her stockings . . . and her robes . . . Okay, maybe I just want to steal all her stuff. 😀

        Reply
        • Sweets
          April 29, 2014 at 4:05 pm (5 years ago)

          She’s such a freaking dame. In the very first episode she’s got the dancer in her hotel room and just nonchalantly DROPS that evening gown and she’s wearing silk cami knickers underneath and I literally CACKLED because I loved her so much. Also Det. Inspector Jack Robinson + Constable Collins = buddy cops 4 life.

          Reply
  3. Galactica
    April 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm (5 years ago)

    Hi !

    Interesting article ! I LOVE what I see on the Journelle webshop… so so so beautiful ! (and so out of my budget !). Journelle, don’t you want to offer me a travel to New York and a fitting session in one of you stores ? No ?
    More seriously, what you say about the Lejaby bra is interesting… I have read somewhere that in the smaller cup sizes (A-D) Lejaby and Prima Donna do exactly the same as every european brand “should” do, grading there cups 2cm by 2cm (so 1cm per cup if I understand well). But, the grading between the bigger cups (D-G), is bigger than 1 cm per cup (2cm ?). At the end, a “G” cup in theses brands is not far from a UK G cup. I think (it was not in the article, my supposition) theses brand do that because they know some customer need bigger cups that what the european system allow for. Instead of doing more sizes (and going in the super letterphobia area), they keep the same size range in appearance, but do bigger cups, so they can satisfy more customers. I am french, and here, Lejaby is THE full bust brand sold in the not bad/good local lingerie store of your medium city (with Prima Donna and Lise Charmel (maybe, I am not sure for the last one)). When you are a full busted woman who try to wear good bras, there are lots of chances you buy Lejaby.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      April 29, 2014 at 4:13 pm (5 years ago)

      Wow, this is so interesting! Thank you for sharing this great information– it had slipped my mind that the size increments might be different for different brands and different size ranges. I’m definitely going to keep trying Lejaby, and recommending it to clients who I previously thought were sized out. And wouldn’t it be so lovely if there were a global lingerie blogger fund so we could all travel all over the world and visit different boutiques? It might be terrible for my budget. But we can dream…

      Reply
      • Galactica
        May 1, 2014 at 4:03 am (5 years ago)

        I vote for the global lingerie blogger found ! 😀

        Reply
  4. Julia Lambert
    April 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm (5 years ago)

    That bra with Eiffel Towers on it is a HOOT. Obviously I love it.

    This was so nice to read, and I’m so, so glad you had such a nice experience! I would like to visit Journelle Atelier, largely because of how good you say it smells! I’m also glad, though, that they did such a nice job finding you things that fit you well and curating a nice collection to try.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      April 29, 2014 at 9:20 pm (5 years ago)

      I love that Eiffel Tower bra. It’s surprisingly goofy for fancy French undies 🙂

      Reply
  5. Violet
    April 30, 2014 at 2:44 am (5 years ago)

    Such a good and interesting read. Thank you. You are deffinatey not a problem customer and you look amazing!
    Vx

    Reply
    • Sweets
      May 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you Violet! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Holly
    May 2, 2014 at 1:32 am (5 years ago)

    This review forced (I absolutely blame my jealousy of your awesome experience) me to go browse the Journelle site, which of course led to my purchase of a silk robe on sale and some of their yummy sounding lingerie wash. I’m seriously tempted to try this out when I’m next in NYC and I hate trying on lingerie in stores! The Atelier sounds perfect for those of us who are nervous about walking into stores and finding out they don’t cater to us.

    I’ll try to recreate your awesome experience at home when my package arrives, although I suspect my try on time may involve a little more dog fur. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Ana
    July 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm (5 years ago)

    I am dying to visit the Journelle Atelier after looking at these photos! I am unfortunately no blogger so I may not have any luck getting in there.

    I haven’t had the greatest experience at their regular stores though. All the associates are super nice but it looks like the company doesn’t do a good job of educating on fit. I’ve been shopping there for a long time. I’ve been fitted at all three stores but have never been happy with their fit techniques because they measure like Victoria’s Secret. I think it’s helpful that you were able to go in there already knowing what to look for but when I started shopping there I had no idea. I was pressured into buying things I felt didn’t truly work for me. I took matters into my own hands in order to find the right bra size. Bloggers helped me out more than retailers and bloggers are more educated in fit than most retailers. Retailers have a motive to sell no matter what they say!

    I’ve actually had a lot of silly advice through Journelle online customer service and in their store. I wear 36G or 38FF depending! Journelle is recommending a bra from Chantelle in a F or G cup because they don’t seem to understand that a UK FF and G is a lot bigger than a G cup. It’s actually kind of frustrating.

    So in a way, maybe retailers and bloggers don’t always see eye to eye. Even though I’m not a blogger, I’m surprised that a retailer doesn’t know size differences and would recommend the wrong sizes for me. If I correct them or insist that something is not right then they are annoyed because I am challenging their professional opinion. But I am annoyed as a customer because a “professional” should know better. In the end though, the rule of thumb in retail is that the customer is always right. If a bra doesn’t feel right then the “professional” should be willing to understand and learn why. I don’t like being called a complicated customer just because a retailer can’t get a lot of money from me if they don’t understand my size.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      July 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm (5 years ago)

      These are some great, great points Ana, thank you so much for sharing your experience!

      A quick note: the Atelier is open to anyone, not just press! It’s absolutely free to make an appointment, and you are under no obligation to make a purchase. You just have to give them enough notice to pull items from their different locations to prepare for your arrival.

      Secondly, I too get very, very frustrated, particularly when talking about F, G, H cup sizes, when there’s a lack of clarity about country of origin. A French G and H are verrrry different from English Gs and Hs, for example, and some American manufacturers use different systems from others, so it requires a huge amount of study on the part of retailers to memorize all the different size progressions. It’s something we, as customers and consumers, tend to “nail” first, because we’re usually only fitting one person: ourselves. I still sometimes trip up trying to convert sizes across brands in my head for someone who wears different sizes and brands from me, so it’s definitely a tall order for retailers and fitters, who are dealing with sometimes 100s or 1000s of products.

      That being said, I’ve also noticed some of the lack of transparency you noted in your comments. My personal selection of lingerie at the Atelier contained G-cups in Euro sizes, when I specifically said that I wore H-cups in UK sizes. While the one Maison Lejaby bra was a great fit, the others weren’t even close, and I knew they wouldn’t be close. That was disappointing and frustrating. A G-cup isn’t close to an H-cup in Panache, let alone a French brand, so it felt a little like Journelle was saying “well, this won’t be right, but it’s the best we can do, it’s only a few sizes off.” That’s not fair. There are some customers who might not mind, if they’re more fashion-focused, but you and I are also fit-focused, so it’s a sensitive issue.

      THAT being said, I did notice last week when I was browsing during the semi-annual sale that Journelle has started to provide a little more information on the pages of some of their full-bust bras. When I go to select a size on a Miss Mandalay bra, for example, there’s information about the UK cup size progression as well as Euro-UK size conversions beneath the size options. That’s a great first step, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come! As more American women become savvier about fit, I’m optimistic that the boutiques will recognize it and respond in kind. I do tend to think of Journelle as a fashion boutique, not a fitting boutique, but it would be awesome if it was a little more of both!

      Reply

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  1. […] the general fanciness of things, I styled these knickers with my luxurious Maison Lejaby bra from my trip to the Journelle Atelier, plus my personalized nylon […]

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