Welcome back to my interview series with plus size/full-bust intimates designer Kim Hamilton! If you missed Part I, do check it out here. Today’s interview focuses exclusively on Kim’s graduate project, The Enigma Collection, and as luck would have it, I’m very close to her sample size, so Kim generously let me try it out for myself! I’m sort of mad I had to give it back, honestly, because it’s prettyyyyyy, plus y’all know how I feel about red lingerie.
A quick note: While I’m close to Kim’s sample size, I was not her fit model, so some pieces may not fit me precisely. These are literally one-of-a-kind pieces– we couldn’t exactly size up or down to tweak the fit. These pieces also haven’t been extensively fit-tested or prepped for factory production, so if something isn’t the best match for my body, it’s not a reflection of Kim’s technique, skills or knowledge, it’s just part of what the design and sampling process is like.
So, the Enigma collection! First of all, it’s totally gorgeous. Second of all, it’s the only sample collection I’ve ever seen produced in a G+ size. Did that present any unique challenges when it came to completing your coursework?
Thank you! I’m really pleased with the outcome of this project. You work on it for months and months, worried that you’ll fall out of love with it, or that you won’t like it and see all of the flaws and frustrations that went into it – but I’m still really happy with it. I just wish that I had made it in MY size so I could try it on!!
At university, we work nearly exclusively on 34B as our industry sample size. It’s that size and all the detailed measurements that are ingrained into our thoughts. 190mm overbust, 85mm root to Point of Bust measurement…they’re just tiny things we know as designers. With that said though, there are companies where 34B isn’t a good representative of their brand or available fit models (a great 34B model is incredibly difficult to find these days), so they may instead choose to sample in a 32C or 32D, there are very few rules in this industry.
My mentor, who had a huge influence in my large cup bra training, would use 32F quite often in demonstrations, and my own size, 34GG when we’d work on industry training projects together. There’s no true full-bust sample size, each brand can choose what works best for them. I know that just one of the many sample sizes used by Curvy Kate is a 32G.
I had actually tried to choose a larger size for my collection. My ideal model was a 32HH, but for the practicalities of my course, which involved giving a live presentation with models wearing my garments, 32HH was going to be near impossible. I couldn’t come close to rounding up four models. Instead, I settled on the 32GG and chose a fellow student who would be both my fit and photography model as I found her very proportionate and model-esque in stature, tall at 5’9” with a beautiful complexion, dark hair and skin tone. It’s all about that catalogue photo…
There were certainly complexities! Since we focus entirely on 34B and I had chosen to create 32GG — and hadn’t made any garments that exact size during my studies, it meant that I had no block patterns in my ‘library’ and had to start each pattern from scratch. It resulted in a lot of samples for my model to try. The other complexity was having really only one model to fit on, who was also in her final year doing her final collection.
With sample sizes of 32GG and size 12/14 (UK) knicker, did you have any difficulty finding fit models and models for the times you’ve showcased your final collection? How did casting for fitting and photoshoots work– did DMU assist with castings, or did you have to scout non-core-sized models yourself?
Like I said earlier, I had wanted to choose a model in a larger size, but I was struggling to find enough volunteers that were similar in size to make it work. I had an incredibly accommodating boss who let me do fitting and measuring sessions at the bra shop where I worked part time, so I was able to try a variety of product on my models for fit and take their anatomical measurements for comparison. It helped me find a few ladies who could do in a pinch and help with the presentation that I would have to give at the end of the project.
When I selected my fit model, it was part of the agreement that she’d be my model for the catalogue photoshoot that we arrange through the contour program. Professional models are hired for the day, there were two models that switched back and forth and shot 35 looks for all of the girls with 34B’s. My friend Sam, who also did a large cup latex collection, sourced her own professional model for her 32E design and I used a fellow student for my own, which was fantastic! I think she looks great in the photo.
She looks STUNNING– it’s a fantastic photo.
I did Western Canada Fashion Week in September and I was really worried about finding models for that show! I had to make six outfits to participate, so I literally threw together two outfits in less than 5 days, all while packing up my life in England to go home to Canada for six weeks, to prepare for my stint in Germany. I was able to access a Facebook group for models and I put out a call and started snooping through their photos and asking them for measurements. I found six women to meet with and found an outfit each one of them was happy with. It seemed too easy!
