Those familiar with composer Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” might describe the work as mysterious, graceful, colorful and intriguing. It’s also a fair description of a tiny lingerie shop tucked in Hawthorne Plaza in Overland Park.
By MARIA MARTIN
Special to The Star
Silky, satiny, wispy fabrics greet visitors who step into the shop. But while there’s an undeniable dreamy look to the place — filled as it is with a colorful selection of everything from negligees to panties — Terry Levine will tell you she opened it with a very practical ambition.
“We want to make women feel better about themselves,” says Levine. And that starts with a bra that fits well, she says.
“Our bras are our bread and butter,” says Levine, pointing to the “bra library” — a table filled with an assortment of shapes and sizes of beige bras. “We start here to see what style and shape is best for a woman.”
Levine says one statistic that’s often bandied about is that 85 percent of women in the U.S. are wearing a bra of the wrong size.
“We think it’s even higher,” says Levine, touching the fabric of a soft maroon nightgown. “It’s very rare that someone comes in here wearing a bra that really fits her.”
What sets the shop apart from the chain stores starts with the expert who cheerfully greets customers at the door. Whether she’s looking for a peignoir, panty or a new bra, staff members are trained to help her make the right choice.
“Everyone who works here can fit you,” Levine says, adding that her clients come to rely on the quality of products and a wider range of sizes than can be found at department stores or chain lingerie shops.
Cup sizes range from A to K, and the band width — where the bra wraps around the torso — ranges from 28 to 52. Women with full busts are often delighted to find colorful, pretty selections, Levine says.
“They don’t have to settle for boring, beige bras,” she says, holding up an ornate, colorful bustier, size 36E.
Levine laughs when asked if the shop’s name was inspired by her husband, co-owner Clair Keizer.
“Maybe just this much,” she says, holding her thumb and finger a tiny fraction apart. “I was trying to find the perfect name, and clair de lune is French for moonlight. I thought, ‘That’s perfect,’ ” she says.
The French name is also fitting because much of the stock of the store is from Europe. Chantelle is a best-selling bra brand, as are Fantasie, Panache and Curvy Kate.
“I try to find brands you won’t find in department stores,” she says. “And with the exception of some of the sleepwear, most of it is European. Frankly, Europeans know lingerie better.”
Though every woman needs basic beige or black undergarments, she points to a few trends: bright colors and elaborate detailing, bras with longer lines and bustier bras that come down further so you can show them off under button-down shirts. She holds up a pair of sheer, high-waisted underwear adorned with gold thread.
“These are making a comeback, as well, though I think they really only work well on tall, thin women,” she says, adding that thongs and smaller panties by companies like Mary Green and Hanky Panky are still best-sellers.
Running bras, as well as nursing and maternity bras, have been a fast-growing niche, she says.
“We get a lot of referrals from maternity stores because we go up to a bigger cup size,” she says, pointing to colorful nursing bras and a bright red nursing chemise.
“And it’s so great that nursing moms no longer have to settle for boring bras.”
Combining practical with pretty has helped keep the store thriving for the past 10 years, she adds. In fact, Levine and Keizer recently opened a second shop near St. Louis.
Levine says she started the shop in Kansas City because she saw a need for quality lingerie in a wide range of sizes, and she and her husband see the same need in the St. Louis area. The past 10 years have been challenging, but deeply rewarding, she says.
“Many women just hate bra shopping,” Levine says. “They say it’s like going to the dentist. So after we fit them with the perfect bra, we often hear, ‘That was fun.’ ”
And, Levine says, like Debussy’s “Clair du Lune,” that’s music to her ears.