London-based Alexandra Popa aimed to fill a void in the marketplace when the Economics major launched Bordelle in 2009, her line of experimental lingerie and ready-to-wear. Popa is not technically trained in the very difficult world of lingerie-making, but this has helped her be more creative in areas where technicalities might act as limitations. She has built a team of expert craftsman to bring her ideas to life – additionally Popa was the first in the lingerie market to introduce an innovative sizing system for her brand – Bordelle garments are available in a handful of sizes, however the highly structured pieces include adjustment features so each customer can find their personal and unique fit. Bordelle has expanded into Bridal and swimwear, and Popa is quite content with the current status of her growing brand.
Have you always lived in London?
I was born in Bucharest in Romania but have been living in London since I was 7 so London is where I would call home.
What is the origin of the Bordelle name?
Bordelle is a play on words and in literal terms a French denomination for a house of ill repute. The name indirectly alludes to the belle époque era of the 20th century, a time of joie de vivre, optimism and sexual liberation. When choosing the name, I wanted to go for a pseudonym but also something memorable and controversial so as to evoke a strong reaction and a resonance with the nature of the collections. Bordelle is definitely in keeping with all of the above.
Your designs have been featured on countless celebrities from Madonna to Lady Gaga. What was it like to work with such strong creative forces?
It’s always exciting working with such iconic artists. Bordelle is not for everyone , but having the backing and support of people I admire is the biggest seal of approval.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to make something special for Hannah Reid from London Grammar. She is beautiful, extremely talented and would look amazing in Bordelle. Not to mention that her music is amongst the most listened to in our studio.
Not only have you reimagined traditional lingerie silhouettes, but the sizing as well. Can you describe your unique sizing method a bit more?
All Bordelle garments, including structured bras are available in only 3-5 sizes. For an industry highly focused on fit where a bra style can be available in 50 different sizes, you can imagine that Bordelle’s simplified size breakdowns did not go down well at first. But it all comes down to re-educating the market and highlighting the key advantages in this maverick sizing approach. From the retailer’s perspective, spending a limited budget on a variety of styles as opposed to an infinite range of sizes is a no brainer and for the client who is not quite sure of sizing but is given the option of flexibility and adjustment in the fit, then this is a far more appealing option. In that sense Bordelle has broken down existing technical boundaries by being the first lingerie label to introduce new adjustment features to highly structured lingerie garments. This aesthetic and highly practical innovation enables our garments to transcend a range of sizes and be customised by each individual wearer. As an example one of our bodice bras can be adjusted by an additional 20cm on the under band which means that one standard Bordelle seize can fit up to 3 different sizes.
Why don’t you think customizable lingerie sizing has become a more mainstream concept?
The reality of it is that more and more lingerie brands have now adopted this concept which is frustrating for me but I have been told it should be taken as a sign of flattery. The concept will never become mainstream however because it is too labour intensive. Everything from the design, the construction and the number of straps and components required will out price the mainstream.
The brand has come a long way since its launch in 2009; what do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment?
The Victoria & Albert museum is currently prepping for its longest lingerie exhibition to date: Undressed: A brief History of Lingerie launching on 16 April 2016. My team and I were honoured to be selected to create a look for the exhibition. So many hands worked on creating this one piece with so much passion and to think that it will be forever archived with the V&A for future generations to view and experience Bordelle’s contribution to lingerie history is hands down my proudest moment.
What is your favorite part of the design process?
Not being a designer by training my favourite part of the process is always when I see my designs being brought to life by my technical team as this is affirmation that what I envisaged is actually technically possible and wearable! I am also slightly obsessed with fabric tradeshows, I could sit down and look through fabrics and trims as a full time job, but rarely do I get the time to focus on what I most enjoy.
How long did it take to cultivate your team of highly skilled artisans and craftsmen? Was it a difficult process?
Cultivating the right team has been the hardest part of what I do and what I have been dedicating most of my attention to over the years. It is an ongoing process but I can now safely say I have found my dream team.
Where did you find the inspiration for your latest collection?
For Spring/Summer 2016 Bordelle pays homage to Frida Khalo. Frida was not a follower of trends and her maverick approach struck a chord with Bordelle’s underlying message. Notable starting points included her recently unearthed wardrobe at Michael Hoppen’s London Gallery and a tour of the New York Botanical Garden’s “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life – the first exhibition to examine Frida’s love for the beauty of the natural world. Elements drawn from Frida’s style and art are reworked into the collection through the adoption of a palette of contrasting shades of indigo with gold and fuschia – a nod to the spontaneous use of colour in Frida’s personal style. The collection constructed from Swiss fabrications of embroidered Mexican lace, gold lurex flower motifs and pleated perforated lace with a vintage effect reminiscent of the frill edge used in traditional Tijuana costumes.
Bordelle’s brand message is “Memorable, provocative, and never without a reaction.” Does this describe you as well as the brand?
A question better directed to those that know me.
Now that the brand has expanded to include a bridal collection, a Signature line, swimwear capsule and atelier services, what’s next?
I am very happy with where Bordelle is at present. My aim is to maintain Bordelle’s status as a creator of trends and to organically continue to carve out my niche client base. I want Bordelle to remain the secret go to label for beautifully constructed bondage inspired lingerie. It is not for everyone and I want it to remain that way.