As a designer my focus is always on Miss Mary’s customers
What is it like working as a lingerie designer? This week in our blog we meet Miss Mary’s designer and pattern designer Marie-Louise Asphäll to get an insight into how new collections are created. We also ask her if she has any personal favourites in the range. You’ll find the answers to this and much more in our in-depth interview.
If you have bought a Miss Mary bra in recent years, chances are it was created by Marie-Louise Asphäll who has worked with us for almost 10 years. Marie-Louise and her colleagues Anne Nero and Ing-Marie Axelsson, who also work as designers and pattern designers at our head office in Borås, are responsible for all our new collections. We are incredibly fortunate to have this tight trio as our colleagues. So, we headed over to the design department to exchange a few words with Marie-Louise and find out what it really takes to make a quality bra.
Marie-Louise with two of her personal favourite bras from Miss Mary’s range
WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU AT WORK?
I try one or more of my garments on a colleague or one of the women we ask to come in to try bras on. If the garment doesn’t fit the way we want it to, I make the necessary adjustments and cut out a new bra in the same size, which our sewing department then sews. If it fits well, I sit down at the computer and design the next cup size. We are three designers/pattern designers, and we all work on a number of models at the same time.
“In my job as a designer my focus is always on Miss Mary’s customers”
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
That’s difficult to answer because I enjoy it all. There is a clear start and end to the tasks, because every garment and collection is an individual project. It is challenging and demanding to create a new collection. We collect inspiration and information and then we build a collection according to what we think the customer wants. We take everything into consideration: choice of material, range of sizes, type of model, etc. It’s also a fun process to start the work on the fit. We do that once the photos of the samples are ready. We work very closely together in the department. We welcome views from the others, because we want to get the best result. It’s nice to work in a workplace without ego problems. There’s no me or mine, it’s always us and ours – that’s a great feeling.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU STARTED AT MISS MARY?
I trained as a design technician at the International School of Textiles at the University of Borås. I complemented this with a one-year undergraduate course in fashion design, also at the International School of Textiles. Before that I lived in Stockholm and ran my own dressmaker’s workshop for a few years. I’m also a trained dressmaker. As well as the fashion industry, I have worked in interior design, including for interior design magazines as an editorial assistant and freelance interior designer.
“There’s no me or mine, it’s always us and ours”
IT IS UNUSUAL TO WORK AS BOTH A DESIGNER AND A PATTERN DESIGNER. WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE AND THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF HAVING BOTH ROLES IN THE SAME JOB?
The advantage is that we know and understand the whole process. As a designer, you benefit hugely from knowing how to draw patterns and work out a fit. You know which cuts will work on a body. This is very important when you make a tight-fitting garment that needs to lift and support. It’s great to be able to see your idea through all the way, from sketch till finished garment. The only disadvantage is probably that you may not be as bold in your design work because the focus is always on how the garment works in production, for example how it will work in large sizes. Maybe you hold back unconsciously during the design process by thinking, for example, “no, that cut won’t work in this material”. You are already thinking technically during the creative process. If you design a pattern for another designer’s garment, you automatically get challenged more to find a solution – it simply has to work. I am extremely grateful that I get to do both parts of my job. I like to challenge myself and you can never get bored here.
“It’s great to work on and follow a garment from idea to sewn sample in all sizes”
Miss Mary’s designers and pattern designers Marie-Louise, Anne and Ing-Marie
THERE ARE THREE DESIGNERS/PATTERN DESIGNERS HERE IN MISS MARY’S DESIGN DEPARTMENT, DO YOU ALWAYS MAKE THE PATTERNS FOR YOUR OWN DESIGNS OR DO YOU CHANGE?
We design a number of models that we then divide into two collections, so we can’t control how many models we get per collection (we work on several collections at the same time), so then we work on each other’s models, absolutely. It’s just as much fun. It’s great to work on and follow a garment from idea to sewn sample in all sizes, but it’s also important to get someone else’s input and feedback on what we do. It’s give and take. You could say there’s no prestige involved. We work closely together and when we try our models we are usually all together in the fitting room and look and evaluate. We have a good balance here; that’s what makes the job so much fun. We get the best of both worlds.
The material is very important; it affects not just the look but also the function.
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE A PATTERN FOR A BRA? CAN YOU EVER KNOW IT ALL?
We work with millimetre precision. We make patterns and cut samples that our sewing technicians sew. We work closely together. Textiles behave differently when you sew them together, so even if the pattern is correct, adjustments may be necessary after sewing to make it right for this particular model in these materials. This also applies when we design patterns. We can’t just copy a model in new materials. Changes to the pattern and new work on the fit are required. And no, you never know it all.
Grading bra sizes is precision work.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU SEE YOUR WORK ON REAL BODIES?
