[Harlow & Fox generously invited me to review their bespoke ordering service. I was not compensated for this post, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Long-time readers will recognize Harlow & Fox from several posts over the last few years (including editorials like Agent Carter, Miss Fisher, and Persephone). Harlow & Fox was one of the first true luxury lingerie brands designed exclusively for DD+ cup sizes, and they’ve remained leaders in the market, even as full bust luxury offerings have increased and diversified. One major consumer request has followed from their very first season (including from me): what about more sizes? While the brand has offered adjustments like additional cup sizes or color changes in response to individual client requests, at the end of 2016 they debuted a brand-new section of their website, expanding bespoke options to the general public. I’m really excited today to talk about my bespoke set specifically (I named her Aurora, we’re very happy together), but also how to approach a bespoke lingerie order more generally.
For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘bespoke’ generally refers to a garment that is produced exclusively for one client according to that client’s specifications. For example, Evan Rachel Wood wore bespoke Altuzarra suits to most of her award events for Westworld; these garments were designed especially for her and are not part of Altuzarra’s seasonal collections. ‘Made-to-order’ is a little different; for example, some Harlow & Fox designs like the Vivienne capelet are made-to-order, meaning they are not stitched until a client places an order, but the designs, patterns, and sizes are part of the standard collection and are priced accordingly. A true bespoke garment involves much more input from the client, and it generally incurs a higher cost, since additional materials, components, patterns, and time will be required to produce it.
Harlow & Fox’s creative director Leanna Williams tells me that she’s made bespoke garments for clients in response to a variety of requests. One client might fall in love with a collection and request a different color, another might reach out to ask about sizes outside the main size range, and another might request unique coordinating pieces like slips, thongs, robes, or suspender belts that aren’t part of the main collections. When Leanna asked me what I might like to try, I suggested a general theme and color, and we brainstormed a truly decadent lace-and-silk three-piece collection that showcases many of the bespoke customizations available to clients.
I have long admired the brand’s signature Eleanor collection, so I chose to create a set based on the Eleanor bra and brief in a lovely pale pink silk with ivory lace and trims (bespoke option 1: silk color change). Instead of a silk panel in the bottom of the cup, we swapped in even more delicate lace, creating a supportive full-bust bra that looks light as air (bespoke option 2: minor design change). To get a perfect fit, this bra was made for me in a 34GG (bespoke option 3: size adjustment). Finally, to complete the ensemble, we dreamed up a “tutu” lingerie skirt, with tiers of abundant soft ivory French lace, finishing at the waist with a long silk sash (bespoke option 4: a new garment). I named my set after The Sleeping Beauty, my favorite classical ballet, wherein Aurora usually wears a pale pink tutu for her first entrance and the Rose Adagio.
Since each change to a design requires the order of new materials or additional time for patterning and stitching, each adjustment to an existing garment incurs an additional fee. The set featured here, with multiple changes and a brand new garment, would be quite costly, but bear in mind that in designing this set, we were trying to showcase a diverse sampling of some of the many customizations available. If you wanted merely to change the silk color on one of the existing sets, or to request a bra from a current collection in a different size, the additional costs would be lower and relatively more accessible. Now that I know that I might be able to order a Harlow & Fox set I love even if my cup size is a little full (as it currently is), I’ve definitely added a few sets to my save-up-for-a-splurge list.
So, you’ve decided you want a bespoke lingerie set, one that is designed just for you and looks exactly the way you want it to. Yay! How do you go about ordering?
Let’s go back for a quick second to the Evan Rachel Wood/Altuzarra suit example. None of the tailored women’s suits she wore during awards season appear in Altuzarra’s ready-to-wear collections; the suits are a completely different product created for one particular client. You can order garments that look nothing like a designer’s regular pieces in general womenswear (especially if you have a large enough budget), but lingerie is a highly technical and highly specialized clothing category, and the rules are a little different.
