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A passion for fashion

By   /   Sunday, February 15th, 2009  /   Comments Off on A passion for fashion

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As female celebrities show off their high-end couture at the Oscars on Feb. 22, Ann Deal will likely watch from home smiling. That’s because she’ll know that her company — Ventura-based Fashion Forms — made the bras many stars have hiding beneath their dresses.

“Silicone bra pads or adhesives pads or anything to keep that dress looking fabulous” is Fashion Forms’ goal during the peak fashion season, which runs from February to October, said Deal, the company’s founder. “We are wild and crazy and nuts around this place.”

With about 75 employees at its Ventura headquarters, Fashion Forms produces all types of bras and underdressings for international sale. The wholesaler’s main U.S. outlets include Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and others. But when events such as the Oscars or Golden Globes roll around, Fashion Forms is often asked to make bras specifically for the stars. Celebrities from Jennifer Beals to Scarlett Johansson have had Fashion Forms’ designs underneath their gowns.

Deal said by working closely with the stars and their stylists, the company often gets suggestions for future designs. When a fashion trend catches on, women tend to demand what is also underneath the dress — and that’s where Fashion Forms has found its niche. One upcoming design called the “wrap bra” could become a huge hit among women looking for something that’s comfortable to wear beneath their strapless dresses.

“That is the best strapless bra in the entire universe because it’s adjustable,” Deal said. “Snap it in the front and adjust it on the side and it will go nowhere.”

Deal never intended to become a bra fashionista. All she wanted to be was an entrepreneur.

“When I grew up, the only thing we could do was be a secretary, be a teacher or be a buyer in a store — and I chose to be a buyer,” said the North Carolina native in a rather charming Southern accent. “I’ve always wanted my own business; I always wanted to be my own boss.”

So after college, she researched sectors with the most potential — and landed on bras. Since its 1993 founding in Ventura, Fashion Forms’ growth has been “absolutely insane,” Deal said. The company, which began in Deal’s garage, now rakes in $25 million to $30 million in annual revenue.

Its claim to fame came in 1997 when it released the Original Water Bra. After coming up with the idea, Deal and a Taiwanese designer struggled with the initial prototype. “If we put it in a plastic pouch, it was going to leak,” she said. “With her husband getting involved in it, we all sort of created this water pouch where if it popped, it wouldn’t leak.”

Thus the water bra was born with the help of two buckets and a tube.

Once supermodel Heidi Klum debuted the water bra to the world, sales took off. Since then, the company has used other materials, such as silicone, to get the right shape and lift for its products. Fashion Forms even gets some of its silicone from Santa Paula-based Applied Silicone, Deal said.

While 2008 was a tough year for companies across many industries, Fashion Forms powered through with expansions and new, international contracts.

As the Business Times spoke with her by phone, Deal was on her way to catch a flight to England and France to seal deals there. Fashion Forms’ bras will soon be available at the iconic Galleries Lafayette in Paris as well as across England in British Homes Stores, a 138-store chain, and Selfridges, a U.K. department store. With about 70 percent of its bras made in China, Deal said the company will be able to ship the finished products to a contracting operation in England, which will be able to deliver the bras throughout its European locations.

The company also expanded considerably into Canada in 2008. Fashion Forms opened a new warehouse there so it could more easily sell its items to Hudson’s Bay, a department store that Deal likened to Macy’s.

Deal said she’s still learning the ropes of international business. However, she’s figured out a clever way to stay in charge of her European operations: dual citizenship.

Rather than deal with burdensome taxes and cross-border complications, Deal’s CPA recommended she get a green card.

“So I had to go through an FBI inspection, through a police inspection in France and I did all this, so now I’m a dual citizen of France,” she said.

When asked if more expansion plans are on the way, Deal said she’s looking next to Russia and the Middle East.

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