In this age when it seems no topic is taboo, it’s surprising to find one issue that women are still loath to talk about. No matter how close girlfriends may be, chances are good they’ve never swapped bra stories.
Yet Susan Nethero has heard them all. Tales of straps that sag, wires that jab and clasps that pinch make up the bulk of her conversations with women at Intimacy, the Phipps Plaza shop she founded 20 years ago. The store, which has since grown to 18 locations across the country, was born out of the Connecticut native’s own experiences and the desire to help other women battle bad-bra syndrome.
“I struggled with bra fit my entire life,” admits Nethero, who lives in Brookhaven. “Even when I was young, I was so small that my mother took me to New York to find those hard-to-come-by sizes. When I traveled, I always took the opportunity to shop in specialty stores to find bras. It was an agenda for me.”
But it was never a topic she discussed with anyone, Nethero said. “Because size is so personal, we just don’t talk about it. But when someone knows a person is struggling, they’ll tell them to come here. Our best resources are our customers.”
Nethero moved to Atlanta 25 years ago, and within a year she’d left the corporate world and started planning a store. When the business was in its infancy, she signed on to carry a line of bras designed by June Kenton, England’s “royal bra fitter.” Now 75, Kenton has been outfitting royal figures since 1982, and she shared her secrets with Nethero.
“I remember doing a seminar with her, and we began practicing her fitting methods right away,” said Nethero. “Her line also featured fuller cups — F, G and H — and brought needed color. They weren’t just beige, black or white; they became exciting fashion pieces.”
Nethero went on to her own share of intimate fame, earning the nickname “the bra whisperer.” In 2005, she announced during an appearance on Oprah that 85 percent of women were wearing the wrong bra, and it created what she dubbed a “bra revolution.” Today, Intimacy sells about 70,000 different bras. The flagship Phipps location has more than 15,000 in 90 sizes and 75 styles, from the everyday basics to sports and strapless.
“At one time, the standard went from A to DD, but now, that’s laughable,” said Nethero. “Today, we go on from A to K as we’ve seen the need for fuller sizes.”
Over the years, Nethero has watched bras follow the same fashion influences as other clothing. The stores stock a variety of bras created by European designers using intricate straps, detailed lace and a rainbow of colors.
“Red is very big right now,” she said. “But the best thing about our bras is that even if they’re lacy and look fragile, they’re functional and strong, and designed to last a long time.”
While many women mistakenly stick to the same size for too long, Nethero and a team of female fitters educate customers on what makes a perfect match. During 30-minute personalized sessions, they help customers try on a range of styles that fit well enough to create dramatic changes.
“Every day, people come in disbelieving that we can help, but the results are often quite shocking,” said Nethero. “A bad bra can make a woman look saggy and frumpy, but the right bra can actually make her look taller and slimmer.”
The one aspect that keeps customers coming back is comfort, said Nethero.
“That’s the biggest thing,” she said. “We can also give them beauty and style, but for most women, it’s having that comfort that brings the most tremendous relief. Giving women that comfort is what’s made this so much fun.”
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