Here at The Holborn, I am pretty sure the gentlemen readers vie for the day when they have made a full transformation into Donald Draper, Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, advertising titan and all round ‘hunkatron’ – ‘cause let’s be honest – he is not just hot, he’s ‘toasted.’ For us girls, our corresponding Mad Men lady crush would have to be Joan Holloway, the woman of cor’ blimey curves and possibly the only one in the world to make a pea green tweed ensemble look cracking. I could go on for many minutes about Christina Hendricks’ perfect hourglass figure and attempt to emulate it with a girdle and some industrial tape if it wasn’t slightly straying from my point. However, in all her knock-out glory. I am always vexed at how she maintains that enviously brow furrowing figure of hers. My curves are never that smoothly silhouetted, for the attempts I make to keep it sexy always seem to escape out the top of my Bridget pants. Cut the base out of a muffin case and you have the perfect image of a muffin malfunction.
When researching vintage lingerie and the scary world of girdles, I became engrossed in the glamour that I discovered from What Katie Did (whatkatiedid.com). Oh what wonders that come from the excessive amount of time I spend on the internet – and what a pleasurable discovery it was. One way that I thought to cure me of myself of my current obsession with 1950s was to just get the whole look out of my system. If you can’t beat ‘em, spend a fortune and revel in your sumptuous indulgences. So I made my way towards Portobello Road, a hotspot for tourists, but also the home of a vintage inspired lingerie boutique in the cosy cubby corner of Portobello Green’s small shopping arcade.
I walked gingerly through the door, as lingerie shopping to me always seems to be an exercise which prods at my self-conscious side. A glamorous woman, in true ardour to that of Dita Von Teese stood behind the counter – long raven black hair half victory curled, eyelinered eyes and a slick of ruby lipstick. After doing the routine ‘poke a few garments’ and ‘move some hangers side to side‘, I launched into my prepared speech that really didn’t sound prepared at all. The woman’s scarlet smile instantly made me feel at ease as I stuttered my reasons for visiting the shop that day.
It was Katie Thomas who founded the company, What Katie Did in 1999 and since then it has become one of the world’s leading faux vintage lingerie brands. Inspired by glamour of silver screen movie stars of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the brand has been recognised today by models and film and TV stars alike including Emma Watson, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Kate Moss, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn and Christina Hendricks herself, of which I give an appreciative nod.
At the store, the signature style is the Bullet Bra; a curiously conical contraption reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s perfect ‘sweater girl’ silhouette – I wasn’t used to the style myself, but who am I to question Miss Monroe’s fashion savvy sense? Heck, we’re still all trying to be her. Marilyn was said to model herself off Marlene Dietrich, a German actress and singer in the 1920s.
Marlene proved to be quite the influential model, for she inspired a range of lingerie that Katie designed – a style of brassiere that moulds the cup shape into a subtle point. Thomas revived this kind of vintage style and her designs have since then appeared in a plethora of period dramas including Call The Midwife, BBC’s Sherlock, and Miss Marple, as well as appearing in Oscar wining movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
After deciphering my curvy credentials, the girl that was helping me disappeared into the back to find my requests and emerged with a satin-stitched selection for me to choose from. When I’d perused the website previously, I’d seen several photo shoots that featured Katie Thomas’s designs in such high fashion magazines as Vogue and Harper‘s Bazaar – the former in which Claudia Schiffer was shot wearing the bullet bra style in midnight blue satin. I don’t need to tell you how fantastic she looked, but in case you wanted reminding I’ll give you a sneaky peek.
Whilst mid way through my briefing, a familiar face took charge of my custom who I’d seen on the online site to be the manageress, Hannah Barley. She led me into the luxurious fitting room furnished with a velvet chair, side table and fully sized ornate mirror for scrunching my nose at as I observed my flawed bits and pieces. After being offered a beverage and a quick pep talk on how to manoeuvre ones self in this style of shape wear, (lean forward and wriggle about) I began my busty business.
Usually, trying clothes on is a daunting task that I, before beginning it, cross myself that it doesn’t end in tearing the curtains down and running out the store crying wrapped in them because that’s the only thing that seems to fit. Even though gold-framed photographs of gorgeous (but enviably slim and trim) girls embellished the boutique’s wall of fame, I was encouraged with the mind set that the fifties female figure and indeed the whole sense of the burlesque gave me a metaphorical wink of approval for any extra curves that I carried.
I left the store feeling delighted with my purchases; their signature Harlow bullet bra in peach satin and one in black from their Maitresse range with matching knicks. It’s not every Monday afternoon that I find myself squeezing into girdles, waist-cinchers and waspies, but maybe I should make a note of doing. Visit the What Katie Did website or take a trip to their Portobello boutique to find your perfect set.