You'll be very hard pressed to find a bra with a Charlie Brown or Wicked Witch of the West theme on the racks at your favorite lingerie shop. But you'll have no problem spotting wildly creative and imaginative designs on the runway at After the Storm's annual Art Bra fashion show. The one-of-a-kind show features models in costume-esque bras that are handmade by people who have been touched by cancer, including survivors, friends, family, and caretakers.
Christine Willet founded After the Storm, Inc, in 2009 after successfully undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, a clinical trial, and integrative medicine treatments for the breast cancer she was diagnosed with at age 30 when she was seven months pregnant with her second child. The goal of integrative medicine (IM) is to treat the mind as well as the body, and can include massage, acupuncture, yoga, reiki, reflexology, etc., in addition to conventional care.
"They helped me feel better," says Willett. She notes, however, that IM treatments aren't always accessible for all cancer survivors. "The IM services are expensive for patients, and I thought it would be a great idea to be able to pay for those services for cancer patients during and after treatment." says Willett.
Willett wanted other cancer survivors to have access to the same alternative resources that she had, and thus After the Storm, Inc. was born.
"We've been able to supplement IM services so that the services are either free or deeply discounted so that survivors can afford to participate in them and feel better," Willet says.
Since its founding, the After the Storm has donated over $191,000. "All of our money goes directly to cancer centers in Connecticut," says Willett, which have included the Center for Survivorship and Integrative Medicine at the Middlesex Cancer Center, Midstate Medical Center, and Griffin Hospital.
While After the Storm holds numerous events to raise funds to help cancer survivors afford IM services, one of the biggest is Art Bra.
"At first, it was just my friends that designed bras, and now it has branched out so that bras come from all over the state," says Willett. "Everyone has been touched by cancer, so most have a personal connection to the cause."
One artist is Kristen Tyrseck, an old friend of Willett whose sister had been creating bras for the event for years. "I was hesitant to create because she's so good," says Tyrseck, "I didn't think I was good enough." Her sister's bras have had themes including It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with pumpkin cups, Day of the Dead skulls, and Liberty Bells. Tyrseck is currently working on a rock and roll themed bra for the event, which will be the second one she's made. "I'm 20 hours into it and I'm not even close to being done," she says.
Tyrseck, a police officer in Middletown, says the first bra that she made for the event had a police theme, with badges that had been sent in from people all over the country. "It was really a labor of love," says Tyrseck. The bra was made in honor of her best friend, a Berlin police officer, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. It was purchased for $675 by a woman whose brother, a Canadian police officer, died from cancer.
Carol Schilling, another artist planning to participate in the event, is in the process of constructing her "gumball machine" bra. The cups will consist of two halves of a gumball machine that will be filled with real gumballs and paired with a pompom hat. Previous projects for Schilling have included a Carmen Miranda fruit bra which included basket cups with overflowing fruit inside, and one entitled "My Ding-a-Ling" which featured bells left from the fire at the Bevin Brothers Bell Factory. Schilling has worked in the radiology department of Middlesex Hospital for 39 years. Her mother died from breast cancer at the age of 81.
Men also take part in the feminine event and strut down the runway in bras. Male bras have included one with a "construction" theme that featured traffic cones for cups, a "Wicked Witch of the West" theme with witch hats for cups, and a "boxer" theme with hot pink boxing gloves covering the model's chest. This will be the first year that Art Bra will feature a Man Show Contest, in which a man will be chosen to walk down the runway. The finalists will be chosen by the organization's Board of Directors, and the winner will be voted on by a public vote. In addition to walking the runway, the winner will also be granted two tickets to the event.
The bras are sold at auction during the event, and the price can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $2,000. Bras that don't make the runway are also raffled off at tables. "The donations help your family, friends, neighbors, etc. It all stays local," says Willett. A portion of the profits from the event will also go towards what Willett describes as "the unique needs of breast cancer survivors."
But what happens to the bedazzled brassieres once they step off the runway? A triple-G-sized bra adorned in peacock feathers doesn't exactly qualify as every day wear. "[Maybe] some are used in the bedroom...I don't know," says Tyrseck. As for herself, she says that she plans to wear one of hers as a Halloween costume. Many of them are also hung on display throughout the state, including restaurant bathrooms, cancer centers, and doctors' offices. One was even spotted hanging in Manhattan.
The event is a light after the storm for people who have been affected by cancer, and apparently that light is covered in sequins and Mr. Potato Head figures. "It's always going to be something fun," says Tyrseck.
The Art Bra runway event is Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville. For more information on the event, visit