Now on Fifth Avenue: Japanese Custom Bras

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A Japanese boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York specializes in customized bras. The owner feels American women don't pay enough attention to the bra as a supportive device.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's a culture clash going on under the clothes of more and more women. In New York City a posh Japanese lingerie store has been sizing up American bras and the women who wear them. They say Americans have it all wrong and for those who can afford it, Alison Bryce has, please pardon the expression, the scoop.

ALISON BRYCE reporting:

For American women bras are pretty straightforward. Whether they come off the rack or come from a box. There's suppose to fit comfortably and make a bosom look reasonably encased.

Here on Fifth Avenue, where some of the fanciest boutiques in town are located, women on the street see bras fitting their lifestyle.

Unidentified Woman #1: I've been wearing strapless bras lately, so I really like not having a strap showing.

Unidentified Woman #2: It fits me; it's push-up; it's very sexy Victoria Secret, and it fits me perfectly.

Unidentified Woman #3: I only wear sports bra and/or a strapless bathing suit when the sports bra is not entirely appropriate for that particular garment.

BRYCE: But experts at the Ripplu Store near Saks Fifth Avenue say that's absurd.

Ms. AKIMIE(ph) CARIRSO(ph) (Manager, Ripplu Store): American has beautiful women, but sometimes they need to take care of themselves.

Akimie Carirso is the manger of Ripplu. She's been in the bra business for 20 years, and for the last decade has been scrutinizing American women.

Ms. CARIRSO: If they take care of themselves more, I think that their beauty lasts long.

BRYCE: Ripplu sells this lacy garments that look bras you can find anywhere, but these items are meant to be worn very tightly.

MS. CARIRSO: Bras are supposed to support the back. Of course, skin will stretch little by little. That's the aging process. But if you keep wearing the bra, it's going to help to keep the shape.

BRYCE: Like braces, these bras are meant to manipulate breast tissue in such a way that they change the natural shape of the breasts, the way orthopedic shoes, for instance, are supposed to help problem feet. Akimie says that women of all sizes and frames must scoop everything they can possibly scoop into the cups of their bras. That means grabbing tissue under the shoulder blade and pushing it around and forward. Akimie says that women must be willing to scoop rigorously and scoop often.

Ms. CARIRSO: Some people need a lift; some people need cleavage. It's like art.

BRYCE: Akimie stands behind her customers and shows them how much goes into the cup.

(Soundbite of Akimie Carirso helping a customer)

BRYCE: The effect is dramatic. On this customer, there is cleavage where there has never been cleavage before.

(Soundbite of Akimie Carirso helping a customer)

BRYCE: The bosom is lifted, centered and secured. Arigo(ph) Fugimori(ph) is a loyal Ripplu customer. She says American women wear bras that allow their bosoms to rest too low on their body.

Ms. ARIGO FUGIMORI (Ripplu Customer): As soon as I started to wear this bra, I've noticed so many women have their breasts at the lower position, and it makes women a little older than her age.

BRYCE: The clients I saw at Ripplu were almost all Asian women. But store managers say they have more and more American clientele. Carona(ph) came here from the Bronx to try her first customized bra.

CARONA (Ripplu Customer): I'm really small when it comes to like between an A and a B, and I felt that coming here today I found the perfect bra. As going somewhere else, it's like they cater more to big breasted women. They teach you how to really put a bra on, how to scoop, make sure it fits.

BRYCE: Carona brought one bra and immediately made plans to come back and buy another. She took her 34B black, underwire out of the shopping bag just to admire it again. That kind of enthusiasm makes Akimie proud. She wants to get more American women in her shop.

Ms. CARIRSO: You don't need to obsess. Some women are very obsessive. They got so many plastic surgeries on boobs. That's too much. Everybody is wearing the bra, I hope. So just keep doing this. This is going to be your routine. This is going to be part of your life.

BRYCE: This little shop in Fifth Avenue is hoping to reshape America one bust at a time. For NPR News, I'm Alison Bryce.

(Soundbite of music)

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