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Lille Becomes a Teenager

  • Posted on
  • By Sarah Wizemann
Lille Becomes a Teenager

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 13 years since Lille was born.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 13 years since Lille was born. In the beginning, when my friend Sara and I first started conceptualizing the shop, we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. My husband, Alan, had such a strong entrepreneurial spirit that he convinced us it was something anyone could do, and that the only ingredients for success were perseverance, ingenuity and a little elbow grease. While there is certainly some truth to that sentiment, it says nothing of the need for startup capital and the fact that owning a small business is a 24/7 job that pays you very little, nor does it take into account the ramifications of a nationwide recession or a global pandemic! But as much as the challenges of the past 13 years have taken their toll, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I have learned so much from this experience–about myself and my triggers…about other people and theirs…things I never would have learned had I continued to toil under a boss rather than becoming my own. Join me on a trip down memory lane as I reminisce about some of Lille’s birthdays past…


  • The 1st birthday! We made it! One year under our belt and just a few months into the worst recession of our generation (until now, of course!) We learned so much that year and shifted our focus from only carrying a sparse collection of 100% natural fibers (and a lot of EXTREMELY expensive French brands) to a slightly more inclusive range that featured more affordable designers and stretchy fibers that helped provide support as well as comfort. We were getting a ton of press from local, national and international outlets: Portland MercuryWillamette WeekPortland MonthlyLucky MagazineDesign BureauElleIn Style and more all gave us nods. Back then, our fashion shows were held in the shop, which was not without its logistical challenges. We were also hosting monthly art shows, which are some of my fondest Lille memories. The second year would see us branching out and participating in offsite events like fashion shows at the Doug Fir, where we got political with our Panties Against Palin. If you were lucky enough to snag a pair of our hand-screened undies, hold onto them–they’re a piece of Lille history! Also, I was dabbling with the notion of a house line called Gatsby that included silk and lace garter belts with buttons that held up the vintage silk stockings I was hand-dying and selling for (gasp) $35. If only I’d held onto a few of those!
  • The 5th birthday. We were officially established. I had opened Lille Trousseau, a 2nd location downtown in the West End neighborhood to cater to the many customers that had been requesting bridal lingerie. I was traveling to the French lingerie show in Paris and experimenting with a ton of new lines–VPLThe Lake and StarsAraksFleur du Mal…if it was an independent lingerie label made by women, we probably carried it. I even thought carrying shoes was a good idea! We were producing our own fashion shows for brands like Savant and Unforeseen Circumstances and doing our own designer lookbooks, even going so far as to hire videographers to make mini Lille commercials. Our 5th Birthday bash was a big fundraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation held at Holocene with plenty of cupcakes to go around.
  • The 7th birthday. Approaching 7 years, I decided to throw the biggest party yet, called Astral Bodies, on 12/12/12. Back then, pre-baby, I was so much more ambitious and driven when it came to parties. This one had it all: signature cocktails, projections of galaxies on a huge grid of enormous planetary balloons suspended from the ceiling, a giant sequin photo booth, and of course, a fashion show: this time around it was for Fortnight, whose talented designer Christina Remenyi had become a friend of mine ever since I first bought her hand-made bras on Etsy years prior. With over 350 people in attendance, it was definitely the panty party of the year! Best of all, we made a video about it.
  • 10th Birthday. A decade in, I had figured some things out. The election aftermath in 2016 was a brutal time for everyone, but we took comfort in our community and did our best to provide a safe space for people to retreat from their troubles and counter the xenophobia that coincided with Trump’s election. I had closed my second location following the birth of my daughter, and I started handing the reins over to talented people like Courtney and Megan, my hard-working employees, and producers like Elizabeth Mollo, who does such an incredible job on the Unmentionable fashion show. My involvement with the store shifted to a behind-the-scenes role, maintaining the social media and ecommerce, while I let my Lille Ladies handle the day-to-day operations. We threw another huge party at–you guessed it—Holocene (thanks, Jarkko!) with a goal of raising funds for Planned Parenthood. We produced a fashion show for our friends at Else and called the event Bodies Empowered. The show was a hit and we raised nearly $13K for a worthy cause that continues to be threatened by the current administration.
  • Fast forward to birthday 13! I couldn’t do this without my amazing team–I almost had to close the store when my husband took a job in LA, but with these hard-working ladies steering the ship, Lille Boutique carries on. It’s a bit of a bummer to see the shop boarded up for the time being, but we hope to weather the storm and come back stronger than ever. Thank you for your support all these years–from the employees to the customers to every stylist, photographer, journalist and sales rep who has helped make Lille what it is today. I couldn’t have done it without you!

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