As a full-bust lingerie obsessive I’m super impressed by the varied shapes in your collection. Just to break it down for everyone, we’ve got:
- a three-part half-padded plunge basque paired with a standard brief
- a padded half-cup longline bra paired with a hipster brief
- a three-part non-padded balconette bra paired with a thong and high-waist suspender belt
- a four-part non-padded balconette bra paired with a super-high-waist brief
All of the knickers feature gorgeous keyhole and cut-out details in back, and the basque, longline bra, and suspender belt feature unusual two-part bands (which incidentally make it a little easier to get all the hooks fastened- genius!) Did you know ahead of time “these are the shapes I want to offer?” Were these shapes and patterns covered in-depth in your coursework, or were you on your own a little bit in terms of creating a GG+ final collection? Did you work off any existing products you really liked?
I love that you’re so into lingerie and get this! The styles I made were completely intentional. There’s a huge market research component to our degree collection. I did a very large (550+ responses) survey early in 2015, and these were some of the most popular shapes that were identified by my respondents. These also happen to be very popular/basic shapes for full-busts, but I wanted to put my own spin on them.
The Contour Fashion programme leader at DMU is a design-obsessed woman. She would literally shout (to remind us!) that a model spends just as much time walking back up the catwalk as she did down the catwalk, so make the back interesting! The double wings were just my way of trying to add some interest into the back of the pieces. Glad to hear that it made them easier to put on! I’ll need to remember that! I also love me some large keyhole naughty-esque knickers. The idea was that these were to be a little bit more sexy, sheer or silk backs, but not be over the top.
We are definitely on our own when creating our final collections. I think I felt it more so than some of the others. None of the current lecturers had any experience in large cup design, so I relied on my mentor (a past instructor) and a guest lecturer that we had in for software training during most of the term. You may not realise it, but the bulk of the work I did for this project was actually on the computer! My patterns were developed and finessed through industry pattern cutting software Lectra Modaris and the focus of my collection was to really focus on large cup grading.
Since I didn’t have block patterns for my collection, I had to base the styles off of commercially available bras. It’s helpful that I have an incredibly large assortment of bras in my stash, so some of the shapes may look very familiar! The plunge basque cup shape is based off of the popular ‘Satine’ plunge from Bravissimo. My full cup is based on a classic PrimaDonna cup shape, and the cup from the padded longline was inspired by a Masquerade bra in my drawer. The balconnette is really just a modified plunge, easy peasy!
I know you cover this in your portfolio, but I’d love for you to chat more about some of the “invisible” costs and labor that go into GG+ bras. You talk in your blog about how the runway version of Enigma would be modified for production to achieve a lower retail price point, like swapping the silk fabric for something else, or reducing the number of Swarovski crystal elements. Those changes are easy for an outside observer to see and appreciate, but what is it like sourcing, say, underwires in the shape you want, or wider elastics for the straps, or closures and powermesh in the precise shade you want? Do you actually specify your wire shapes, or are there some available for purchase that give you the fit you want for your collections?
Oh, the hidden costs! Well, if The Enigma Collection was to be produced for retail, I honestly couldn’t even tell you what it would cost. I never did a proper costing for the collection, and I’m tempted to sit down and do one now, after the fact, but I think it might scare me for shipping it across the Atlantic Ocean with no insurance! For this project in particular, yes, the silk (grey fabric) would have to be switched out for a simple satin, it likely wouldn’t be laser cut, but instead perhaps a print, and there wouldn’t be hand-glued Swarovski crystals on it–maybe just a few on the details at the base of the strap. I actually contacted a wire manufacturer in Germany and asked them if they would ‘sponsor’ me and make the wires I needed to my specifications. I did a ‘test’ run with them for my first project in the fall semester and it went really well without any problems and I got exactly what I needed. When I was ready I sent them them my CAD sketches and measurements and they were again able to produce what I needed. I was incredibly grateful, as the project would have been a struggle to achieve as it’s difficult to source high quality large cup underwires if you’re not already in the industry. All of my components needed to be dyed, so there was an additional cost to that. All of my foam, elastics, nylon denier and hooks and eyes were dyed a grey colour to match my mesh and silk.
