La Bellissima: Bras or Bust
La Bellissima creates a comfortable and fun atmosphere where women find beautiful bras that fit right and feel great.
Oprah’s bra intervention episodes featuring “The Bra Whisperer” Susan Nethero have started a sensation. Women everywhere are learning they’re not only wearing the wrong bra size, they’re wearing it wrong – and by getting fitted by bra-fit experts like Nethero, they’re comfort and confidence are dramatically skyrocketing.
We are fortunate to have Kathy Basista, a hometown bra whisperer, in Crystal Lake – but don’t expect “whispers” at her boutique La Bellissima. Although Basista takes her job seriously in terms of finding perfect-fitting bras for her clients, the atmosphere at the shop is light, fun and laidback – with lots of laughter.
The shop, which opened in 2007, is on the main floor of a two-story Victorian a few doors down from the Raue Center for the Arts. Jazzy renditions of ’70s rock piped through the shop sets the tone – think Peggy Lee meets The Doors. Bras, panties and other intimates line the pink-and-brown walls and are fanned out on vintage dressers. Ornate white molding frames the entryways and windows. Accessories, bath and body products, jewelry by Triskele Moon Studios and designer handbags are displayed throughout the store.
Toward the back, both dressing rooms in the boudoir are almost always occupied. Overheard between Basista and her clients is mostly straight talk about cup size, strap comfort and bra care, but there’s also a lot of joy. And when Basista checks on a client who’s just tried on the perfect bra, you’d think someone just won the jackpot. To the client, she has.
“What used to be a dreaded shopping excursion isn’t so painful,” Basista said. “Most of the time we have ladies in the fitting rooms and several waiting. There’s a lot of laughter and conversation – even between strangers. Ladies realize that we all are amazing and not those airbrushed models in a magazine.”
The Right Fit
Most women know that a bra that fits makes the most of their figure and helps their clothing fit and hang properly, but there is more to the story, Basista said.
“Breast tissue – large or small – is heavy,” she said. “A bra that doesn’t fit can cause problems with spinal alignment and posture, not to mention back and neck pain. I have several chiropractors that send their patients to me as part of their treatment.”
Clients are free to browse the shop, and bra fittings – which can take 10 minutes to an hour – are by walk-in only.
The ‘La Bellissima Experience’
Creating a safe, comfortable space is part of the La Bellissima experience Basista works hard to create at the shop. She remembers clients’ names and their likes and dislikes, and in return, clients often pop in just to say hello.
“I try very hard to make sure that I spend as much time as each gal needs to feel right in her bra,” she said. “If it’s not right, I try to make it right. I also try to educate each lady on how a bra works and what to look for when they are in a fitting room. I also go over proper care. You don’t get that in a big box store.”
Quality and Quantity
La Bellissima is chock-full of gorgeous, colorful intimates of all sorts of materials, prints, styles and textures for every size. The majority of her brands are exclusive to the boutique market. “I carry Aubade, Simone Perele, Andres Sarda, Prima Donna, Conturelle, Marie Jo, Goddess, Freya, Fantasie, Hanky Panky, Calida, Yummy Tummy, Kenan and Tia Lyn,” Basista said.
These lines are unique because they not only offer more varieties than department store brands, but they are guaranteed to last longer with proper care. “Most of the bras on the market today have a wearing life of three to six months,” she said. “[The bras I carry] fit and last up to 18 months with everyday use.”
So what look are women going for these days? “With the popularity of ‘Mad Men’ series, the retro ’60s look has taken off,” she said.
One trend that never goes out of style is fit and comfort. “Pretty is nice too, but only if it can be worn comfortably,” Basista said.
How Kathy Basista’s “What If?” Became a Reality
She could have just enjoyed her empty nest and retirement in 2006, but Kathy Basista – who has a degree in fashion merchandising and spent 22 years in the corporate world – was ready to do something fun. She always wanted to open a boutique, and after a lifelong frustration of trying to find pretty bras that fit, she thought maybe she could learn about bra fitting. “All my girlfriends in high school could wear pretty little bra and panty sets and I got grandma’s bras,” she recalled. “The more gals I talked with, it seemed that most of them were as frustrated as I was – large or small. So I started thinking, ‘What if?’”
The market for bra fitting was lackluster in the States, however, so she signed up for a class in September 2006 at the Fashion College of London. “Three days before I was to leave for London, the class was canceled,” she said. “I went anyway. I marched myself into Rigby & Peller for a bra fitting. They fit Queen Elizabeth II and were supposed to give the class – apparently I was the only student that had signed up for it. Anyway, with my background in sewing, I thought I could pick up something on how to fit and go from there. The universe was smiling on me that day because the lady who fit me had been a bra-fitter for 25 years and she was training someone. I told her what I was doing and she answered all my questions and let me follow her for a short while. I couldn’t touch her clients, but I sure could see different body shapes and sizes and ask questions.”
Upon her return to the States, she saw SOL Store of Lingerie out of Denver on “The Today Show” talking about fitting. “I e-mailed the owners (two sisters) and asked would they be willing to train me,” she said. “They said yes and I went to Denver in November 2006 for a week of classroom and hands-on fitting. In between the London and Denver trips, I found the downtown Crystal Lake store location. It just felt right.”
Three years after it opened, La Bellissima is bustling with happy busts. “It has been an amazing journey – I have been so blessed,” she said. “The women have been incredibly loyal and fun. They have told their friends, sisters, cousins, mothers, grandmothers and co-workers. I love the intimacy and warmth of being smaller and knowing my customers.”