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THE STYLE FILES / Special Fashion Issue : The Pleasures : Little Nothings : There's a world of difference between underwear and lingerie

March 18, 1994|LAURIE DRAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If the world is divided into women who wear underwear and women who wear lingerie, the latter--without a doubt--have more fun.

"Some women have an incredible fetish for lingerie," says Joan Wills, owner of Merletto on Rodeo Drive. Her supply of La Perla lingerie can't keep up with demand. When shipments come in from Bologna, Italy, every few weeks, Wills calls 50 of her best customers, who snap up the sophisticated lace-trimmed bras, panties and camisoles.

"I don't know where these women put all this lingerie, says Wills, "because they can't possibly wear it all." She suspects that they match their lingerie to their outfits, which, of course, are different every day.

Even the recession cannot touch this particular obsession. "In this economy, people may not be buying many designer clothes, but they're still treating themselves to lingerie, where you can buy something new for $300 to $400 rather than spending thousands on a new Armani."

The woman who must have La Perla is "basically, someone with a great body," admits Wheel. "The cup sizes are traditional but they offer an amazing fit." Though she does make one concession: "It is hard for us to fit an extremely large-busted woman."

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While La Perla is all sugar and spice, that's not at all what you get at Trashy Lingerie on La Cienega Boulevard. You could guess as much from the black leather-trussed mannequins in the window. A sentry at the door collects a $2 annual fee, part of the "club" atmosphere that allows the store to forbid entry to undesirables (male voyeurs).

Inside, it's one big happy family, complete with a comfy couch and a bathtub on the selling floor overflowing with G-strings. This is where Princess Diana found the white satin-and-lace garter belt for her royal wedding (OK, she bought it at Harrods, but Trashy Lingerie made it). And where Stephanie Seymour, Linda Evangelista, Niki Taylor, Dolly Parton and Dana Delany shop.

According to owners Tracy and Mitchell Shrier, theirs is the only store in the United States that will custom-sew a merry widow (a corset with stays and an attached underwire bra) to your dimensions. Prices start at $125.

"When a merry widow really fits, it's comfortable beyond belief. You can wear it for 10 years," says Tracy. "Ours have the best boning, are lined in cotton, and use hook-and-eye closure. We can do a lace-up front but it won't give you as much cleavage."

A custom-made bra costs from $25 to $60. (That's if you can't find a ready-made version from the thousands in stock.) All told, the Shriers have more than 100,000 items to choose from--bras, panties, camisoles, teddies, garter belts, corsets, suits, and dresses. Alterations are free and done on the spot.

For whom? Everyone. Trashy Lingerie is one of those rare spots where socialites and schoolteachers, strippers and dancers all meet on common ground--and not so common. "What's weird," Mitchell says, "is when the mistress is in here and the husband comes in with his wife. On occasion, we've had to help the mistress scoot out the back door."

A few infidelities aside, the current rage for monogamy has been a boon to the lingerie business, says Tracy: "People want to make a monogamous marriage work without endangering either partner, and the way to do that is to become a different person. One day you might want to wear leather, the next you might want to be Little Bo Peep or the upstairs maid, and lingerie lets you do that."

The store fulfills fantasies, no matter how bizarre. "A woman wanted us to make the strapless dress that Jessica Rabbit wore in the film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' " says Mitchell.

It was the search for a lacy Size 34-D bra that first brought actress Sandra Korn into the store. "The beautiful bras in department stores all seemed to stop at C," she says. "All I could find were Old Mother Hubbard-type bras."

Korn has an entire dresser full of lingerie. And that's about all she wears in the upcoming film "Exit to Eden." "The entire wardrobe was from Trashy! I said, 'That's perfect--I can go to work in my stuff!' "

Korn is one of those women who actually prefers garter belts to pantyhose. "Even if I have to wear a suit, underneath I still wear my garter belt, because it just makes me feel pretty. . . . Unless you have a protruding tummy or something, I don't know why you'd wear pantyhose."

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A mile away from Trashy Lingerie but poles apart is the vintage lingerie from the 1920s, '30s and '40s at The Collection on Robertson Boulevard, where Karen Allyn's Timeless Attire shares space with Lily Vintage Clothing.

"Vintage lingerie is sexy without being seductive," says Allyn. "It speaks to the female in all of us--the soft part.

"You can be very productive in your business life and still not lose that female quality," she says. "And I really think that's the tack that feminism is taking now."

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