For one couple, sexy lingerie is a perfect fit

As published in Berkshire Magazine, Issue 2, August 2012


Dan Alden & April Burch in their Great Barrington store.
Photo: Cassandra Sohn

Meet April Burch, PhD in biology and recently appointed director of the Advanced Science and Math Research Program at the Berkshire School, the first such program to be run on a high-school campus by a certified scientist. Now meet Dr. Cleavage, sexy lingerie connoisseur and owner of Bra & Girl, the Berkshires’ only locally owned lingerie destination. Would you believe that these two women are one in the same? Burch—who did her graduate work in viruses that infect bacteria and later her residency on the herpes simplex virus—opened Bra & Girl three years ago with husband Dan Alden. How did such an unlikely pair come to be the purveyors of a lingerie store?

“It was kind of a Plan B—you know, if I had to leave science, what would I want to do? And it was always an idea that a lingerie store would be fabulous,” Burch explains with a flourish of her hand, while sipping a coffee in a bustling café in downtown Great Barrington. “I wanted something fun and kind of a no-brainer because I spend a lot of intensive time thinking and reading. I’m a people person and love to make people feel better about themselves and feel pretty.”

Burch’s desire to create a “happy and sexy” experience of visiting a lingerie boutique, plus her husband’s sales experience—Alden had previously worked as a sales manager for Berkshires institutions Blue Q and Campo de Fiori—proved to be a formula for success. Just 16 months after opening shop in Great Barrington, the couple launched a second location in Pittsfield.

Much, if not all, of the shops’ success can be attributed to the unique customer experiences offered, including personalized fittings; a broad product range, including fringe sizes—bra sizes above or below the average that are often not carried at large distributors like Victoria’s Secret; fun extras like a couple’s fitting room; and both public and private events like fashion shows featuring burlesque dancers, bridal showers, poetry readings, and local music and art.

“In many ways our business is a return to the ideal of a local specialty shop,” says Alden. “This has created a neat dynamic where women who have experienced our shops come back with their daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends, and we have grown as a result of these relationships.”

Burch admits that while the couple had planned all along to offer a personalized fitting experience at the shop, she had not expected it to grow into the serious business it has become. “I was thinking in the beginning it’d be sort of an easy little lingerie boutique,” she recalls. “But it became something really amazing. It became something really different.”

What Bra & Girl became—a one-stop-shop for high-quality lingerie in all shapes and sizes along with exceptional service—is a result of not just the owners’ hard work but also the dedicated, knowledgeable staff that can be found manning the floors each day. Take, for example, Cecily King, a young fit specialist who has been working at the shops for about a year.

“A lot of women find that bras are really uncomfortable for them because they continually buy the wrong size,” explains King. “It’s not just about the number and the letter. It can be the shape of the breast or what people’s skin feels. There are a lot of different kind of conditions that can go into a fitting that might not be taken into consideration somewhere else.”

Besides being an expert fitter, King knows firsthand the frustration of not being able to find the right-fitting bra, and is always enthusiastic to share her expertise in order to help others in the process. “The first time I was fit, I just remember feeling like everything had changed and everything was so much more comfortable. Clothes looked so different,” she recalls. “So to pass on that experience is really special.”

What does Dr. Cleavage have to say about all this? Well, while she agrees that running the stores is serious business, she’s all for playing up the fun aspects. Her touch can be seen in everything from the name—a play on “bar and grill”—to the fanciful, humorous window displays. “If we’re not having fun, we should just go home,” Burch says.