Ten years ago on Melrose

For the first time in my life, I notice my boobs are different sizes. Shrouded in the dark floral walls of the Agent Provocateur fitting room, I model for a mirror and a stranger a padded green three-quarter cup bra called Nikita, with a matching satin suspender belt and thong. I think I’m supposed to feel sexy, but the only thing I’m feeling is naked.

“Half of all women have uneven breasts,” says the Melrose agent. Until now, I’d never discerned the difference in mine; a shallow 32a, I’d never worn a bra that fit better than a vague, well-it-covers-everything way. And suddenly, in this daring, low-cut satin bra, my boobs made manifest the variation of their size. Before this, the only bra I’d ever owned was an overly practical Calvin Klein t-shirt bra, the simple – and I imagine only – function of which was to form a mounded, nipleless, Barbie-esque silhouette under my clothes. Aged nineteen, I knew very little about lingerie, and obviously less about my own body.

Catholic guilt is real. Growing up, lingerie was either practical or hedonistic without compromise; there was nothing aesthetic, least of all self-indulgent, about it. If you wanted nice underwear not torn from a Hanes economy pack, it was presumably for fucking. And fucking in almost any case, and certainly never with the lights on, was not pope-approved. So nice lingerie? Hell no.

But at nineteen, I moved to Los Angeles, where, qualified somehow by my experience in selling luxury chocolates, I unexpectedly landed a job as a lingerie fitter. My French roommate, upon learning this news, was enthusiastic to supplement my lack of knowledge on the subject. Opening her own bra drawer, she awakened me to a myriad of shapes, fabrics, and silhouettes. She told me that girls in France bought beautiful bras with their mothers – not for boys but for themselves. She imparted upon me a more nuanced philosophy of lingerie: of how my body should look, of how things could fit, of beauty outside the mold of Victoria’s Secret.

Maschina bodysuit by Agent Provocateur, harness by Hopeless Lingerie | SUPERSTITIONS
Macabre details like barbed wire embroidery and serrated, razor-edged elastic make Maschina hauntingly beautiful. Part of the iconic Pirates and Witches collection from 2008. Styled here with a Hopeless Lingerie harness.

Lingerie was among my first lessons in an inchoate education about my body, an education that my all-girls high school failed me during adolescence. At nineteen, I could describe in better detail the theme of repressed sexuality in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist than I could the appearance of my own breasts. As it turns out, no one likes to talk about women’s bodies, least of all their idiosyncrasies.

But working as a lingerie fitter, learning and talking about people’s bodies became my job. Body image, confidence, size, posture, breast augmentation, breastfeeding, aging: my work bared these issues to me in a way I’d never seen before, literally. I’ve seen more boobs than anyone I’ve dated. Spoiler alert: no two bodies are the same – even my identical sister and I wear different bra sizes. But if there were a recurring theme among all of the people I talked to – a topic I promise to elaborate on one day – it was that most women don’t know very much about their bodies at all.

And that is by design: to know your body is the first step towards pride in it. This fact was proselytized, guarded and exploited by religious leaders, politicians, writers and artists for centuries. As John Berger so perfectly observed, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman.” Vanity. A sin worse than murder. Indeed, a deadly sin.

Enter Agent Provocateur, replete with decadent lace and bows, salacious straps and sumptuous satins: beauty, sex, vanity.

June romper by Agent Provocateur | SUPERSTITIONS
The June romper vibes a glamorous 80s drama divorcée, with a dark floral print on a sumptuous silk-satin and elbow-length flutter sleeves. From the summer 2016 collection. Worn here with Lorna suspenders and pastel lavender stockings, also both Agent Provocateur.

Ten years ago, I’m in the Agent Provocateur boutique on Melrose Avenue for the first time, stripped in front of Berger’s proverbial mirror, a dazzling floral wallpaper reflecting off my unfashionably pale and fuzzy body. In this moment, Agent Provocateur is no longer just a glamorous Kate Moss sauntering down a stairwell in a life I’ll never have – I’m in its walls, and I’m trying on bras beyond my budget. As I put on the first bra that’s ever actually fit me, I realize for the first time in my life that my boobs are different sizes.

“Half of all women have uneven breasts,” says the Agent, and I know this is true because I’m a newly-appointed lingerie “expert.” And in this moment, I find it all very funny. Funny because, if 50% of women do or don’t anything, you’re weird no matter what. Funny that nineteen years into my life, I apparently had no idea what my own breasts looked like. And funny that standing there, glaring imperfections and all, I felt, in my enlightenment… I don’t know, beautiful?

Eleanor roll-on by Agent Provocateur | SUPERSTITIONS

The heart lace on Eleanor was a unique detail back in 2007. This roll-on (and the matching bra) was one of my first AP pieces, and it remains one of my favorites.