So this is a designer spotlight I’ve slept on for a while. I’m not entirely sure why – perhaps because in my little lingerie bubble in Sydney, everyone knows about Bordelle, and often puts their wallet on the sacrificial altar to the goddesses of luxe kink.
That being said, having a poke around the internet, there actually isn’t that much out there about Alexandra Popa and her luxury lingerie (and body wear) label, Bordelle.
So I’ll share with you what I’ve found.
The brand was founded in 2007 with London-based Alexandra Popa at the helm and Javier Suarez working to bring to life the designs that would change the way a lot of people look at lingerie as outerwear – show those straps, y’all.
It was then launched in 2009 in London at Selfridge’s, and by one account, sold out within the first 24 hours.
One of the interesting (and appealing) choices Popa made with the designs for Bordelle was to actually make the straps (gasp) functional. This choice, in many ways is why Bordelle was able to work – rather than attempting to produce all the core bra sizes, Bordelle decided to focus down on 3 (now 5) highly adjustable sizes.
Popa attributes this relatively novel approach to the fact that when she started in lingerie, she was an outsider in the industry, studying Economics and Management in uni, rather than fashion. Lucky enough to fund her business through a family loan, she consistently re-invested in the brand throughout the years.
As with many designers, it seems the first few years were spent striking the right balance in their designs – and included a Christmas lingerie capsule collection for Selfridge’s in 2013 that retailed for 3K GBP (a piece), with gold filigree, Swarovski crystals and the now-standard luxe fabrics from the Bordelle team. (These pieces reportedly took 7-10 days each to make). In the next year, they also launched a swimwear collection.
In 2020, the studio launched a “Bordelle Revived” collection, where what would otherwise be deadstock fabrics and materials from older collections are used in a new way, often with simpler silhouettes – potentially because of the amount of material left, or the desire to use as much of it as possible.
How I was introduced to them
I was introduced to Bordelle after I moved to Sydney from upstate NY, by the lovely Meg at babylikestopony. It was 2015, and the first ever thing I purchased from her shop (oh, if I only knew) was the Orient Belle bra, thong and brief.
After that point, Bordelle, honestly, didn’t appeal to me much. As someone who really appreciates unique designs, colours and textures, Bordelle felt too much the same collection after collection to me; same shapes, same colours. And the straps. At that point I was oversaturated with straps – there were too many designers doing strappy lingerie and I was just not. having. it. Even if Bordelle was whom everyone was copying, I wasn’t interested in the original.
But then, Wilde. Then, Botanica. Then, Kew (and morello). And my wallet cried. Lots of tears. And the 2021 seasons are just as painful to my bank account.
Fabrics, cuts and styles
If I could say one thing about Bordelle, it’s actually a relatively un-sexy thing. The quality of their elastic (at least these days) is bar none. I mean, the fact that their team managed to sew embellishments onto the elastic for their Kew collection and have it still maintain at least some of it’s original stretch properties is pretty special.
I’ve yet to encounter issues with the quality of the pieces, though there are some who have.
How to describe the cuts and styles of Bordelle. All styles have adjustability – bras usually at the band (and sometimes the cup, or cup embellishments), briefs suspenders, and thongs at the waist. Bras usually have a longline, soft cup and ouvert style, there’s usually a thong, brief and ouvert brief (or thong).
Bordelle pieces definitely have a look about them. Even taking away the gold plated zips and hardware, you’d probably be able to pick a Bordelle piece out of a line up. Straps on bras are often wide and functional rather than decorative, based in part, I would imagine, in what widths elastic their supplier produces. Clasps and hooks are sturdy. Hardware embellishments are often some variant of an o-ring. It’s all very subtle, luxe kink.
Their lace balconette and bodice bras tend to have a bit of length to them, not longline length, but not quite a “standard” bra either. There are often high neck or collar embellishments on both lace and mesh lines – strapping or otherwise. The drafting of the cup shape (and the projection you get) is fairly standard across the years – they seem to have hit that pretty solidly.
If you go back and look at the last few years of seasons, you can see they’re subtly re-engineering and experimenting with their styles. In Botanica, their bras had a little cleavage adjustment strap in the middle (that really did help cleavage, or make it less prominent, depending on what you were looking for).
In Merida they brought their wrap design into an underwire. (Which, weirdly enough, is the only bra style that causes me discomfort – the gore sits a bit too high and maybe even a bit too tight on me, making it uncomfortable to wear all day – though writing this, I will go back and see if adjusting the band a bit wider helps alleviate that issue).
The elastic sits softly around the ribcage, and as that’s often most of the bra, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing it, just a bit of a gentle hug. Their collections have fallen into a pattern the last few years – a mesh-focussed collection with a seasonal colour (or two) and a lace-focussed collection with the same colourways.
Their lace the last few years has been particularly compelling, especially for my textual sensibilities. Moa and Botanica stand out as stellar examples of what’s possible with embroidery. Moa with it’s graceful, pastel (at least in the creme) salaciousness, and Botanica with the sheer detail and coverage of the embroidery. The hours it would’ve taken, and the precision, is vast to really think of.
Who the designer works for
If you spend upwards of $1,000 AUD on a full set of lingerie, you want to be comfortable wearing it outside the bedroom, and actually getting the benefit of the associated boost of confidence when you wear it.
I won’t say that you should wear it as outerwear, or as a peek of outerwear, I’d say at least consider it though. That being said, I do know the joy of secret matchy-matchy.
Or, you could be someone for whom dropping that much money on lingerie isn’t that much money at all, and, yup. I’d like to borrow your wallet for the day. Or forever.
What I like
As you should know about me by now, unique textures and designs is what appeals to me. I’ve definitely been leaning more into the world of ouvert the last few years, and actually really appreciate it. So collections like Moa, Wilde and Botanica definitely called to me.
I won’t lie, the cost of Bordelle can be prohibitive. A full set with typically the least expensive and time consuming construction (soft cup or bralette, thong and suspender) will typically sit at about $800 AUD. The most expensive construction – embroidered longline, high waist and suspender – can easily be $1,500 AUD.
More recently, Bordelle has been more active and open about their sustainable practices.
Along with the “Bordelle Revived” collections, they also offer repair services to clients on pieces that have suffered “general wear and tear” (though what that definition extends to, I wouldn’t be able to say because I’ve not used the repair service).
Bordelle also has 100% recyclable paper packaging and polybags – wholesale packaging for their retailers. From 2021, they’ve committed to becoming plastic neutral. As a part of this sustainability initiative they’ve partnered with Cleanhub to offset the goal of 1,000kg of plastic.
From a people and process perspective, they report to plan their cuts, reuse scraps or smaller cuts, and small batch produce in order to reduce fabric wastage and pay fixed wages to their machinists regardless of output.
Bordelle is one of the ultimate lingerie designers of this time. Whether you fit the “vibe” or not, if you’re someone who appreciates quality, their pieces are worth at least trying on.
This designer is one of the benchmarks by which I understand fit, luxury and quality. No jokes.