Wonderbra, built around a Canadian invention that’s been bolstering bosoms since 1935, was reintroduced worldwide as the brassiere brand that put the “fun” in functional. Today, the dynamically designed lingerie line—introduced in the US in 1994—focuses on fashion, body image, and womanly self-confidence. You don’t even have to be a stripped-down supermodel to show off your Wonderbra wares; the brand’s undergarments are designed to make you look as good in your clothes as out of them.
Cups Runneth Over
Wonderbra, a member of the HanesBrand apparel family, has evolved over the years from the original patented brassiere with the ingenious diagonal shoulder strap attachment to a full-range fashion lingerie line that’s meant to concentrate on a woman’s curves. These shape-enhancing intimates include everything from the signature push-up and plunge bras to G-strings, girl shorts, and thongs. (Unlike main competitor Victoria’s Secret, owned by Limited Brands, Wonderbra has mainly steered clear of venturing into the stiletto-and-eveningwear category).
The brand benefits from its association with Hanes, known for providing tamer essentials like T-shirts, socks, and everyday underwear (the Hanes site claims that its brands can be found in eight out of 10 American households). But the parent company’s products are known more for reliable utilitarianism than as aphrodisiac apparel—I doubt there are many guys or gals who are looking to score don their Hanes tighty-whiteys or no-ride panties before a big date.
Wonderbra boasts the best of both worlds. The brand makes no secret of its dedication to functionality and comfort. The Model 1300 (the push-up design that was the predecessor to the “One and Only Wonderbra” that debuted in the US in 1994) was no simple mammary enclosure, but rather a form-fitting feat of engineering: Fifty-four design elements were incorporated to help women achieve more dramatic cleavage, including three-part cup construction, precision-angled back and underwire cups, and removable pads called “cookies.”
A more recent introduction, the Multiplunge bra, can be worn 100 different ways, thanks to its adjustable straps. (The accompanying ad campaign showed 100 gals standing on the steps of London’s National Gallery sporting the bra in each of its wearable versions.) And the brand’s website takes great pains to direct customers to which bras look best under T-shirts and which would be better under breast-baring blouses.
It would be simple to label Wonderbra as a brand that took a well-designed, comfortable signature bra and sexed it up. But there’s something deeper going on. Underneath the lace and satin, there’s an empowering tribute to what it means to be a woman, instilling confidence in all women who want to look their best, no matter what their body shape or size.
The Wonderbra website makes sure to drive home this self-affirming undertone. The tagline “The Shape of Hot!” accompanies several of the brand’s offerings. A section called “Wonder Stories” shares often emotional missives about women who have finally found the right bra fit and can feel comfortable in their own skin (an achievement in its own right, since the site claims that 70 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size).
A sense of humor—something you usually won’t see in the pout-lipped and vampy Victoria’s Secret ads—doesn’t hurt, either. A clever series of copyless print ads in the UK showed pre-teens covering their testosterone-blinded dads’ eyes as a Wonderbra-wearing vixen passes by off-camera. A popular UK Cadbury commercial, featuring a drum-playing gorilla jamming to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” was parodied by the intimates brand with a bra-clad model showing off her own snare-and-bass chops (Wonderbra had to pull the ad, however, after objections from the Phil Collins camp).
That’s not to say that sex isn’t also a huge part of the brand’s appeal. When the Wonderbra push-up plunge bra reemerged in the US in 1994, Sara Lee Corporation (Wonderbra’s owner at the time) delivered the first boxes to New York City in limos accompanied by models and faux Secret Service men. Ad slogans throughout the ’90s included come-hither taglines like “Hello boys” (in the UK) and America’s “Look me in the eyes and tell me you love me.” The current website tagline is “Wonderbra: Your not-so-secret weapon.”
The brand’s harem of Wonderbra Women, an international group of models, has also helped to evangelize all things Wonderbra. (Some have claimed that billboards of Wonderbra model Eva Herzigova caused multiple car accidents in and around London.)
The latest addition to the Wonderbra spokesperson line: Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese. The selection of Marilyn Manson’s ex, known more for taking clothes off as a striptease artist than for modeling them, is somewhat rooted in Dita’s own brassiere background: When her mother took her shopping for her first bra and handed her a plain white cotton one, Dita was disappointed that she wasn’t going to be trying on a lacy number like she had seen in Playboy magazine.
In addition to being a spokesperson for the brand, Von Teese will also be the first celebrity to design and promote her own line: a limited-edition, 1940s-influenced lingerie collection titled (naturally) Wonderbra by Dita Von Teese. The hook: showing how lingerie can be sensual, wearable, and glamorous—just like Dita. The line is on the schedule to make its debut in Great Britain and France in September.
Competition continues to heat up in the intimates department, and not just from Victoria’s Secret. According to a recent Forbes.com article, there are three major players to look out for this year: JC Penney’s private-label Ambrielle brand (being promoted as providing the most luxurious undergarment experience around); American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie brand (think more girl than woman); and Lane Bryant (for plus-sized women). These newer entries are targeted to specialized demographics, where the Wonderbra line seems to hold universal appeal.
Wonderbra has obviously proven an uplifting experience for brassiere-wearing women around the world. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Internet poll in early 2007 ranked the Wonderbra fifth out of the top 50 greatest Canadian inventions, even beating out the pacemaker. And in a March 2008 survey of 3,000 customers of UK department store Debenhams, the Wonderbra was named as the greatest fashion innovation in history.
With that kind of rep, it’s doubtful the brand will experience sagging sales anytime soon.