Bras or (full) bust: going behind the seams with Leanna Williams, Designer of Made-in-the-UK Harlow & Fox.
“I want the Harlow & Fox woman to feel captivating, elegant, and truly indulged when she wears our pieces. We deserve garments designed to be exquisite, to be beautiful, to be out of the ordinary – without compromising on fit and support for a fuller bust.” – Leanna Williams
Born and raised in Nottingham, England (coincidentally the home of the British lace industry) Leanna Williams’ foray into lingerie design started at an unexpected place: the Register Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Williams had moved to the south coast of Brighton taking a job truly encompassing the full life cycle – even conducting marriage ceremonies. After living through life, death and unions of others for some time, she decided it was time to embrace life for herself.
An avid collector of genuine vintage nightdresses and slips, Leanna always had a passion for vintage style. Not only the beauty and detail in lingerie, but also a love of the subtle aesthetics of 20s and 30s interiors (particularly from the pages of World of Interiors and English Home). When she couldn’t manage to find the lingerie she longed for in her size (32F), something truly special designed just for the full bust woman, she set out to create it herself.
After taking design courses at the world renowned De Montfort University as well as the London College of Fashion, and alongside the help of a talented team of pattern cutters and seamstresses, the first Harlow & Fox collection became a reality in 2013. Sized 30-38 DD-G, pieces are now available at www.harlowandfox.com.
We caught up with Leanna on busty girl do’s and don’ts, English interiors, and the surprising thing she learned while working at Brighton’s Register Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Prior to your foray into design, you worked in Brighton’s Register Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. What is the most surprising thing you learned about human nature through your time there?
It sounds corny, but the power of love, really. Conducting a marriage, you’re right there, speaking the vows with the couple and guiding them through that moment of promise of what’s to come. Hearing the strength of emotion in their voices as they spoke those words would just completely blow me away with the intensity that these couples would have for each other. I remember one groom who arranged an a capella singing trio to stand up from within the guests, one by one, as I paused in the legal point before the vows for any “objections”, and surprise her with “their” song – I actually had to really fight to compose myself and remain professional in conducting the ceremony without tears in my eyes after seeing her reaction to it!
What made you decide to pursue a career in lingerie design and what was it like making such a huge career change?
I’ve always loved beautiful clothes, especially with a hint of vintage style, and admired from afar all of the intricate and stunning designs out there that would extend that beauty into undergarments as well. Sadly, after cutbacks, I was made redundant from my position as a registrar – after such a specific job, whatever I did next was going to be such a huge change anyway, so I thought, why not take the plunge and go for something I really love? If I wanted to wear luxurious, decadently beautiful intimates that still came in my size, surely other women also thought the same? So I jumped in headfirst – and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
We love that you infuse the elegance of 20s and 30s English interiors into your designs. If you could throw a dinner party in any English home (past or present), where (or whose) would it be?
Ooh! That’s a toughie… But, I would have to say the Royal Pavilion in Brighton itself, so not going very far! The almost cavernous domed ceiling above the dining table has an enormous gilded silver chinoiserie dragon chandelier suspended over it, and combined with the richness and intricacy of the interiors there overall, I can’t imagine a more dramatic setting for the party of the past-century!
Your brand is proudly designed & produced in the UK. What about keeping production local is most important to you?
For me, it’s so special to be able to be so personally involved in the production of the garments, from just being able to pop up to the factory and see how things are going, to the very beginning of development where I was able to be right there alongside the seamstresses, learning about cutting and construction techniques, and being able to really be immersed in the process from start to finish. Not only that, but it means I get to play a part in keeping those all-important skills alive here in the UK, and from an ethical standpoint, know that each person involved in production is being treated well and paid a fair wage.
One of your signature silhouettes is the Robe. What draws you to this silhouette and what in particular makes it such a boudoir essential?
I think as so many full bust brands only make structured lingerie pieces, it was really important for me to create coordinating pieces that really made a whole outfit of the lingerie. I want the Harlow & Fox woman to feel completely immersed in the experience of luxury, and robes are perfect for that – the design story of the lingerie is continued in the lounge items, but also, there’s something about wrapping yourself up in double layers of silk, or floor length velvet, that is just so cocooning and sumptuous and wonderful. Also, for me it harks back to a bygone time when women could have the luxury of slowly getting ready for the day or evening ahead, and brings a little of that to the modern day – what better way to extend the enjoyment of a special night out than to feel the deliciousness of a silk robe against your skin as you do your hair and makeup and pick out your outfit?
What are you top 3 busty girl DO’s for buying, and wearing, full bust bras?
