Finding a good bra can be downright difficult — and even emotionally draining at times. Whether the issue is spillage, inadequate coverage, or the quest for decent comfort and support, acquiring one that delivers both functionally and aesthetically remains a challenge for many. It’s a challenge that Lu Blade-Bittle and Anja Bucher — the duo behind Aotearoa’s newest lingerie label, Ohen — know all too well.
It was approximately 18 months ago that Blade-Bittle approached Bucher via text with the idea of launching a new lingerie label, the pair tell me over coffee. Having left her corporate job and given birth to her third child two years ago, Blade-Bittle found herself feeling frustrated at the lack of desirable lingerie options available. “I wanted to replenish my [lingerie] drawer, and I just couldn’t find anything anywhere that did a functional job, looked beautiful, and was a brand that I wanted to be a part of,” she says candidly.
Another driving force behind Blade-Bittle’s interest in creating lingerie stemmed from her background in psychology, which she majored in during her time at the University of Otago. “There’s such a psychological thing to buying lingerie,” she says. “It’s the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night. It has to do a job, but also make you feel good… and I thought, ‘We can create this.’”
“I’ve always been quite heavily inspired by that more vintage aesthetic. Especially that kind of ’80s, ’90s [look]; slightly minimalist; really clean-cut lines.”
For Blade-Bittle, Bucher seemed like an obvious choice to collaborate with, having spent 13 years working in production and design for local lingerie label Lonely. “I knew that, technically, she was one of a very, very small number of people who had the experience we needed to do this,”
Blade-Bittle explains. “I also knew that she had a beautiful aesthetic — I’d seen it in the work she’d done before.” For Bucher, the collaboration came just as naturally. “We knew each other, but we’d never had a one-on-one hang. It just felt really easy and comfortable,” she says of their initial pitch meeting. “Lu had done all of this amazing research, so it all
just sort of lined up. She ticked all of my boxes!”
Once their partnership was cemented, the pair got to work bringing their vision to life, basing their operations out of Blade-Bittle’s home in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland. With her many years of experience in digital strategy and marketing, Blade-Bittle would take care of the business side of the brand, while Bucher would oversee all the creative aspects. “The thing about Anja and I is that we have such different personalities, experience and strengths, but that’s actually what makes us work harmoniously together,” says Blade-Bittle. “In terms of how you see the brand, that’s a lot of Anja’s vision. Everything down to the packaging — she’s designed that experience, which is really cool.”
As they sit before me on the day of our interview, they are about to launch Ohen into the market. Yet from the way they speak about their brand, and their calm and laidback demeanours, you could easily assume they’ve done this before. When I enquire about the story behind the brand name, the pair assures me there is no particularly complex meaning to it. “It stemmed from an amalgamation of letters of names of people we love,” Blade-Bittle explains. “But it was really about finding a name that was simple, and not overly feminine or masculine.”
Before going into detail about the brand’s creative direction, the pair produce a box of sample pieces for me to examine. They’re buttery-soft to the touch, thanks to their modal fabric, and it’s clear from just a quick survey of each of the five bra and brief styles that meticulous detail has gone into the making of each piece. Aesthetically, Bucher drew a lot of her design inspiration from the glossy pages of her mother’s collection of Vogue magazines. “I’ve always been quite heavily inspired by that more vintage aesthetic,” she says. “Especially that kind of ’80s, ’90s [look]; slightly minimalist; really clean-cut lines.”
But appearance aside, the brand’s intention, Blade-Bittle tells me, is to offer an interchangeable and evergreen range that builds upon itself over time. “We’ve really tried to cover many shapes, and consider different preferences for sheerness or coverage or lift,” says Bucher. From the custom-made ultra-flexible underwires to the square hardware which bears the brand’s name, everything about the design has been considered.
It’s obvious how confident they are in their product and vision. Their objective is clear: make beautiful pieces that push the boundaries of technical design and sustainability. “[We’ve done] 18 months of fit testing and refining and wear testing, because we want to be so confident in our fit and comfort, and make sure it covers a range of needs and sizes,” says Blade-Bittle. Each of Ohen’s bras will be available in a size 10 band through to an 18, with cup sizing from B through G. “As we get customer feedback, we can look to expand further,” says Bucher. “We’d rather launch with a really well-curated selection and then learn from that in terms of sizing.”
As we reach the end of our conversation, I’m hesitant to ask about the long-term goals for Ohen, considering they are such a new business. But to my surprise, the duo already seem to have it figured out. “We want to be going into Australia in a couple of years and then to the UK. I feel like the market resonates quite similarly to here,” says Blade-Bittle. Bucher continues: “From there, that kind of trickle-down throughout Europe, and getting into some key stockists.”
It’s increasingly clear to me just how essential their brand is to the local industry. Bridging the divide between luxury and affordability, function and aesthetics, Ohen is poised to fill a significant void in the current lingerie market. Especially for those like myself, who have long struggled to find pretty underwear that could perform, while also remaining at a reasonable price point. Are fellow Kiwi consumers ready for them? FQ’s bet is on yes.
This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly‘s Summer 2024 issue.
Words: Amberley Colby