Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
I discovered this place by chance. It’s at the southern tip of the bustling but not particularly fashionable rue du Commerce in the 15th. Carline’s is more of a giant cupboard than a shop and it’s been run by a mother and daughter, Jacqueline and Aline (pictured left), for the past 21 years.
Inside there’s nothing much to look at apart from the odd rather regal silk dressing gown (and equally regal slippers), just floor to ceiling boxes filled with bras. But the joy of shopping here is they measure you, dispatch you to a cubicle, then bring you everything they’ve got.
Anyone bigger than a C cup will know the misery of bra shopping in Britain. On the sunny side of the river are the happy small-breasted bunnies who hop around in Elle Macpherson, often with a dishy boyfriend in tow. On the other side of the river, where the sun never shines, are the women with bigger boobs, forced to trudge through acres of industrially-produced beige boulder holders that are neither beautiful, nor sexy.
Et bien this little shop is there to rescue the likes of me and my friend Ruth, who live on the non-sunny side of the river. What this mère fille duo supply is soutien et élégance (elegance and uplift). Who needs Princesse Tam-Tam (the French high street label designed for bunnies) when you’ve got Jacqueline and Aline?
Carline’s is not a substitute for the Printemps department store, widely seen as the holy grail of lingerie by Parisians in London (clueless Brits shop at Galeries Lafayette). Nor can it be compared to Le Bon Marché, the Left Bank department store with its lingerie-as-museum-pieces atmosphere. But in its chaotic, cupboard-y way Carline’s is marvellous – like finding treasure where you least expect it – and this kind of old-fashioned bra shop can be found all over France (even in the sticks). I think there was even a dog, a small one, though I can’t actually remember. And I think that a slightly mad person rang the bell at one point and Aline (or was it Jacqueline?) hid under the counter, though I can’t be entirely sure of that either.
The shop stocks all the best brands –Prima Donna, Lise Charmel, Couturelle – and my current favourite, Wacoal, an American/Japanese lingerie label with factories in France. My hunch is that the bras sold at Carline’s are 20-30% cheaper than they would be in the UK.
We left with four bras between us. Ruth bought three and I bought one – mine is lacy, super-glamorous, a dream of comfort and made by Wacoal. I won’t tell you what it cost but let’s just say I’ve bought horrible bras in London for less.
Afterwards we celebrated with croque-monsieurs at the café opposite.
Carline’s doesn’t have a website. It’s not that kind of place.
Carline’s is at 96 rue du Commerce, 75015 Paris, 00 33 1 42 50 34 42.