October 17, 2017 | Rome, Italy | °C

When a Bra Was a Bra

Sophia Loren, 1962: "Sex appeal is half what you've got and half what people think you've got."Sophia Loren.
By Stephanie Gruner
Published: 2008-08-01

he women who run Treppiedi, a tiny shop in the center of Rome, have over the years made custom lingerie for the world's most glamorous women. Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Anita Ekberg for her role in "La Dolce Vita" and Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra," to name a few.

Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra.

I'm neither glamorous nor famous, but on assignment to check out the custom-made trade, I landed on Treppiedi’s doorstep — a little afraid to enter.

I'm not much of a lingerie shopper. The discounted cotton briefs on Victoria's Secret tables serve me just fine. There’s also the language issue. I speak Italian well enough, but it’s moments like these that you realize how limited your vocabulary really is.

As I stood there checking out the bustiers and negligees in the shop window, I struggled to think of the word for brassiere, the item I had decided to have custom-made. In fact, I couldn’t think of any boob-related words. For example, how to explain I wanted cleavage?

"Ho voglia di essere piú robusta?” Non credo.

Catarina Severini, left, and Rosanna Di Napoli.

Spotted by the shopkeepers, I went inside. There were no other customers. Just two serious-looking women behind the counter who in seconds sized me up as one, a tourist, and two, a size C in a size B Warner cup.

Treppiedi has changed a lot over the years. Back in the 1970s, it was in a more fashionable square in Rome, Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, in a building that now houses Louis Vuitton. It was a grand old salon filled with pictures of the famous women who shopped there. In 1989, founder Marcella Trepiedi retired and le ragazze, the four "girls" now in middle age who had worked there since their youth, added a "P" to the store’s name and moved to more affordable quarters on Via del Teatro Valle near Corso Vittorio, in an area known for its artisans.

If you weren't looking for the shop, you would walk right past it. It's small, and something about the bright lighting, all those fussy little boxes on the shelves, and even the manikins in the window make it look dated. But some things never change, and the service offered is still remarkable.

The artisans at this bustaia are among a dwindling tribe of corset-makers who still make brassieres, corsets, bustiers and even bathing suits to order. While luxury as a category cheapens each year — with designers pandering to everyone with products that scream rich, but are mass-produced in China — the luxury of having something that’s one of a kind and made especially for you never goes out of style.

I didn't have an appointment and, as it turns out, didn't need one. The language wasn’t a problem. I kept it simple. I explained that I had a slender back for my bra size, and had trouble finding ones that fit.

Rosanna Di Napoli, who has worked at this business since age 16, actually required a fair amount of convincing that I needed a custom-made bra. In addition to making items from scratch, they alter already-made bras and also off-the-shelf bathing suits to make them fit better. She said this option would cost me less and work out just fine. The expense of having a bra custom made, when it wasn't for a wedding or some special anniversary, wasn't necessary. She pulled out bras from boxes on the shelves to explain what she meant. In the end, I opted for one of each — a custom-made bra and a refit. The decision made, the custom-making process began.

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