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Strong Foundations

From Our Ladies' Invisible Support Technology Correspondent, Halta Knekk

A Doris Day lookalike models an early Schalengehäuse Büstenhalter [Bullet Bra] design from the Kaiser Bonder II Company. It was modelled on heavy artillery shell-cases developed during the Great War.

The recent [to a degree unfortunate] exposé regarding Ms Katie Boyle and a foundation garment incident [which may or may not have involved the distinguished crime novelist and playwright Sir Mortimer Wheeler] moves me to suggest there is a need for a degree of clarification regarding the history of female chestal engineering technology and the degree to which changing fashion has continuously challenged manufacturers to produce designs which offer the appropriate degree of security without compromising the rapid entry/exit features which the busy go-getting female entrepreneur increasingly requires to sustain the more casual [not to mention more frequent] encounters of today.

An early Asbrestos design emanating from the Company's Paris facility. Its ingenious mix of industrial materials and soft fabrics was already pointing [like its models] in an interesting direction

My own interest in this matter is probably hereditary: my great grandfather designed Büstenhalter mit hoher Zugfestigkeit for the special German imperial forces just before and during the Great War. Apprenticed to the Kaiser Bonder II Company [a division of the Kupps Steel empire] he came to be acknowledged as an early Büstenhaltermeister perched [literally] at the cutting edge of invisible female structural support engineering technology. It was his [at the time highly secret] post-war work which led to the famous Schalengehäuse Büstenhalter [or Bullet Bra] design which would emerge publicly in the 1950s as the "soutien de notre jour". Modelled on a projectile casing designed for Big Bertha [but thanks to its honeycomb construction] containing 50% less steel], it defined the female upper torso-shape of a generation.

Asbrestos's waterproof designs soon proved the ideal foundation garment for those intending to fall backwards into swimming pools

My father who shared my grandfather's fascination with all things lacy and frilly yet firm and supportive - yet in an intensified form - went on to spend several years in special secure institutions and later, on his release, to found the Asbrestos Brassière, Chemise, Corset and Suspender-belt Company [ABCCSC Ltd] which dominated the European foundation-garment industry between the wars and for several years thereafter. It was often said that no self-respecting flapper flapped [or indeed flopped] without first donning an Asbrestos; the celebrity byword for stand-out shape-sustaining chic. With offices in Paris and Lytchett Minster, the Company was ideally placed to influence la science du support de boob on an international scale.

Parisian starlet Pinchma Tuilleries [she climbed higher than the Eiffel Tower and was easier to mount] was an early inspiration for designers at the Asbrestos Company in Paris.

Rather than burden your readers with too much otiose design history, it is simpler to say that the old dichotomy between strong support for the bigger lady and flattering lines for the less well-endowed ingenue was not resolved until the 1970s when the "plunge push-up bra" aka "the lift and separate cross-your heart form-fit elasticated double-webbing belt and braces bra" [the very one suspected of strap malfunction or failure in the Katy Boyle's / Dame Anna Neagle ' Mortimer Wheeler incident] was manufactured in quantities sufficient to make it a popular choice for ladies of all shapes and sizes. As noted, early versions of the Maidenform underwired medium-hold soft-cup pre-formed design were notorious for their frequent strap malfunctions. Happily, the designers and manufacturers of Asbrestos - as the name implies - used heavy-duty flame-retardant materials developed in the early nuclear industry and, accordingly, suffered no such structural failures. Here an asbestos-lined cup was soldered to a 3-ply steel webbing band to create a structure capable of supporting "the Forth Bridge if necessary" and certainly "anything smaller than a 36NN" with absolute security and ease].

Several of the Asbrestos Company designs reflecting the fashions of the time.

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