- DO go by what feels right for your body. Once you know the signs of what to look for in a good fit (horizontal band, wires flat against the chest at the front, and encapsulating all breast tissue at the sides, etc…) try on lots of styles, and lots of brands, and you’ll get to know what works for you, personally, which is the most important thing.
- DO have different bras for different purposes – you wouldn’t wear your Louboutins to run out to get some milk, or your gym shoes to a black tie gala, so why expect your lingerie to do the same? Build yourself a wardrobe of lingerie pieces that work for an array of outfits and situations, and you’ll notice the difference in how you feel under your clothes, for sure.
- DO read blogs to get inspiration for new bras to try – one of our favourite full bust bra bloggers, Sweet Nothings will feature reviews of new bras she’s tried, complete with beautifully styled photo shoots of how the garments fit on her body, as well as news on up and coming brands, new styles coming out, and so on. It’s a great way to get a new perspective on how different styles fit before purchasing, especially if ordering from overseas, and also to find out what’s new in the world of full bust lingerie!
What are you top 3 busty girl DON’T’s for buying, and wearing, full bust bras?
- DON’T get hung up on the size tag – different brands fit in different ways anyway, and the most important thing is getting a bra that fits your body well. Often when women are re-measured and realise they need a full bust bra instead of the usual size they’ve been wearing, it can be daunting, but there are so many beautiful choices out there – and once you know how a well-fitting bra feels, you’ll never go back!
- DON’T machine wash, or tumble dry, a bra, ever! We have a specialist washing detergent for our silks and laces, but any delicates detergent suitable for silks will work well, and the important thing is to wash them by hand in cool water, and dry naturally. Hand washing all of your bras, from any brand, is crucial in keeping them looking and fitting their best.
- DON’T feel limited by the sizes you can find in mainstream stores – though having a harder-to-find size does mean that often you can’t just pop into your local mall and pick up anything off the rack, it does mean you get to be more creative in your choices. Speak to your nearest independent lingerie boutique, if you have one, about what brands they carry, and if they ever do special orders for alternative sizes or styles – they often have a wealth of knowledge about different styles that could work for you. Look online, find out about new and unusual brands that may be on the other side of the world, but with international shipping the world can truly be your oyster with finding beautiful garments that your smaller-busted friends would never think to even look for!
What 5 under-essentials MUST be in a busty girl’s lingerie drawer?
- A good bra that makes you feel like a million dollars!
- A beautiful silk robe for feeling like a silver screen star whilst getting ready, or lounging with a martini, or watching Netflix. Silk robes are good for every occasion.
- A smooth cup bra for underneath tighter-fittings tops – practical and boring perhaps, but immensely useful!
- A pair of panties or string that are beautiful just by themselves, not just a matching afterthought to a bra set – there’s nothing nicer than feeling like you’ve got something elegant and exquisite on every part of your body!
- A silk slip for underneath more sheer dresses – perfect for adding an extra layer, and allowing the dress fabric to hang smoothly without bunching up on any hosiery beneath, but also a chic design statement if a peek of delicate lace shows!
What’s next for Harlow & Fox? Any collaborations, brand extensions, etc we should be on the lookout for?
We have lots of exciting plans in the works, mainly generally taking over the world with beautiful lingerie, but also some gorgeous new garment styles, plans for more in-person events to meet with clients face to face, and new stockists as well. Watch this space!
If I weren’t designing lingerie, I would be: Designing interiors! I love the immersion in the entire design, creating something that is both functional and aesthetic, and all of the potential for creativity within it – much like in lingerie, really!
If I could have any 1 person in the world (past or present) wear Harlow & Fox, it would be: Christina Hendricks
If I could live in any past decade, it would be: 1920’s into the 30’s
On a typical night, I can be found sleeping in: If not in my own Eleanor gown, then I do have rather an addiction to Olivia von Halle’s pyjamas, and have several pairs now. The prints and colours she uses are just amazing, and nothing compares to the feeling of silk on skin whilst you sleep. Not to mention, being fairly tall, with her sizing system the sleeve and leg length actually fits me!
If I could pack up and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, I’d go to: Venice
If we were to find you at a bar, you would be drinking: Depending on my mood, either whichever cocktail sounds the most intriguing (I once had one with lavender “bubble bath” on top, and a tiny rubber duck floating in it!) or for a more classic mood, a gin martini with Sipsmiths London Gin, and an olive.
Brief or Thong? French knicker!
Underwire or No Underwire? Underwire
Stay-up Thigh Highs or Stockings & Garter Belt? Stockings and garter belt, or stay-ups for running around on errands.
Early Riser or Night Owl? Early Riser, if combined with coffee!
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