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Intimate wear is out on the racks for this boutique entrepreneur

By Cindy Atoji Keene

For the uninitiated, today’s lingerie styles can sound like race-car design elements: racer backs, convertibles, steam punk corsets, gussets, rib bands, mesh fabrication, maxi models. And in fact, a good bra is based heavily on product engineering, said Rachel Wentworth, proprietor of Forty Winks in Harvard Square. “Technology helps provide both support and comfort,” said Wentworth, who is co-owner with Meredith Donaldson of the boutique store, opened over a year ago by these two independent businesswomen.

A decidedly unromantic business plan, including 12 pages of cash flow analysis, went into the making of Forty Winks, and Wentworth said despite skepticism about their endeavor into intimate wear – “many people didn’t take us seriously” – she decided to delve into the world of underwear, which is typically dominated by European lines but now competing with smaller independent designers. “American women are starting to understand the importance of wearing good lingerie as an important part of their appearance and a part of a complete outfit,” said Wentworth.

With no two bodies created exactly the same, Wentworth said that Forty Winks, the name derived from an old idiomatic saying meaning “cat nap,” carries a range of sizes and styles, starting at 30A specialty bras and ending at an “H” cup size. “Sizes can go as high as M, but that’s not our customer,” said Wentworth. “Many people don’t even think about undergarments while others find it absolutely necessary to make investments in good pieces that make you feel beautiful while wearing them.”

Q: There is a trend toward “green” lingerie. What exactly does that mean?
A: Sustainability fashion has been the force behind intimate wear made of organic cotton, recycled polyester and nylon, hemp, bamboo, and other fabrics. We also try to carry products that have stories behind them, such as those that were started by single moms or made in cooperatives in India.

Q: What goes into this business that you didn’t expect?
A: The huge wide range of sizes and shapes that we encounter. You need to be able to figure out what styles work best for different anatomies, and this can get very technical. We’ve also been surprised by the amount of therapy some women want. We end up consoling and encouraging women about their body image and giving emotional support. The fitting room can be a very personal place.

Q: What’s new for the fall?
A: A lot of navy as well as silk and lace mix. Garments have a little more structure yet are still very delicate. Look for pieces that are very feminine but have the infusion of a harder edge.

Q: What are the lingerie trade shows like?
A: Twice a year, we attend the Curve Lingerie show in New York City. We do all our major buying during these three days, while also networking with fellow boutique owning friends. It’s a bit mind-numbing writing out all the orders, but we enjoy seeing all the new lines.

Q: Has Lady Gaga’s attire influenced the offerings in your store?
A: I don’t think our customers are necessarily buying more lingerie because of Lady Gaga but there’s definitely a trend toward wearing lingerie as outwear. Of course, they don’t shot sparks though.

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