There she was, sitting at the bus stop minding her own business, probably thinking about her shopping or that evening’s tele-visual fare. Perhaps she was planning a holiday or dreaming about her perfect man. Anyway there she was, Mrs Miggins or Diggins, lets say Higgins. Mrs Higgins counting her change, craning her neck to see if the damned bus had arrived.
Mrs H: Always late that one, by the time it gets round Highbury Corner I could have walked to Angel. Too busy round here. I fancy a Mars bar, shame that newsagent shut down. What’s that shop next door? Never really noticed it before. Funny, What’s it sell? Hats or pants or something.. Where’s that bloody bus?
An older smart trim lady with bright tights on approaches
Smart Lady: Excuse me
Mrs H: Sorry. Who’s she? Funny old lady. Ain’t got no change sorry
Smart Lady: Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice something.
Mrs H: What’s that? Here’s the bus, wish she would go away.
Smart Lady: Yes pardon me for pointing it out, but you are wearing the wrong size bra.
Mrs H: The wrong what? Sorry?
Smart Lady: The wrong bra, its too big for your ribcage. Your wearing a 36 it should be a 32. I can tell by looking you see.
Mrs H: Really? I can’t say it’s very comfortable.
Smart Lady: I’m not surprised. Come with me and I will sort it out. That’s my shop there with the hats.
Mrs H: But what about my bus?
Smart Lady: Never mind that, follow me.
This scene or something approximating to it is one played out many times over the years by Yvonne Lyddon owner of Design Also a shop specialising in Hosiery and Underwear in Highbury. Yvonne has been in this location for twenty-two years though she has worked in the fashion industry since the early sixties.
Bras have become something of her speciality and mission in life. “The vast majority are wearing the wrong size,” says Yvonne, “I have to change 95% of my customers.” Yvonne is particularly disparaging of that Great British institution Marks and Spencer’s. Oft time she will travel down the Holloway Road to see what’s occurring in the lingerie department. “The vast majority of salespeople don’t know what they are doing especially in corsetry. ” The main problem it seems is ribcage measurement.
“Bra’s should always be a fraction tight,” she says. “There’s something fantastic about sending people out with the correct size for the first time.”
Yvonne points to the stairs that lead to the basement below;
“I use my stairs as a test, when you have the correct size and walk down those stairs you know it’s right when the bra doesn’t move”
The imaginary Mrs Higgins went from being a 38DD to a 32GG when Yvonne had finished with her. “Her husband sent her back the next day to buy another three bras,” laughs Yvonne.
Another nineteen year-old girl whom Yvonne spotted covertly covering up her ample bosom area at the bus stop was given similar advice. “Apparently all the men she knew talked to her breasts and it drove her mad,” says Yvonne who changed her from a 36DD to a 30H. She returned a year later with triumphant news; “Even my father’s friends are now talking to my face!”
Yvonne herself learnt from the best. “I learnt bra fitting being fitted myself in Harrods.” Yvonne worked here in the 1960’s as an assistant buyer. Up until this point she had always believed herself to be a 34B.
It is 1964 the country is caught up in Profumo hysteria, and whilst a double-decker bus trundles through the fog and traffic below an exchange is taking place several storeys above in a famous department store.
Yvonne: This bra feels really uncomfortable
Stern faced Assistant: That’s because it’ the wrong size dear. Try this on it’s a 32C
Yvonne: Oh really are you sure?
Stern faced Assistant: Try it on and see for yourself.
Yvonne tries on the bra whilst the matronly ma’am watches.
Yvonne: God doesn’t it feel different…
Stern faced Assistant: That’s because it’s the right size my dear girl.
The bus speeds on some forty odd years changes shape and coughs past an incongruous boutique near Highbury Corner. Inside, Yvonne recalls that significant day with wistful pleasure. “Unless you learn your correct size, you have no idea how it is meant to feel.”
Yvonne had not long been in the fashion industry after giving up a career in nursing due to a slipped disc. She was originally born in London but raised as the daughter of a serviceman in boarding schools in Wales and Hertfordshire. She had trained as a nurse in Westminster and found herself looking for a new career.
She sat around with her girlfriends and thought of possible options. “We crossed out flower arranging because they said I would never get up in time.” (To this day Yvonne doesn’t open the shop until 2ish, as a note in her window points out.) Because she was so crisp and trim in appearance, the girls eventually came up with a career in fashion and so she wrote to Harrods and got a job as a salesperson.
At Harrods she worked alongside Lucienne Phillips who would go on to be a famous boutique owner was a buyer at the time. The job brought her into contact with the rich and famous including the actress Diana Sheridan. Yvonne enjoyed the work immensely because of this personal contact.
“Lucienne always said you don’t have to sell masses it’s more important that the customer comes to back to see you.” Yvonne went on to work for Debenhams and Freebody before getting a job as a fashion editor on Family Circle then Britain’s best selling magazine.
