For lingerie brands, how women feel about their breasts is a multi-million dollar question. Which is presumably why Skims, the label founded by Kim Kardashian, has asked this very question of a slew of famous women, including model and actress Brooke Shields, 57, comedian Chelsea Handler, 47 and actress Juliette Lewis, 49, in a series of videos to promote the launch of its new bra range.
“Embrace them,” urges Handler, wearing a semi-transparent beige bra. “For a long time I was really embarrassed about how big my breasts were, and I would tape them down before I went to school. It took me till I was about 40 to understand that my boobs are awesome.”
So awesome, it appears, that they deserve to be displayed to their best advantage by that most maligned of items, the underwired bra. Handler, Shields and Lewis all appear wearing Skims’ new “Weightless Bra”, a style whose wired cups represent an abrupt change from the soft-cup bras and bralettes that have found favour in recent years.
Lockdown might have seen women choose comfort over cantilever, but post-lockdown, wired, sexier bras are enjoying a surge in popularity, with John Lewis reporting a 45 per cent rise in sales this year, while sales of non-wired bras in the same period fell by a third. Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer’s bestselling bra is the underwired plunge, part of a range designed by the model Rosie Huntington Whiteley. The store reports that 2.8 million have been sold since its launch in 2012.
Skims might be best known for its seamless, wireless shapewear, but it did not become a $3.2 billion brand a mere three years after its launch by failing to capitulate to changing trends. Launched by Kardashian and Swedish entrepreneur Jens Grede in 2019, the brand’s inclusive attitude to sizing and colours ensures its products cater to women of all shapes and ethnicities, a strategy that has paid huge dividends. According to Skims’ CEO, Emma Grede, customer demand is insatiable. She points out that it took Nike 10 years to get to a valuation of $100 million, but it took Skims six months.
Not content with shaping women’s bottoms and bellies, Skims is now coming for our breasts – and making big promises that its new underwired bras will deliver maximum support with minimal discomfort. According to Kardashian: “Skims promises to deliver unparalleled levels of comfort and support by designing the most comfortable and confidence-boosting bras no one will want to take off.”
As marketing strategies go, it’s a far cry from the famous Wonderbra ad campaign of 1994, in which the model Eva Herzigová smiled down at her own underwired cleavage and a slogan that proclaimed: “Hello, Boys.” The double-entendre was hardly subtle: á wasn’t just addressing her breasts, but the legions of men titillated by her provocative image.
But times have changed since 1994, and women no longer want to be sold lingerie viewed through the prism of the male gaze. In the video for the new Skims bra, Brooke Shields pointedly refers to her breasts as “the girls”, and talks up the bra’s comfort. “It’s really smooth but it also pushes the girls up and in, a little bit, which I like,” she says. “And it doesn’t dig in.”
While Herzigová was 21 when she shot the Wonderbra campaign, Shields is almost four decades older, at 57. Earlier this month, 53 year-old model and photographer Helena Christensen was revealed as the model for the lingerie brand Coco de Mer. With older women routinely used as ambassadors for beauty brands, that they should also be visible in advertising campaigns for lingerie brands is a practice that’s long overdue.
While some might view the return of the underwire as a desire for sexier, push-up styles, a more likely reason is that women are seeking more structure from their bras in response to the current trend for structured tailoring. Older customers are particularly likely to appreciate the extra support that an underwire bestows. Wire-free bras might be comfortable, but for women bigger than a D cup, they’re not always an option.
Whether Skims’ new “Weightless Bra” will actually deliver on its promise, customers will have to wait until September 27 to find out, when the new range launches globally. Promotional material breathlessly details the “invisible feel”, “woven 3D fabrics and air foam cups that create subtle shapes with none of the bulk. It will come in five colours and in 44 sizes from 32A to 46DDD. Prices range from £44 to £68.
Kim Kardashian may be a divisive figure, but even her harshest critics will surely have to simmer down if the 41-year-old reality TV star and business mogul manages to design the impossible: an underwired bra that women don’t want to remove, wincing, the moment they step through their front door.