Up congested Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, somewhere between the produce stalls, dry cleaners and the houseware stores selling pots, pans and leftover Santa Claus helium balloons, is a small oasis dedicated to women, their breasts and the art of a good bra fitting.
“With the exception of, perhaps, the English, 85 to 90 percent of the world's women do not know their correct bra size. That’s a fact,” says Noa Mondshein, by way of introduction. “The situation in Israel? Let’s just say women here still need a lot of help.”
Mondshein, 42 and somewhere between a 32C and a 30D, depending on the brand and on whether or not she is nursing, stands at the counter of her boutique, sleeves rolled up, ready to remedy this bra crisis.
Behind her is a wall of drawers filled with hundreds of carefully folded, colorful brassieres.
There are fuchsia support bras, strapless black numbers and lilac demi-cups with gold trim. There are baby-blue push-ups, coral contours and, if you insist, everyday white cotton brassieres as well. There are impossibly large beige support bras with broad, heavy-duty straps and without underwire for the big gals with the L cups, and barely-there tiny ones with pink lining and plenty of padding for the AAA girls. There is, in a word, something for everyone.
“There are so many different body shapes, to begin with, and in addition a woman’s breasts change throughout her life. You lose a kilo, you shrink. You put on one: and you burst out. Most shops don’t carry a huge variety, and it’s easy to miss the correct size,” Mondshein explains kindly, leading a client to the delicately perfumed fitting rooms in the back to take off her top and be sized up.
Mondshein grew up in and around Jaffa, where her dad owned the popular “Piece of Cake” bakery. She came of bra-age in an era, as she describes it, when Israeli woman still bought their bras along with their socks, sheets and pajamas at the Mashbir Lezarchan department stores, "and then cursed having always bought the wrong size."
Mondshein says she was always into fashion. She credits this to her maternal grandmother, who came from Moldova who spent her days embroidering everything from the children’s school clothes to the family's tablecloths.
“I loved fabric and textures and all the little details of dressing up,” says Mondshein who, as a teen, would walk around her rough-and-tumble neighborhood with lace embroidered onto her collars, skirts, socks and even her shoes.
After completing her army service, where she took a two-year break from her lace obsession, Mondshein enrolled in the fashion design program at Ramat Gan's Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, where she focused on set off to study fashion at college, focusing on handmade folk embroidery.
“I looked at Bulgarian, Moroccan, Persian, and Palestinian embroidery: the styles, stitching and color themes and how they affected Israeli fashion.”
She also, separately, found herself gravitating to “everything feminine,” she says: “It was really only natural that I would continue in the lingerie area. It was my destiny. When I see satins and chiffons and lace, I just melt.”
For her final project at Shenkar, Mondshein pulled her interests together and designed an embroidered corset inspired by traditional Palestinian dresses. Today the piece, matted and framed like any work of art, hangs on the wall above the fitting rooms in the boutique.
After graduating Mondshein went, quite naturally, to the mecca of bra-fitting, Britain. “England is a nation of bras,” says Mondshein, a committed Anglophile. “Maybe it’s because they have a long history of producing lingerie or because they have so many companies dealing with all ranges of sizes -- but in any case, English women are better fitted than the rest of the world. We have a lot to learn from them.”
After a year with the now defunct S.R Gent, once one of Marks & Spencer’s biggest and most successful clothing suppliers, Mondshein returned to Israel and established her own label. She designed the items, had them manufactured for her in Asia and sold directly to Marks &Spencer as well as to Goddess Bras in the United States, before signing a seven-year exclusive agreement with Greek company Venus Victoria.
“Most designers don’t deal with the manufacturing side, but I feel that if you don’t understand fully how to build the bra, you will not become a very good bra designer,” explains Mondshein.
All this time, Mondshein continues, Israel was basically just coming out of the biblical age, bra-wise. “Israel was in no way about beautiful bras,” she says. A shame, really, she adds, as there are a lot of beautiful bodies crying out for a proper fitting.
“Israel is a large-busted nation,” she states. “We have very narrow waists and very giving, or round, hips. It’s the classic hourglass shape, a mix of the Mediterranean shape and Jewish genes, combined, she says, with the typical Israeli diet.
“Between the schnitzels and the dairy products, I have seen a major growth in bust size in Israel – there are so many hormones in our food,” says Mondshein, who says she eats only organic food.
By the early 2000s, Mondshein, now married to a Canadian veterinarian she met in Israel and less enthusiastic than before about jetting off to visit sewing factories in Malaysia and the Philippines, made a decision to stay closer to home and to tackle the bra-fitting wilderness that was Israel.
First, she joined the Women Only lingerie company, creating the initial concept for their stores and serving as their in-house designer. After almost a decade there, on the cusp of 40 and pregnant with her second child, she decided to realize her dream of owning and operating her own bra boutique.
According to Iris Ram, a 15-year veteran of the local bathing-suit industry, there are only a handful of such shops in all of Israel.
The Jaffa boutique features both Mondshein’s own designs and top foreign labels - and, of course, a whole lot of love in the fitting department. “This is a place that not only has a large range of cups and styles, it has knowledge and bra expertise - and that is the key,” says Ram.
Pooh-poohing the gentrifying Flea Market, virtually around the corner from her shop, Mondshein opened up on the decidedly less trendy and less exclusively Jewish Jerusalem Boulevard. “I am part of this mixed community,” she explains. “And I want to make sure everyone here has the opportunity to get properly fitted.”
Whether or not the “whole community,” be they Arab or Jews, is keen or able to fork out NIS 450 for an undergarment is unclear (a bra can also be had for around NIS 150), Mondshein's list of loyal clients, from all walks of life, is definitely getting longer.
Mondshein knows all her regulars by name and keeps notes on their preferences and sizes. “It’s important to know not only what fits, but what a woman desires,” she explains. “Some want to look round, and some pointy. Some like their breasts pulled up high, and others like them dropping down low.”
“Down low? Really?”
“Sure,” she smiles. “We cater to all dreams. Whatever color or shape they come in.”
Noa, personally fitted lingerie shop
50 Jerusalem Blvd., Jaffa 03-5181730