L'ivresse Lingerie in Essex Provides the Practical and the Provocative for All Body Types | Business | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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L'ivresse Lingerie in Essex Provides the Practical and the Provocative for All Body Types

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Published February 9, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Nicolette Baron at L'ivresse Lingerie - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Nicolette Baron at L'ivresse Lingerie

Katy Abbott pulled the neck of her top aside to flash her bra strap in the showroom of L'ivresse Lingerie on a late-January evening. "I have on this bra that I love," Abbott explained to store owner Nicolette Baron, who immediately identified the Marie Jo style with molded cups and fabric circles along the straps. Abbott wasn't sure of her size, but Baron eyeballed it and fetched the favorite style and a few other bras for her to try on.

"Everybody who has owned that bra has that interaction with me," Baron said, demonstrating that the bra's straps can convert to a cross-back style, adding versatility to its comfort. "It's just one that fits really well."

Baron, 37, opened L'ivresse in the Essex Experience at the end of last year. Her goal is to offer high-end intimate wear that performs as beautifully as it looks, along with an attentive fitting service that she felt was lacking in the region's marketplace.

L'ivresse — a French word meaning "intoxication" — caters to bodies and bearings of all types, including gender-nonconforming customers. The boutique sells bras in cup sizes from A to H and beyond, and Baron eschews brands and styles whose sizes are limited to clients of diminutive stature. Her typical customer wears a 36B or bigger, she said.

The evening a reporter visited, Baron pointed out a bright-red bra with a sophisticated swirl pattern on the cups from PrimaDonna, a Belgian brand known for its support.

"It's also a very sexy piece, and I carry it in all sizes," Baron said, noting that the company makes band sizes above 38, which is "tough to find in a pretty bra.

"And it's tough to find well-made," she went on, "so it's really important to me to have more sizes, and that's what my customer looks like, as well."

L'ivresse carries specialty bra brands, primarily from Europe, including Maison Lejaby, Simone Pérèle and Conturelle. Those cost upwards of $100. For less high-tech gear, such as basic, locally made panties from Samaavar, prices start at $28. Customers can find butt cheek-baring lacy hot pants from the popular Italian brand Cosabella for $34.50 and a matching bralette for $55.

Beyond bras, L'ivresse shoppers will discover a smattering of silky nightgowns and soft-fabric sleepwear, selections from Vermont-based and internationally revered Commando, Explore Designs kimonos created in Burlington, and Soak lingerie wash. Baron favors socially and environmentally conscious companies and sustainable fabrics, such as Swiss cotton Calida underwear. The Okko line of no-frills undergarments would work for customers who need extra support and padding after surgery or during gender transition, Baron suggested.

With Valentine's Day approaching, the shop's racks held an array of bra-and-panties sets in crimson, black, beige and leopard print. A collection from Thistle and Spire included seductive bodysuits in sheer mesh. A dominatrix style for $98 had metal rings along the torso, a plunging neckline and embroidered tigers facing off over the breasts.

From the start, Baron planned to mix the practical with the provocative by carrying "naughty pieces" — such as crotchless panties — in an upscale setting, she said. "I really wanted it to be an elegant space, so if somebody wants to go that direction, they can, and if somebody wants the supportive, everyday bra, they can get that here, as well."

Baron carries a few simple T-shirts and boxer briefs for men. But L'ivresse focuses on products for women and their perennial struggle with proper sizing. Baron said she has seen too many women with back pain or straps that cut into shoulders wearing C cups when they need a triple D.

"People aren't aware of what a fitting can do for them," she said. "For me, it's incredibly rewarding being able to have that conversation."

Tiffany Fahl brought her 14-year-old daughter, Alexxus Blow, to L'ivresse late last month to get a better-fitting bra. "I'm not sure what her size is," Fahl told Baron.

"That's my job," Baron responded with a smile.

Later in the fitting room, she explained to Blow, "A lot of times, when it feels tight in the band, it's because you're filling out the cup."

Blow settled on a Berlei sports bra (the brand that tennis star Serena Williams wears) and a Cosabella bralette, which she deemed so comfortable that she wore it out of the store.

"This has been the best experience for her," Fahl said, chronicling their failed attempts at shopping online. "We've done the Amazon buy and return ... I've gotten to know the people at the UPS Store."

In-person bra shopping is often lacking, too, she added. "There's not a lot of people who will fit you anymore," Fahl said. "The fitting is such a big deal for this area."

L'ivresse Lingerie - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • L'ivresse Lingerie

Baron, a native of Jeffersonville, attended the University of Vermont and spent three semesters in France. Enrolled in an out-of-the-way art school where nobody spoke English, she learned French by reading Harry Potter books in the language. While studying installation design in France, she worked in a costume studio and did her thesis on the way people hide and reveal themselves.

"Clothing, everything that we wear, from our underwear to the hat, is all a piece of our identity," she said. "It's either how we choose to portray our identity or how we want others to see our identity. It's a very, very personal way of doing that. And that extends to the undergarments."

After graduating from UVM, Baron worked for several years on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace in two now-closed retail operations: women's clothing store Sweet Lady Jane and lingerie boutique Aristelle. Baron also designed costumes for Burlington-based Spielpalast Cabaret.

Before opening L'ivresse, she worked in customer service for a web design company and operated a booth at the Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace in Burlington. Shoppers who knew her from Church Street would constantly ask Baron where they could find a good-quality bra.

"So I took all the savings that I thought I was going to buy a house with and opened the store," she said with a chuckle.

The Essex Experience location provided ample parking and ease of access, she said. L'ivresse moved into half of the former Van Heusen clothing store, which was split into two spaces, one already occupied by the Salt & Bubbles wine bar and market. Baron, with the help of family members, built out the space herself with salvaged and vintage furnishings, including mannequins in all shapes and sizes — correctly representing her clientele.

A giant velvet portrait of a tiger, procured from Catland Vintage in Winooski, hangs over the antique glass display case that serves as the front counter. A candy jar of French condoms, printed with phrases such as "Donneur D'orgasme" ("Orgasm Donor" in English) and "Je Suis Celibataire" ("I'm Single"), sits on top of it.

Baron decked out each of the spacious fitting rooms in a different theme: One has baroque artwork and an ornate floral chandelier; another is a "tropical paradise."

"In the luxury industry, I think people don't really think about it a lot, but there are a lot of people with mobility issues that need a specialized store," she said. "It's part of the reason why the fitting rooms are so big and you can get a stroller and you can get a wheelchair through my entire store. It's very much an intentional design."

Well-constructed lingerie is an investment, Baron acknowledged, but a worthwhile one.

"Bras are so close to your body," she said. "It's the first thing you put on. It's the thing that links so much to your confidence." Whenever she dons a matching set of bra and panties, it makes her feel stronger, she said.

Abbott attested to that experience with her Marie Jo bra. "The first time I wore it, I felt more confident," she said, as she purchased one of the styles Baron suggested. "It was the first time that I actually bought a nice bra."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Perfect Fit"