The Bra Whisperer of Brooklyn

As sales at retail stores like Victoria’s Secret fall, one small lingerie shop in Boreum Hill benefits from its custom touch.

Iris of Iris Lingerie.

Iris of Iris Lingerie.

True love at first sight? How about bras that really fit at first sight? At Iris Lingerie, you can walk in and out with a custom fit bra in under 15 minutes. 

“I don’t know. I can’t explain the eyes that I have,” said Iris Clarke, 63, the shop’s owner, who takes one look at your old bra, and finds you a new one. “How do I know to put this bra first time?” says Clarke, whose accent is a carry over from her homeland, Belize.

The desire for “fit for you” and the ever-changing woman’s body has made the custom bra more appealing for consumers. And that suits Clarke just fine. “Women have become fuller,” said Clarke who sees more customers with sizes G to L and even M than ever before. 

Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn, NY.

A drawer at Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn

“When women walk into my shop, I throw their bras away a lot because they don’t fit right,” said Clarke. “It doesn’t hold up right and probably because it’s not right.”

Meanwhile, big lingerie retail chains like Victoria’s Secret have had a decrease in sales. Parent company L Brands showed a 7 percent decrease in sales in its’ 2018 fourth quarter reports compared to the fourth quarter of 2017. Over the past two years, sales dropped 8 percent from 2016 to 2017, and 6 percent, respectively, from 2017 to 2018.  Earlier this year, Victoria’s Secret announced the closure of 53 stores. 

“All this from old school that I’ve learned I bring in with me to my own business that no other place is doing,” said Clarke, who went from the business of designing to the business of fitting. “[At] Victoria Secret you can’t do that; you cannot even change a hook on a bra.”

  • Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn, NY.
  • Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn, NY.

Iris Clarke arrived in the United States at the age of 16 in 1972. She learned to fit bras from the mother of the children she used to nanny, who owned a lingerie shop in Borough Park, Brooklyn. It was fate, Clarke found her calling and went on to work at Bloomingdales, had a baby, went back to college at Kingsborough Community College for fashion merchandising and began designing bras for major lingerie distribution companies. 

Her last stop? Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It was 11 years ago, and she remembers saying to herself: “Why am I giving [these companies] my knowledge?” So she decided to open Iris Lingerie on Atlantic Avenue just below a wedding shop. 

Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn, NY.

Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn, NY.

Past the dresses and down 10 steps in the back and to the right, Iris Lingerie is quaint and charming. The small cluttered space, roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment in New York, brings a level of comfort, like trying on bras in your friend’s mom’s closet you weren’t supposed to be playing in as a little girl. 

There are a few changing rooms divided by white striped curtains. The work room to the right of the changing rooms is tight, with employees squeezing around one another. There is a center square table and surrounding cabinets and drawers that feel endless. Bras hang overhead, lay in drawers, on the table, and within arms reach at all times; each drawer, container, and rack labeled by size. Clarke swiftly turns and grabs a nude bra from behind her, explaining how a properly crafted bra is built.

Clarke has an honest, take charge attitude, and it’s clear her input, even with four part-time employees, is in every aspect of the business. When you enter, Clarke takes one look at you and knows exactly what you need. 

Iris of Iris Lingerie.

Iris of Iris Lingerie at her desk

“I can look at your body, no tape measure, and just give you a proper bra,” said Clarke. “The first time always works for me.”

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