Every day! At least on the days we try out the garments, and that’s almost daily. When we produce new models, we always work with the fit on a real body. We never work on a dummy! We meet lots of women who come here as models for us to try the samples on during the work to create new collections. It is so important to see how the bra fits on as many different types of bodies as possible. The bra will look different even on two women with the same bra size. It’s a balancing act. Every time we try one out, all three pattern designers are in the changing room to see what it looks like. The bra must feel as comfortable and look as nice in all sizes. The women are also allowed to take the garments home and use, wear and wash them as usual. Sometimes they call to say that this or that has happened or that it chafes somewhere, and then we adjust the design.
About 20 women work here at the Borås office and we know all their bra sizes. Almost everyone tries out new models. It is not unheard of for someone to pull up her top completely unexpectedly in the office to comment on the bra she is wearing. It’s so natural for us all here, but it must seem strange to a new employee or someone who is just visiting.
“Keeping the test sewing in-house ensures the quality we have all become used to upholding”
AT MISS MARY, WE STILL HAVE THE TEST SEWING IN-HOUSE, HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT TO YOU IN YOUR DAILY WORK?
Very important. It ensures the quality we have all become used to upholding. We are next door to the sewing room with Eivor and Marie (our sewing technicians). We work closely together and depend on each other. It’s nice to draw and cut the pattern and then have the garment sewn almost immediately. What a luxury! I’m so incredibly grateful for that, instead of having to send the pattern parts to production and waiting a long time for the sample garment.
DO YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO SEW IF YOU’RE A DESIGNER?
No, but it’s no disadvantage, of course. Everyone has her roles and can contribute her competence, so the sewing technicians give us good feedback on our garments. It also depends on which company you work for and your job. Personally, I get great use from my sewing skills in my job, even though I don’t sew a single stitch at work.
“About 20 women work here and we know all their bra sizes”
Marie-Louise works on every step of the process, from material selection and design to pattern.
HOW IMPORTANT IS MATERIAL KNOWLEDGE TO A DESIGNER OR PATTERN DESIGNER?
Very important in both roles. You have to think three-dimensionally; a bra has to provide support. As a garment, it has a function besides just dressing the skin. This places great demands on understanding how materials work. A single bra contains several different types of materials.
HOW MUCH DO YOU LISTEN TO CUSTOMER FEEDBACK?
A lot. Of course, we want to know what our customers think. We want them to appreciate our design and fit. It is after all them we work for.
IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR PERSONAL TASTE AND THE GARMENTS YOU DESIGN?
Yes. In my role as a designer, my focus is on Miss Mary’s customers. But, of course, I have a few personal favourites.
IF YOU WERE TO CHOOSE THREE PERSONAL FAVORITES THAT YOU LIKE TO WEAR, WHICH ONES ARE THEY? ARE THEY JUST BRAS YOU’VE DESIGNED OR MADE PATTERNS FOR YOURSELF?
Confident Spacer bra with underwire and multiway shoulder straps
CONFIDENT with Spacer cups is my absolute favourite. It’s stylish and attractive without frills. I personally prefer moulded cups with light padding just like this one. I feel most comfortable wearing that. I also like the function of the Spacer material. It’s nice to wear and the padding breathes so it never gets hot. It was designed by our former head designer Tarja-Mari but I made the pattern.
Floral Sun with underwire was designed in exclusive cooperation with Lars Wallin.
Another favourite is FLORAL SUN, which was designed together with Lars Wallin. He designed and Anne produced the pattern and fit. I love both colours (blue and red) but if I had to choose, I prefer the red. The embroidery is so beautiful as are the nice details and the scalloped-shaped lace that protrudes along the edge of the cup.
JOY underwired bra with smooth seams and lightly padded cups
JOY is my third favourite. It is fully padded, which makes it an obvious big favourite with me. It isn’t moulded but the cup seam is so flat you hardly noticed it under a top. It gives a really, really nice shape and lift. The cup has a perfect cut. The style is timeless yet very modern. Joy is sometimes available in different variants as temporary seasonal novelties. For example, we have sometimes dressed it with lace or floral fabric. Ing-Marie created the pattern and fit for it while Tarja-Mari designed it.
5 QUICK QUESTIONS
T-SHIRT BRA OR CUPS WITH SEAMS?
Privately, I prefer to wear T-shirt bras, but at work I like to work with cups with seams, as you can vary and combine material endlessly, and I love that.
BASE COLOR OR COLOURFUL?
I almost only wear black privately, but at work I prefer to work with colours.
BIKINI OR SWIMSUIT?
I prefer to wear a bikini on the beach but in my job I prefer to make swimsuits.
BODY OR BRA + PANTY?
Both privately and as a designer I prefer bra + panty.
PADDED OR UNPADDED?
Privately, I only wear padded cups, but at work I prefer to work with unpadded cups because they are more challenging and demanding.
Read more here about our design department and the art of creating a bra in our previous blog article. If you have any questions for Marie-Louise or anyone else in our design team, write your comments in the field below.