In GG+ bras, there are higher costs due to choosing more suitable fabrics, having them laminated to the relevant stabilising linings, higher gauge underwires, stronger elastic shoulder straps and powernet for the wings, even the hooks and eyes cost a few cents more when you move from 2 hooks to 3 hooks on the back. I’d have to say that one of the biggest challenges with GG+ cups is finding a suitable factory, and they do charge more. Everything needs to be a lot more precise and the tolerances are incredibly small. Seams have to be sewn accurately, with anywhere from 0 – 8mm variation depending on the location. A large cup bra that’s been poorly sewn, designed or uses sub-par fabrics and components will reflect a poor fit.
I have to say, photos really don’t do your pieces justice– they look great in pictures, but they are GORGEOUS in person! I love the fiery electric red and grey color combination, and of course the shine of the silk and sparkle of the crystals. Can you give us just a quick overview of some of your design choices? If someone said “hey, we’d like to put this into production tomorrow”, would you make any changes or adjustments?
Oh, thank you so much! This project meant so much to me that I actually cried during my industry presentation when I had to explain the hidden message! I became so overwhelmed by the emotion behind the project and the sentiment. I tend to design things that have a bit of a story behind them, and I make them incredibly personal. It’s a reflection of who I am and where I’ve come from, what I believe in, or a period during my life. The collection as it looks now would never be put into production; it’s cost-prohibitive, and at the end of the day the university ‘owns’ the rights to our work. I’d rather let it be a statement about my time at university and that phase of my life, and design something even better for my first commercial collection.
My partner is British and has a huge interest in computers and technology as a lot of men do. We were always planning ‘dates’ to see new sights and museums, and he told me about Bletchley Park, which was home to the codebreakers during WWII. Again, I may come across as ignorant, but I didn’t have much knowledge of WWII when I arrived in the UK. When he showed me some of the photos from his last trip there, I was certainly intrigued.
On my first visit there I was mesmerized. There were so many interesting things to see and so much history and significance behind them and I was shocked to discover this whole section of more recent history that I just didn’t know anything about.
There were a few people that questioned how I turned all of this into lingerie, but for me it was incredibly important to try to reflect some of the history of the thousands of women who were working at Bletchley Park during the war. I wanted to design something for these incredibly strong women, something that was feminine, but not overtly so (no flowers or lace!), but more mechanical in design with a nod to the aesthetics of the 1940s. The colours had to be more modest and traditional, but taking the metallic grey from all of the metal componentry of the machines they used and the red from all of the cabling from the Bombe Machine which was used to decipher enemy codes. The braided red details are directly inspired by the plugs and cords coming right out of the back of the machine. The laser cut motif is also tied to the rotors on the Bombe Machine, with 26 lines radiating in a circle, representative of the 26 letters in the alphabet, found on both the Enigma machine and Bombe machine. The Swarovski crystals provide the ‘light’ which ties to the small bulbs that light up when a key is pressed on the Enigma machine to encrypt a message.
Between my first visit to Bletchley Park and the beginning of my final collection, The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch was released. The movie is based on the work of Alan Turing, known as the father of computing, who was the man who cracked Enigma. In the movie, the characters share a quote “sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.” It is this quote that I had laser cut, just like the old computer punch tape, into ribbons on the centre front of each bra, and also trimmed to be used as covers on the suspender grips.. The deeper meaning behind this quote holds a strong emotional sentiment to me. I feel that I have chosen a path in life that many people would never have expected of me. On the surface, many people thought that my old life was rather perfect, it looked like I had it all together, but it was so far from the truth. I made some incredibly life-changing decisions that have challenged every fibre of my being as I resist change, but it’s been the most incredibly rewarding journey, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s really just beginning.
Huge thanks to Kim for sharing her story with me! I can’t wait to follow the Kimtimates journey. Do you have any questions for Kim? Let us know in the comments!
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Stockings: Pretty Polly, in barely black
Shoes: T.U.K. Shoes
Hair Flowers: Mimosa Floral Design Studio, Brooklyn
Photos: Studio Rezin