This is going to be uncomfortable, but trust me, totally worth it." Cassie coaxed Dana to arch her back higher, squeezing everything just so. "You look incredible."
"It feels weird," Dana said. "I'm starting to sweat."
"Totally normal," Cassie said. "Hold it, right there." The angles were just right; the light streaming through the open windows cast just the right amount of shadows and ethereal glow. Dana's naturally red curls glinted with gold undertones, and the lace chemise she wore was sheer enough to showcase the constellation of freckles across her unbelievably unblemished skin. Maybe it was the blush or the body shimmer placed just so, or the fact that Dana was sweating, but she was sparkling all over. A corny person would say she was glowing from within. And that's exactly what Cassie wanted to capture.
She took in the entire scene for another moment, stepping back a few paces to admire her work. "We're ready. You are ready. You're a goddess." The second she saw Dana's eyes light up with the compliment she gave her-which Cassie genuinely meant-Cassie pressed the shutter release. "Bingo."
They shot for another thirty minutes. A seasoned pro, Dana was able to twist and exaggerate her body in exactly the way Cassie had envisioned for this photo shoot. Starting a new series was always daunting, but it was the first time in a while that she had a project of her own to work on. Not that she could complain about her boudoir photo shoot business-Buxom Boudoir-but Cassie longed for more time to do whatever she wanted. She was lucky that Dana, a plus-size model, had a new line of pinup-inspired lingerie, and luckier still that Dana was her very best friend in the whole world. Because working on the national ad campaign for Dana's collection of sexy underthings was exactly the type of thing Cassie wanted to work on to take her career to the next level.
Beyond the pretty makeup and sexy lingerie, Cassie enjoyed her job the most when Dana stopped sucking everything in, exposing body rolls and dimpled legs, let out a sigh, and stuck out her tongue in exaggerated exhaustion. Cassie took a few more rapid shots until Dana flicked her off. And Cassie had a hunch that would be the shot they loved the most.
Cassie connected a USB cable from her trusty Canon EOS 5D camera to her laptop, giving the images a minute to upload. She gazed at Dana, who had pulled on a silky floral robe, the same one she and all the bridesmaids had worn the morning of Dana's wedding. Cassie hadn't seen Dana look so happy and relaxed and beautiful since that day until now. Knowing she was going to be a part of her best friend's biggest dream-starting an all-inclusive lingerie line that was smashing the patriarchy one thong at a time-was beyond fulfilling. The early online support from Dana's announcement of her collaboration had been overwhelmingly positive, and Cassie knew her vision for her pinups with a twist would be well received.
"Jesus Christ, Dana," Cassie said, focusing on the photos. "Your boobs are, quite frankly, the tits."
Dana's fair skin bloomed in a crimson flush. For someone who had spent most of her time in front of a camera scantily clad, she blushed so easily. "Thanks, doll face. I couldn't have done half of that without you. Only you can get me in those positions." She joined Cassie in front of the laptop screen as Cassie scrolled. Sure, there were a few duds here and there, but when the photos worked, they really worked. Cassie knew the angles of her best friend's body better than anyone-except maybe Dana's wife, Riki-and she knew the vibe she wanted to convey.
"Undies with caution tape emblazoned on the trim do require a certain panache," Cassie teased. "And I think we got it. I cannot wait to see the underwear you designed on a model's ass on the side of a bus."
Dana's collection, under the Luscious Lingerie brand, was called Dreamland. Everything was lacy and sheer, with gorgeous pastels and deep jewel tones, but just like in the middle of an incredible dream, there were random things that didn't quite make sense-yellow caution tape trim, skulls and crossbones in the middle of lace patterns, hand outlines on the cups of bras. Not to mention the size range: everything from XXS to 6XL. Anyone and everyone who wanted pretty undergarments could find them in Dana's Dreamland.
Dreamland came to Dana after she had spent years wearing plain, boring bras that offered the support her ample bosom needed, and she wanted to wear the sensationally sexy and vibrant designs she saw fellow lingerie models wearing regularly. While they got to wear lacy, sheer, strappy teddies and playsuits, Dana-and similarly, Cassie-was confined to blas? basics.
