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FASHION : Bra's Arrival Proves Uplifting : Ventura County is one of the first areas to get the much ballyhooed bras. Sales are brisk, but not all buyers are satisfied.


While women all though the nation wait restlessly for Wonderbra, a lucky few inVentura County are secure in its embrace.

The famous undergarment arrived in mid-August at selected Southern California locations, including Robinsons-May and JC Penney at The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks. The ensuing buying panic immediately uplifted the stores' lingerie sales.

"We had an incredible sell-through over the weekend; we are in a heavy reorder mode," said Jim Watterson, spokesman for Robinsons-May, where the garment's unveiling was a local television news event.

A like phenomenon occurred across the way at JC Penney, a salesclerk reported.

"We couldn't believe how many we sold," she said, "We put in another order an hour after we opened. There was always a swarm of people."

To handle overflow, Penney's had a backup of Vanity Fair pushup bras on sale for $13.99, roughly half the cost of the Wonderbra, but, "No one was interested," the clerk said.

No wonder Wonderbra is a hot label--the skimpy lace-and-wire garment has a lot going for it.

First, it's got that name: Wonderbra--a word that could enter the language like Jell-O and Kleenex. How can you beat that?

Then, it's tied to a celebrity. Last winter a famous under-endowed model, Kate Moss, raved in the national press about the bra's cleavage power.

Wonderbra hysteria has been fueled by strong demand but also by short supply. Formerly produced in Britain, the bra went into U.S. production under the direction of Sara Lee (brownies and cheesecake) in May and won't be available nationwide until late October.

What makes the bra so wonderful? Supposedly, a unique design.

"It's a feat of engineering," said Wonderbra spokeswoman Jill Golden. "Nobody has been able to quite replicate it." She used terms like precision placement of "underwire," three-piece cup construction and power-net back.

Thinking claims might be inflated, we went to The Oaks to find out.

It was not hard to track down the bras. Just follow the crowds to the special Wonderbra rack. The racks are backed by advertising posters featuring a life-size photo of a model in black lace and the message, "The one and only Wonderbra; it does wonders." The British version reportedly was more to the point: "Say goodby to your feet!"

All but two of the bras available were flame red--white, black and champagne had sold out during the crush of the weekend.

Women were milling about, turning the bras inside out to study the engineering, which actually is pretty simple. The sides of the cups contain pads that are poised to give a horizontal nudge upward to whatever might be enclosed in them.

Several shoppers backed off when approached by a reporter, saying they just wanted to check out the product, not buy it. Others were serious buyers.

Sandy Funcich of Westlake Village said, "I need a little lift; I'm going to a class reunion." She regretted not shopping when there was a color choice. After deliberating, she concluded that red under a black dress was not a crucial flaw.

About the same time, Jennifer Sandefur arrived and chose a front-closing model to try on. A receptionist at a Ventura firm, she had taken half a day off to make the pilgrimage to Thousand Oaks.

After a few minutes in the dressing room, both women emerged. Sandefur's mission had proved a bust.

"I expected some grandiose thing," she said, "It was a little uncomfortable--a little stiff and tight."

Meanwhile, Funcich headed for a counter and filled out a reservation form to make sure she gets in on the next shipment of Wonderbras.

"I'm ordering one in every color," she said. "I love them."

The bras came to Southern California before any other part of the country because more women here asked for them, the Wonderbra spokesperson said.

Luckily, no one need be left guessing when her town will play host to the engineered lingerie. All it takes is a call to the Wonderbra hot line.

Yes, it was inevitable. Sara Lee could not handle the deluge of calls from eager fans, so it set up a computer to take requests for information. A call to 1-800-4-NEWBRA will reveal the date when the bra will arrive at a city near you.

Until that time, you'll have to embark on a Wonderbra safari. Or prepare to stay acquainted with your feet just a little longer.

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