It was here that her bosom skills blossomed. Yvonne would do lingerie features and also find bras for models to wear on fashion shoots. However this could be troublesome, as the trend was for models to be completely flat-chested a la Twiggy. Yvonne however felt this undermined her styling, “How was one meant to notice the bra underneath the dress?”
Faced with this dilemma Yvonne had an idea that was to go down in fashion history. She decided to give the stick-thin model some cleavage by putting not one but two padded fillets in either side of her bra.
1966. The famous East End photographer Mickey Sullivan was leaning over the it-girl model Georgie Shrimpton deliberately wiggling his tight white Levis in the face of watching magazine editor Tanya Thames-Hudson.
Mickey: That’s it darling give it some. Laavely!
Tanya: Oooh Mickey, you are the best in the business
Mickey: Don’t I know it too?
Yvonne: Excuse me Mr Sullivan but can I make a slight adjustment?
Mickey: Alright darling, but be quick I got to look at a new studio up west later on. Up and coming area they reckon, full of poofters with poodles.
Yvonne takes Georgie behind a screen from which giggles can be heard.
Mickey: Hurry up Girls I ain’t got all day.
Georgie emerges from the curtain with extended cleavage.
Georgie: Here Mickey what you think of this? Ain’t it groovy!
Mickey: Cor blimey girl, you got more front than West Ham. Let me get a load of that !
Mickey begins clicking furiously and the proud beam on Yvonne’s face is intermittently dappled by the white flashbulb.
“The photographer’s eyes popped out of his head!” Yvonne recalls with the same smile on her face in 2011. “And the model was thrilled to bits.”
The idea was to be famously copied in the 90’s for the infamous “Hello Boys” Wonderbra. Yvonne is modest about its influence, but the reaction of the model is something she still seeks to repeat today.
After leaving Family Circle, Yvonne went into business, opening a stall with her partner in the infamous Hyper-Hyper store in Kensington High St. Many now famous designers had stalls there in the 1980’s including Tanya Sarne founder of the Ghost label. At that time Yvonne specialised in hosiery and was known for colourful and mixed denier tights. When the partnership ended she kept the Design Also name and went into business on her own, opening the shop in Highbury in 1988. She has in fact lived in the area since the early 70’s and remembers the shop as a hardware store.
The first thing she did was buy an old till from a newsagent down the road. It still sits in the shop today in perfect working order. ‘It’s just like an ordinary till but it just happens to be a bit weird.’
Word of Yvonne’s bra expertise soon spread and over the years Yvonne has built up a loyal clientele manly through word of mouth. On the day The EEL visited one customer had travelled all the way from Paris, an annual pilgrimage, to fit herself and teenage daughter who was buying her first bra. “I don’t allow them to be embarrassed, says Yvonne. “Everyone has boobs, there’s nothing special about it.”
Yvonne points out that she carries a wider range of sizes than in France where double sizes such as DD and FF are harder to find. Part of the reason for this of course is that British ladies are often bigger. Yvonne’s offers 13 different cup sizes all the way from A to K. After much rummaging Yvonne plucks out a 32k bra. She compares it to a 32b and illustrates how the bra size remains the same despite the cup difference. “The approximates are very similar,’ she explains, “only the shaping’s are different.”
Yvonne’s favourite bra is a Freya black and pink basic with half cup. She loves the fact it is see through. “Bra’s to me are something that make you feel good,” says Yvonne who has no time for white bra’s, “What’s the point? They show up in ultra violet light as well,” she points out.
Yvonne laments the number of women who resort to breast enhancement though she sympathises with women who opt for beast reduction to ease the strain on their back. Neither does she have much sympathy for the bra burning feminists of the seventies ‘they’ve all got the most terrible shape now,” she laughs.
It seems that generally Yvonne prefers her underwear to be a bit risqué. She loves stockings and is suspicious of any men that don’t. “A man that doesn’t like stockings isn’t worth knowing.”
The shop itself can give the impression of being a bit chaotic with boxes piled everywhere, both upstairs and in the basement below. However Yvonne claims to know (vaguely) where everything is. Saturday girl Magdalene, whom Yvonne first fitted for a bra when she was still a teenager, assists her.
Yvonne admits that some days trade can be slow but she keeps herself busy reading the paper and eating. As well as the bras there are piles of memo-books each one containing records of stock and sales. Yvonne has always done the books herself something which comes naturally to her “I’ve always had an eye with figures” she says with a straight face. Yvonne still attends trade shows such as Pure at Earls court Olympia to keep an eye on what is happening. She walks to work everyday and still gets the same thrill from serving customers as when she first entered the business.
For Yvonne it’s all about giving women confidence and making them feel happier. “It’s great fun,” she says, “It changes people’s lives and that feels fantastic.”
Design Also is open from 2ish most days except Sundays at 101 St Pauls Road next to the bus stop.
Fittings last as long as it takes.
Tel 0207 3540035