WOONSOCKET â€“ Quick, how long is a chain of 169,000 hooked-together brassieres?
Christopher Turcotte used to be a child actor in Hollywood, but heâ€™s also pretty good at bra math. Taking into account the stretch factor, he does a few quick calculations. He doesnâ€™t even need paper. He does it all in his head.
â€śYouâ€™re talking a lot of bras,â€ť he says. â€śIf you really put some stretch in there they can go two to three feet. Youâ€™re talking miles and miles of bras. Youâ€™re talking about 120 miles of bras.â€ť
This is important stuff to Turcotte. The native of Easton, Mass., is the executive assistant to Jennifer Jolicoeur, the CEO of Athenaâ€™s Home Novelties. Jolicoeur and her company have gotten rave reviews for making the merchandising of sex toys and racy lingerie seem as wholesome and heartwarming as an episode of Lassie Comes Home. The company made its bones by recruiting sales reps dubbed â€śgoddessesâ€ť to sell blush-inducing products at home-based â€śBoudoir Bingosâ€ť and other festive events inspired by successful empires like Avon and Tupperware.
Operating out of a former textile factory at 640 Winter St., Athenaâ€™s has also embarked on a charitable mission to raise money for breast cancer research by stringing together the worldâ€™s longest â€śbra chain.â€ť From trite to triumphant, that venerable chronicler of the benchmarks of human achievement, the Guinness Book of World Records, registers the reigning measurement of success as 166,000, a mark Athenaâ€™s is shooting to top by at least 3,000 bras.
Athenaâ€™s has collected about 110,000 bras since the campaign began in 2009, but it hopes to bridge the gap and set a new record â€“ right here in Woonsocket â€“ sometime in 2014.
Now you can help, too. All you have to do is be a â€śProud Hooker.â€ť
No, you donâ€™t have to be a real hooker (though presumably theyâ€™re not disqualified from participating, either) to pitch in. You donâ€™t even have to be a woman, though it probably helps. All you have to do is donate a bra to the Proud Hooker campaign, thus providing an item of intimate apparel that will, one day, be literally hooked to someone elseâ€™s as part of the worldâ€™s longest bra chain.
The Proud Hooker campaign is latest promotion in Athenaâ€™s race for the world record, also known as Athenaâ€™s Cup. It debuts this weekend at Autumnfest.
Everyone who donates a bra will get a pink lapel pin declaring the wearer a Proud Hooker. A $5 donation to the cause of curing breast cancer will also be requested.
Athenaâ€™s will bring its mobile headquarters, a Winnebago camper, to the festival at World War II Memorial Park. All of the bras donated during Autumnfest will be hooked together and stretched around the Winnebago like a giant garter.
The campaign is the brainchild of Jolicoeur, who has come up with a veritable potpourri of titillating promotions to raise money for breast cancer research since the founding of Athenaâ€™s Cup.
â€śYou know, the word hooker can have a very negative connotation, but in his case itâ€™s something very positive,â€ť she says.
Athenaâ€™s has already donated $20,000 to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, and it also bought a mammography machine for Miriam Hospital with proceeds from Athenaâ€™s Cup. But Jolicoeur says there will still be a sizable sum available for charity by the time Athenaâ€™s is within striking distance of the bra chain record, and she hasnâ€™t decided yet who will be the beneficiary.
A group engaged in promising scientific research would be a strong contender, because â€śI want to make sure the money goes somewhere where it will really make a huge impact,â€ť she says. â€śI didnâ€™t want to give the money out in dribs and drabs.â€ť
But first, Athenaâ€™s has to break the record, and thatâ€™s going to take a lot more than just tens of thousands of bras. When the day finally comes, itâ€™s going to take boots on the ground, and many, many nimble fingers.
Thatâ€™s because the folks at Guinness have some very strict rules for building a better bra chain, according to Jolicoeur.
â€śYou cannot pin the bras together,â€ť she says. â€śYou cannot sew the bras together. You have to hook the bras together using only the hooks that come with the bras. You can imagine what happens in a chain if 100,000 or 200,000 bras come apart. If something comes unhooked it turns into a tangled mess.â€ť
The current world record is currently held by an Australian group. More recently, an intrepid group of Brits took a stab at the gold standard of bra brinksmanship, but they fell abysmally short when their serpentine string of strained spandex somehow began unraveling.
As the sorry example of Great Britain proves, itâ€™s going to take not just a bevy of bras, but a lot of arms holding them together with just the right degree of tautness to keep the record-breaking ribbon of feminine undergarments intact. Or, as Jolicoeur likes to put it, â€śItâ€™s going to take a lot of hookers.â€ť
Even if you donâ€™t get to be a Proud Hooker at Autumnfest, you can still donate a bra to the campaign, which is apparently a pretty cool thing to do. Athenaâ€™s has collected a number of â€ścelebrity bras,â€ť a few of which will be on display during Autumnfest. Onetime pop star Peter Tork, a former member of The Monkees, has signed and donated a bra for the cause, and so has Bret Michaels, the lead vocalist of the glam-metal band Poison, better known these days for his signature bandanna. The band Coldplay has donated bras and money to the cause.
Turcotte is quite at home collecting celebrity brassieres because he was once a bit of a celebrity himself. As a child, he and his mother moved to Los Angeles, where he graduated from the San Fernando Valley Professional School â€“ Janet Jacksonâ€™s alma mater. He later appeared as a regular character in â€śTwo of a Kind,â€ť the late 1990s kiddie comedy starring the Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley.
Turcotte, 30, never signed a minorâ€™s release to have his cast credits included on the Internet Movie Database for the series, but Google his name and youâ€™ll find his resume also includes appearances on MTVâ€™s â€śUndressed.â€ť He also had a role in a 2000 film remake dubbed â€śDrive-In,â€ť a picture Turcotte is comfortable calling â€śa D-movie.â€ť
By the time he was 18, Turcotte was done with Hollywood and returned to Massachusetts with his mother. He recently moved to Woonsocket to be closer to an elderly relative and met Jolicoeur for the first time while he was working as a waiter at the Bocce Club this spring. She and her husband came in for dinner, and not long after that he found himself working as her assistant.
Building bra chains ainâ€™t showbiz, but for Turcotte Athenaâ€™s is a pretty good second act.
â€śItâ€™s a great company,â€ť he says. â€śWeâ€™re local and we do business with other local companies. It seems like hardly a day goes by when weâ€™re not giving something back to the community or giving to a local charity.â€ť