Interview with Norma of Orange Lingerie

Almost 10 years ago, I sat down with my morning coffee and the Sunday New York Times and flipped right to the style section. (I often still do!) I immediately became engrossed in a feature on custom bra fitting by Poupie Cadolle, proprietress and corsetière of the legendary Paris shop Cadolle. How romantic it all sounded (and expensive and slightly scary) to have a Parisian matriarch assess my silhouette and undergarment needs, and then proceed to hand-stitch a bra in a shell pink, perfectly complimenting my shape. I never in a million years imagined I’d end up making my own bras or even a custom one for a friend, but I have to admit a little excited part of me thought, “I should save up for an experience like that some day.”

Norma Loehr had a similar thought. Like me, she knows the pleasure and confidence of having lovely and well-fitted undergarments but finding a custom bra-maker proved impossible–unless she wanted to trek back and forth to France over multiple visits and hundreds of Euros. There had to be another way. Why not do it herself? She quit her Wall Street job and went back into the study of pattern-making and trained as a custom bra-maker.

Norma Loehr of Orange Lingerie

Today Norma runs Orange Lingerie, a custom bra business out of Chicago. She also has written a soon-to-be-published book about bra techniques for home sewists. I was excited to hear from her several months ago after I’d posted about one of my recent bras, and even more thrilled when she graciously offered to join our bra-making sew along. Norma loves to see more women sewing their own bras!

During the next couple weeks, Norma will be answering some select questions from you all in a regular “Ask the Expert” feature. She knows bra fit and style and works with a wide variety of women, so let’s take advantage of learning from her! On with the interview…

I read from your bio about how you got into bra-making but perhaps you could share a bit of that for my readers? Did you study with someone to learn bra-making or was it something you started doing on your own?

I started sewing lingerie around age 9. One of my first projects was making my own bikini style underwear! Over the years I loved creating garments that were the exact style and fit that I wanted. Growing up sewing made me very particular about getting exactly the garment I wanted and one that fits properly!

I kept designing and making my own clothes up until I started working on Wall Street and reached that point in my career where there was no time outside of work to pursue my creative interests. At that point I started having clothing made for me; however, I could not find anyone to make me bras. I have always loved lingerie and really wanted a custom fit and I was sure other women would be interested in this, too.

Finally reaching a point where I could quit working in financial services, I created Orange Lingerie. I already had the pattern making, construction and design skills, I just needed to learn how to fit bras on a variety of body types. Finding the classes at the traditional schools were focused solely on ready-to-wear and not on fitting to different sizes and shapes, I searched for someone to learn from and found a woman in Canada who taught fitting. So I moved to Canada for a few months to learn from her! After nearly a year of practicing on any woman who lend me her body for fitting in exchange for a bra, I started offering my custom bra making services to clients.

Orange Lingerie patterns

Were you already making things for others or simply wanting to make your own bras?

I have been sewing for over 20 years making a variety of garments both for myself and others. Custom bras were something I could not find. I knew I was not alone in wanting custom bras and I wanted to provide that service. I always enjoyed the tailor client relationship and wanted to create that same personal service in my business.

After reading that article on Poupie Cadolle, I got the impression that custom bra-making was still a secret or passing tradition. Have you met others in your field?

I have read about Madame Cadolle as well and learning about her existence was one of my inspirations for taking up bra making. While it may have been rare in the past, today there are a lot of independent lingerie designers and makers out there, many of them doing custom work as well. I always enjoy meeting up with them to talk about their work and compare notes.

Do you make more special occasion bras, or are most of your clients looking for an every day bra?

Most of my clients just want bras that fit so my commissions tend to be every day bras that women can wear every day under most garments.

Orange Lingerie, cream lace bra

This is kind of a funny subject but I also read in the NYT article about natural shaping in bras–and that women often want a perfectly rounded look. Do you have a preferred style in bra shaping?

Breasts are to some degree malleable and can somewhat conform to the cup you place them into. The rounded shape we see today is due largely to the popularity and prevalence of foam cups. (I have a entire post on the topic on my site: “Beyond Foam-Dome“.) Like Madame Cadolle, I dislike the rounded dome look favoring the natural look best suited to each individual client.

When working with clients, how long does the process usually take?

The process usually takes 4 to 6 weeks. Once I have a pattern for a client they can reorder the same style and fabrication. Any changes to either of those factors or any physical changes and I require another fitting prior to filling a repeat client order.

I’m sure you’ve come across some fitting challenges–what do you think is the most common problem in bra-fitting?

There are so many aspects of fitting it is hard to pick just one! Every client presents her own unique fitting challenge and I really enjoy solving the fit puzzle each time. Overall the most common issue I encounter is that women are not wearing the right size bra.


Thank you Norma for joining along with us! On the subject of bra sizes, tomorrow I’ll kick off the sew along with some tips on sizing and measuring for bra patterns. See you then!

{All images © Orange Lingerie}

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