When Luscious Lingerie burst on to the scene a few years earlier, they had made their mission to create lingerie and undergarments that made everyone look and feel supported and sexy, no matter what. And Dana wanted to model and design lingerie that looked and fit like a dream.
Cassie had spent many a night creating vision boards and scrolling through Pinterest to define what it really meant when something "fit like a dream." Dana wanted everything to fit perfectly but also be brashly sexy and fun . . . which lingerie could absolutely not be when a body didn't fit into what "traditional" sizing deemed appropriate. Dana's Dreamland and Luscious Lingerie were taking the unconventional and necessary steps to make garments that could appeal to anyone who wanted to wear something vivacious and pretty.
And with the help of the Lucious Lingerie designers, adding cheeky touches like mesh cutouts, bright patterns, and the aforementioned caution tape bands, Dana's idea of a quirky, off-kilter lingerie dreamscape went to the next level. Dana's Dreamland line ranged from supportive bras and sheer panties in a variety of cuts to relaxed bralettes and cozy boy shorts, from plush robes to gauzy chemises and supremely sexy teddies-all made to fit and feel great on different body types.
"You know, I designed the caution undies with you in mind," Dana said, gently poking Cassie's side, knowing it made her squirm. "When was the last time anyone has been down there?"
"Ha ha, thanks for that," Cassie said, rolling her eyes and swaying her ample hips. "Admittedly, it's been a while, but I'm okay with that. I've got a job to focus on and a few more projects in mind-plus BB is doing really well."
"People love taking off their clothes and getting photographed," Dana said, shimmying over to a privacy screen to change.
Buxom Boudoir was Cassie's dream come to life. A few years earlier, once Dana had started gaining traction through her social media following as a plus-size model and body-confidence advocate, she and Cassie had started their luxury boudoir/pinup photography studio in the heart of Chicago's River North neighborhood. Cassie had photographed Dana for as long as she'd been interested in photography-they had been best friends since middle school. Initially bonding as the first two girls in class to get boobs and attracting all the attention from dumb preteen boys, Cassie and Dana were each other's ride-or-die, BFF, sister from another mister, and so forth.
Starting her own photography business wasn't exactly what Cassie had planned, however. She knew that she was a great photographer, she had an interesting point of view, and people would be interested in what she wanted to show. But more doors closed than opened when an inexperienced, Black female photographer came knocking. Cassie was tired of the rejection and decided to combine her love of all things vintage into a full-service boudoir photography studio. It took some convincing, but with her parents as early financial backers, her meager savings from the various photographer jobs she did land-including copious amounts of engagement photos, weddings, and family portraits-and Dana's support as well, Buxom Boudoir (affectionately called BB) was born.
At first, it had been just Cassie and Dana-between the two of them, they could handle scheduling, styling, hair, makeup, set design, and, of course, the actual photography. But as clients started gravitating toward Cassie's professional and easygoing demeanor and their following grew. They brought on Kit Featherton, a petite effervescent Brit who dressed entirely in prim pastels and barely wore any makeup herself, but who tackled makeup and hairstyles with gusto and flair. As whimsical as her name, Kit spent more time attending hair shows and beauty seminars and practicing techniques on willing clients (and not-so-willing coworkers) than anything else. Cassie admired Kit's devotion to learning as much as she could about how to care for and style a variety of different hair types, and she had become an indispensable part of the Buxom Boudoir team.
With the addition of Kit to the team, their popularity skyrocketed, and Cassie couldn't be happier. BB started to get some recognition from local businesses to do photo shoots for social media content, small-scale ad campaigns, marketing materials, and a Chicago bridal magazine had even hired the team a few times for editorial spreads. But best of all, BB was a boudoir studio run by a Black woman, with all-female employees, producing beautiful content that left their clients happy and empowered. Cassie was her own boss, had an incredible team, and wanted even more.
