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Leave It to Cleavage

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IN THE WORLD OF FASHION, IT’S KNOWN AS THE TEMPEST in a B-cup. Ever since British lingerie maker Gossard launched its $40 Super-Uplift bra at New York City’s Saks Fifth Avenue—and sold 400 in one day—sales of cleavage-enhancing bras have been busting out all over.

In the U.S., Gossard has so far moved some 500,000 of the Super-Uplifts, which urge the bosom up and forward. Competitors like Victoria’s Secret and Vanity Fair have been raking in big bucks promoting their own lines of newfangled push-ups. And when Sara Lee Foundations introduced the Wonderbra at Macy’s Manhattan flagship store in May, it sold 3,000 of the cantilevered contraptions in just 10 days. “People used to have implants, but that’s not seen as a good idea anymore,” says Gossard’s marketing director, Mark Pilkington. “They are turning to bras instead.”

Not everyone finds the idea uplifting. “It’s one more in a series of things saying women must look this way, that you can’t be sexy without having this,” says Leslie Caiman, director of New York City’s Barnard Center for Research on Women. “Like any dramatic fashion statement presented to the public, saying if you don’t wear this item you are not presenting yourself in the best way you can.”

Nonetheless, glamor gals Geena Davis, Cindy Crawford and Janice Dickerson have reportedly bought into the extra bit of oomph. Enthused superwaif Kate Moss: “They are so brilliant, I swear, even I get cleavage with them.” Rosie Perez, who has long shared bosom jokes with David Letter-man on his show, threatened to wear the Wonderbra for a recent appearance “if he’s lucky.” (He wasn’t.)

European haute couture has worked the idea into cinched-waist bosom-boosting evening dresses. Designers Gianni Versace, Christian Lacroix and Karl Lagerfeld built bones and padded cups right into their frocks at last month’s fall shows in Paris. Noting the sales of harder-working bras both here and abroad, Lagerfeld, who calls his elongated version the Wundercorset, said, “You can’t ignore a trend like that—women are ready for a change.”

Of course, the use of padding and underwires for the cleavage-challenged is hardly new. Frederick’s of Hollywood gave women a boost with a Rising Star bra in 1948. And Gossard had been selling the Wonderbra in Britain for 25 years before the Sara Lee Corp. snapped up the license and the name when it expired in 1993. But the new design is more sophisticated. The Super-Uplift (which Gossard created when it lost the Wonderbra license) has 46 separate pieces of lace, padding, straps and wire to provide what the makers call “ultimate cleavage.” The Wonderbra (about $23) boasts 56.

But are they comfortable? Recently, TV talk show host Bertice Berry asked audience volunteers to join her in trying on the new bras. “The straps in the back push you forward, and it itched,” admits Berry. “But the general opinion was that they loved it. It was the old cliché: pain before beauty.”