Kate Kemp-Griffin is a connoisseur of breasts. From the moment she arrived in France in 1990, the former Canadian PR director launched her own lingerie company that specialized in accessories and beauty products to fill a niche in the market. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Kate immediately focused her attention on healing and founded Pink Bra Bazaar, a charitable association dedicated to breast health and supporting women with breast cancer.
From its inception, the bra has been a strong symbol to help women of all ages play an active role in their breast health. Octobre Rose — Pink October — is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the 10th annual Pink Bra Box campaign is currently underway to collect gently-used bras, which will be used for creative workshops throughout the year as part of Pink Bra Bazaar’s breast health education program.
Her first book published in 2017, Paris Undressed: The Secrets of French Lingerie, allowed Kate to return to her original passion – understanding how female undergarments can enhance the body shape and esteem of any women. Her private lingerie tours and intimate ateliers on the art of fitting a bra properly help empower women of all beautiful shapes and ages.
INSPIRELLE is delighted to collaborate with Kate for a fabulous event in Paris — “Bubbles and Bras” in partnership with Cynthia Coutu, founder of Delectabulles, on October 10, 2019. To prepare for this exclusive evening of fun fittings and champagne, we sat down with Kate for some serious bra talk.
Kate, where did your passion for all things breast-related begin?
It all started with a coin toss. Twenty-five years ago my husband and I flipped a coin – heads Paris, tails, San Francisco – and moved to Paris four weeks later. Neither of us had jobs and neither of us spoke French, but we didn’t care. We were young and in love and in search of adventure. Almost immediately, my husband landed a fashionable job with the European team of Ralph Lauren. My search for employment, however, took longer. Much longer. Months went by, but jobs were scarce for those who couldn’t roll their r’s properly.
On my way home one day after a particularly humiliating interview, I walked by a lingerie boutique with a gorgeous window display saturated in silk and color. The bras in the window couldn’t have been further from the faded and stretched out one that I was wearing. I was the sort of woman who only bought a new bra when the washing machine ripped my old one to shreds. I didn’t pay much attention, or money, on underwear.
To me, a bra was a basic necessity – functional and nothing more. But something about those delicate lacey underthings in the window inspired me and I thought, maybe it was time to refresh my attitude…and my lingerie.
I pushed open the door of the tiny boutique and soon afterward found myself in a minuscule changing room. The boutique owner selected an ivory satin bra with small pleats that was trimmed in lace and deftly adjusted here and tightened there running her fingers over the bra like she was tuning a violin. She handed me the matching panties and told me to put them on, which I did. And when I turned to face the mirror, I couldn’t believe what I saw.
I’m 5 ft 7 in — but had I suddenly grown taller? My back was straighter. My breasts were lifted and fuller-looking. And what was that on my face? A smile. Shopping for underwear had never made me smile before.
And so began my inauguration into the French attitude to lingerie.
Underwear isn’t just underwear, it’s “lingerie” and reflects an art of living.
A new bra initiated my passion for everything breast related.
Why venture into the world of French lingerie?
While the French certainly knew how to design beautiful lingerie, caring for it remained problematic. With the help of a chemist, I developed a delicate fabric wash and started my own company, Soyelle, specializing in lingerie accessories and beauty products. It seemed like the perfect way for me to gain legal working status and learn to speak French.
Why do you think French women are more comfortable and conscious of their bodies at any age?
I’m not sure French women are any more comfortable with their bodies than women elsewhere, but the culture of delight that prevails in France allows everyone to pursue a sensorial experience. They also know how to mettre leurs atouts en valeur, show off their assets. When talking about lingerie, this means, drawing attention and highlighting one area of your body instead of dwelling on your perceived faults. It’s knowing how to use light and shadow in combination with different textures to create intrigue and possibility.
How can a good fitting bra change how a woman feels about her body?
The question “What does lingerie mean to me?” is essential, and one I invite every woman to answer.
Lingerie helps women change how they feel about their bodies without changing their bodies! It’s true. When a bra is no longer considered a solution to a problem (for example, breasts too small, breasts too large) and a woman is given the time and space to ask herself, “What does lingerie mean to me?” her perspective changes. She begins to see and feel with intention and ultimately feels inspired by a renewed sense of awareness and confidence about herself.
Why does lingerie make us feel sexy and sensuous?
Lingerie has the ability to trigger sensations, which ultimately heightens our awareness and experience wearing it. When we feel connected to our bodies, we feel confident and inspired to extend our experience beyond the familiar and into realms of dreams and possibility. And it is this desire and expression of our bodies’ whispers that make us feel sexy and sensuous.
What sparked you to write about the secrets of French lingerie?
Over the years, my passion for lingerie grew, but so did my confusion. The more I learned about this exciting industry, the more questions I had.
Like, how can you tell the difference between a 20€ bra and an 80€ bra? Do bras and panties really have to match? Why do some laces scratch and others don’t? Why do my shoulder straps keep falling off? How can I tell if my bra fits? What the heck is a sister size? What’s the difference between Spandex and elastane? And what is so great about Calais lace? So many questions. And if I didn’t know the answers after so many years in the business, how on earth could a consumer make any sense of it?
I set about finding answers and quickly realized there was a need for many of us to approach lingerie in a totally different way and I began to conduct lingerie tours of Paris. More than a shopping expedition, women found themselves, like I did, transformed by lingerie.