Bringing on Samantha Sawyer-a young, recently graduated marketing major with a photography minor-had been the icing on the cake. Sam's business acumen, social media savvy, and ability to aptly assist with photography equipment made up for her grumpy disposition. Youngest of them all, always bored, prickly on her best days and seething on her worst, Sam was painfully blunt, took no shit, and made the BB team complete. With Sam in place to concentrate on scheduling, check clients in, make sure everything was prepared, and help Cassie throughout shoots, Buxom Boudoir was a force to be reckoned with, and Cassie had more time to take on freelance shoots and daydream about her own more conceptual projects.
Several months ago, Buxom Boudoir found its new home when they moved from a small storefront into a new, bigger loft space located on the top floor of an old warehouse that had been converted into workspaces. Cassie loved this studio because it had been a blank slate and they could do whatever they wanted to it. They had views of the skyline, natural light came in just right from virtually all sides, and there was enough room for everyone to have desks, a large area for shoots, and a spot they called the Glam Zone, which consisted of two salon chairs, mirrors for hair and makeup, and thrifted shelving repurposed for all of Kit's beauty products, curling irons, and bobby pins. Dana had clothing racks lining the makeshift walls of her "office," with options for the different types of photo shoots they did-sultry and sexy or cheeky and cheery. Their studio had become Cassie's sanctuary-she spent more time there than her own beloved apartment, which was within walking distance. She owned and ran a photography studio on her own terms, and she was finally saving money.
And yet, she still wanted more. Cassie had successfully carved out a niche in the boudoir scene, but she wanted to book national ad campaigns that were torn out of magazines to put on inspiration boards or were pinned thousands of times on Pinterest. She wanted the freedom to explore her own personal photography endeavors and work on high-concept artwork that she could show at galleries across the country. She wanted to use her platform and curate collections of artists she admired to boost up so they could find success, too. Which meant Cassie still had a long way to go, and art directing and photographing the campaign for Dana's line would be a clutch gig for her.
"I can't believe this is one of the last times I'll be photographing you like this for a while," Cassie said when Dana emerged from behind the partition. She looked gorgeously refreshed in a white bodycon dress that hugged every single curve, including the teeny tiny bump only someone who spent a ton of time taking pictures of Dana in minimal clothing would notice.
Dana smiled, her hand immediately cradling her belly. To anyone else, she looked like her normally curvaceous self, but Cassie's best friend was finally, blissfully, eagerly on her way to motherhood. After years of trying to conceive and miscarrying until she was diagnosed with cervical insufficiency a condition that prevented some women from carrying pregnancies beyond the first trimester, Dana and her debonair wife, Riki, were finally going to have the baby they so desperately wanted. This time around they were armed with the knowledge of what they needed to do to carry this pregnancy to term. They had also spent months searching for a sperm donor whose background matched Riki's Japanese heritage, and they had recently found an anonymous donor through a local sperm bank.
But with her diagnosis, Dana would have to go on bed rest sooner rather than later, to keep that baby cooking for as long as possible. And as much as Dana wanted to star in her own lingerie line's campaign, she also knew how important this line would be to so many people and that it needed to move forward, which meant someone else would model in the ad campaign. Their timing may have been less than ideal, but Dana was determined to have it all and make things work from the safety of her cozy bed.
Which was why it was integral to the success of Dreamland that Cassie was in charge of the campaign. She had been a part of the process since the concept initially creeped into Dana's mind-ethereal lingerie with a twisted edge. Dana trusted Cassie with her work and her life, and Cassie was ready for this giant step, art directing a well-known lingerie brand on a hotly anticipated body-inclusive lingerie line.
Amply bosomed herself-36H, thank you very much-Cassie was full-figured and proud of it, but she understood the struggles of finding affordable, pretty, and fun lingerie. Dreamland was going to provide this to women of all sizes. Dana had worked countless hours on the prototypes, making sure someone with a negative A cup or an XXXL derriere could find the same negligee but cut to accommodate different body types.
"I'm just glad everything will be in your hands. But I will be watching," Dana said, laughing a mock-evil laugh.
Cassie chuckled, knowing Dana would figure out some way to oversee every step of the process.
"The set I wore today is just the start and will be an awesome way to get my followers riled up. We should have samples of the full line soon, and once I approve those, we'll be in full production, your shoots will be underway, and our campaign will finally happen."