Lille Boutique's got quite a reputation for a lingerie store. For the past three years Sarah Wizemann (for a time with former partner Sara Yurman) has done much more than sell women properly fitting bras and man-eater knickers. Certainly she stocks a brilliant array of quality lingerie (though look elsewhere for aggressive, forcefully seductive doodads) and has great customer service, but Lille has fit so naturally into Portland's shopping life because Wizemann picked up on what customers here value: boutique-quality, independent, and quietly statement-making goods.
Throughout the month of April, Lille is celebrating its birthday with giveaways and sales (check lifeinlingerie.blogspot.com for updates), culminating in a party being held this Saturday (April 17, 6-9 pm, Lille Boutique, 1007 E Burnside), where you can check out live models wearing the latest spring arrivals (from Malia Mills and Eres, to name just a couple), as well as take advantage of a substantial (20 percent!) storewide discount. I spoke to Wizemann recently about all the things she's got to celebrate. MARJORIE SKINNER
MERCURY: Looking back over the past three years, how has Lille evolved from your original vision?
I am happy to say that the shop has not strayed too much from my original vision, in that I haven't had to compromise my ideals in order to make more money. I am still totally committed to selling quality merchandise made by independent designers, produced in an environmentally and morally responsible manner, with an emphasis on natural fibers and vintage inspired design. I still eschew padded bras, itchy material, and anything costume-y or gimmicky. And luckily, the market is starting to agree with me—I'm seeing more brands coming over to this way of thinking, which has definitely been a happy surprise (when we first opened, there wasn't much to choose from!). The amazing customer loyalty and receptivity to my approach was also hugely rewarding. However, I've gotten a little less stringent about fiber content and country of origin. In the beginning, I was very adamant about never carrying anything synthetic or "Made in China," but over time I have realized that it's not only impossible to fulfill every lingerie wardrobe need with garments made in the USA of natural fibers, but it's also not as important to people as I thought it would be. Sadly, some designers who have been really dogmatic about these things have gone out of business, and sometimes I've had to eliminate or cut down on styles from brands that I really and truly love because they just don't sell.
When you started the shop you were relatively new to town after living in New York. What has the store taught you about Portland's tastes?
Portland women care about production, but not at the expense of style and affordability. They want things to look and feel good on their skin, but they aren't hard-nosed about the materials. And while just about everyone loves what I consider the "Sarah" garments—silk tap pants and teddies, embroidered camis, and long chemises that hearken back to eras past—they will admire them in the store with lots of oohs and ahs, but ultimately not purchase them, particularly if they're very expensive. I attribute that to Portlanders' sense of pragmatism (life is not an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, much as I wish it were!). Fortunately, I've found a happy medium with my buying, and while I never order anything I don't love (a big lesson learned), I don't buy quite as much of the Sarah styles as I used to. But, truth be told, Portland is a very progressive town, and New Yorkers are continually impressed at how fashion-forward we are. I buy styles that some edgy boutiques are wary of, but girls here are bold enough to pull them off, even as outerwear—like rompers or high-waist undies over hand-screened tights, and bustiers under sheer shirts!
Favorite thing(s) about the East Burnside neighborhood?
I love just about everything about East Burnside—the proximity to all of Portland, the slightly gritty, urban feel, and best of all, my neighbors. But I think my favorite thing about my location is the fact that it isn't so heavily trafficked that I can't still offer my customers highly personalized service and a quiet, oasis-like atmosphere that wouldn't be possible in a busy retail zone like NW 23rd or Hawthorne. I love that people leave the shop feeling relaxed and refreshed, not harried and overwhelmed. Least favorite is definitely the rare meth head who decides to steal from us, but those are few and far between. Fortunately, we always get them arrested ["Bagging the Burnside Booster," News, March 13, 2008]!
What's in store for the future of Lille?
Some amazing, new, independent designers, an even more impressive website, and hopefully more overseas travel so that I can scout out new brands in France, Japan, and wherever else my heart takes me. I'd love to open a second location when the time is right and perhaps put more thought into manufacturing my own line one day, but nothing is set in stone. I'm just happy to still be here!