I’ve commissioned two pieces of bespoke lingerie so far: my Irene Adler overbust corset by Angela Friedman, and my Aurora lingerie set by Harlow & Fox. I would never commission an underwired full-bust bra from Angela Friedman, nor would I request an overbust corset from Harlow & Fox. They’re both luxury brands that produce beautiful lingerie of impeccable quality from sumptuous fabrics, but making corsets and full-bust bras requires extremely specific know-how and training, not to mention materials, and while I’m sure both designers would bend over backwards to accommodate a client request, a piece that deviates too far from their normal product categories would come with an unbelievably high price tag. The same goes for most independent lingerie brands: when preparing to order a bespoke garment, doing research will make your job so much easier. My strongest recommendation is to review a lingerie brand’s ready-to-wear collections to see if any of their current products are a close match for the design you have in mind.
Sometimes a bespoke product resembles an existing product with just a few small changes: in my case, ordering a 34GG instead of a 34G, which is fairly easy to do because of how band and cup sizes work together to describe breast volume. In addition, I thought the existing Eleanor collection would look beautiful in a vintage-inspired peachy-pink silk satin. Apart from size and color, this is a standard Harlow & Fox bra, with a few basic changes to make it one-of-a-kind. The costs for the bespoke bra and brief cover the one-time order of the pink silk, as well as the time required to pattern and sew a lingerie set that is not part of the main production run. Interestingly, with lingerie, sometimes a large bespoke request, like, say, a French lace tutu, is quite easy to produce, but something that seems like a small detail, like changing the number of rows of hooks from two to three, is prohibitively difficult or expensive.
Speaking of the French lace tutu! The term “bespoke” can include the creation of an entirely new garment, if the client chooses, and in my case we dreamed up this divine coordinating lace confection. I mentioned to Leanna that I was thinking of using ballet pink silk, and that I’d love to incorporate an explicit reference to ballet in an accessory piece. We looked at some petticoats and suspender belts as references, and Leanna developed this stunning tiered lace skirt that ties with a long silk satin sash. It’s wholly decadent and serves no “practical” purpose, and I love it with my whole heart. This piece was easy to fit, requiring only a waist measurement, but it also required the development of a new pattern, the cost of which is included along with the silk, (LOTS OF) lace, and construction time in the final price.
I could not be more thrilled with this gorgeous lingerie set. The fit is perfect: I seem to be settling back into a larger cup size in the last six months, so my 34G Harlow & Fox bras are just a smidge too small in the cup (sob). The 34GG bra gives me the same supportive fit in the band with a little more breathing room in the cup, so that all my breast tissue settles comfortably within the wires. The high-shine silk satin band, straps, and side panel feel luxuriously soft, while the all-lace cup is both sumptuous and delicate. The silk bikini-cut knickers feature a silk-lined center front panel, an all-silk rear, and tulle and French lace panels at the hips. A generous key-hole cut-out in back adds a cheeky note, trimmed with a pearl charm for a final special touch.
And again, the tutu! One of the great joys of having bespoke garments made just for you is making them your own; while the skirt is ABSURDLY DECADENT and impractical as underwear, I actually think it could be quite lovely as a capelet or wedding dress topper? Am I wrong?
In terms of logistics, the creation of this set was extremely easy on my end. I don’t have very strong design instincts; when someone says to me “you can choose ANYTHING!” I tend to get overwhelmed with indecision and either pick a plain black design or try to be bold and make it all, say, gold and glittery (and usually unwearable). Reviewing Harlow & Fox’s existing portfolio helped me focus on some basic shapes, I chose an aesthetic I hadn’t seen often in full-bust lingerie (a sort of mashup of ballet, Marie Antoinette, and a Harlequin romance novel cover) and then Leanna and I scheduled a video call to finalize details and review color swatches. In about 3-4 weeks, my beautiful set had crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York City!
This is one of the most precious lingerie sets I own. I used to get teased a lot growing up for loving anything that read as super-femme, and I was often told that my height, weight, and generally big frame meant that delicacy, softness, frills, and even light colors weren’t for me. Wearing something this beautiful, that was created precisely for my “too big” body, feels like such a gift, and it’s one I’ll treasure for a long time.
I hope that answers any questions you might have about the bespoke lingerie process, especially for full-bust lingerie! What do you think of my Aurora set? If you could design your own bespoke Harlow & Fox set, what would it look like?
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Bra, brief, and skirt: Harlow & Fox (bespoke). Standard size range is 30-38 DD-G, XS-XL; additional sizes available as bespoke orders.
Photos: Michi Rezin (guys I fucking love how these photos came out, Michi is a genius)