Byline: Rose-Marie Turk

LOS ANGELES — Many elements have contributed to the success of Sara’s Lingerie, a specialty shop in Encino: extensive collections of high-end domestic and European intimate apparel, free alterations — and faith in the American dream.
Describing their ascent to an 1,800-square-foot boutique at the upscale Plaza de Oro shopping center from a 900-square-foot outlet in Tarzana 11 years ago, Russian-born owners Sara and Gary Sanfir describe themselves as examples of immigrant success.
“It’s not that the streets are paved with gold, but if you work very hard in this country, you will find the American dream,” said Gary Sanfir, whose professions have included that of tailor, engineer, economist, carpenter and interior decorator.
After living in Russia, Germany and Israel, Gary Sanfir and his wife, Sara, a former music teacher, started their first store with $7,200 — $4,000 of which was invested in merchandise. For 1996, they are projecting a sales gain of 17 percent but wouldn’t specify annual volume.
Plaza de Oro, however, claims solid productivity, with overall sales per square foot averaging between $400 and $500, said Lina Nazarian, marketing director for the shopping center.
Sara’s first began as a fragrance boutique — with a few intimate apparel pieces in the back — but its proximity to a medical building quickly drew a clientele for specialty, post-mastectomy foundations. Offering customers free alterations on anything from a $29 bra to a $395 bodysuit — also cultivated a strong following, she said.
The idea of free alterations was inspired by their daughter, Rebecca, who at age 13 needed a 30 DDD cup-sized bra.
Sara Sanfir noted she purchased bras by Lou and Pastuannette for their daughter, and Gary Sanfir altered the bras to custom-fit her. Now, Sara Sanfir heads a staff of four to custom-fit any woman, whose needs can range from junior bras to special occasion styles.
Inside a fairy-tale brick-and-wood facade, customers are greeted with soothing classical music, flowered wallpaper, velvet-and-taffeta-decorated fitting rooms, and color-coordinated wall displays organized by styles and product category. Gary Sanfir does the lion’s share of alterations, and even creates special wedding pillows and guest books.
“Bras are our staple, and bodysuits are our specialty,” said Sara Sanfir, noting that half of total sales are generated by bras and coordinating panties from several French labels: Lise Charmel, Aubade, Ritratti, La Perla, Ligne Rien, Simone Perle, Lou and Chantelle. The bras retail between $29 and $175.
Bodysuits retail from $49 to $425 and account for 30 percent of overall sales. Key European and American brands include Hanky Panky, Calida, Hanro, Cosabella, Wolford, Imec, Ritmo de Perla, Jonquil and Arlotta.
The upscale bra and bodysuit labels are aimed at “wealthy women who like beautiful lingerie and are looking for better quality,” she said. She added that a good deal of business is generated through telephone orders from former area residents, or women who had bought lingerie while on vacation.
Different types of merchandise are displayed at the front of the store seasonally. During the winter, robes are best-selling items. During the February-through-May bridal season, though, that location is occupied by sexy, diaphanous peignoirs and negligees.
Popular boudoir accessories include scented candles and bath and body products that retail from $4.50 to $70, as well as an assortment of slippers by Fernando Sanchez, Jonquil, Jacques Levine and Olivia Rose Tal. The slippers retail between $49 and $139. There also is a small selection of swimwear by La Perla.