(NEW YORK)Prolific lingerie designer Josie Natori knows what it takes to turn a burgeoning intimates label into a global lifestyle brand. Ready to get intimate?
BY PAIGE REDDINGER
Before fashion, were you really a banker?
How do you split your energies between the business and creative aspects of the brand?
In the end, I always believe that it’s a business. But I’m also cognizant that creativity is important. I think the two work side by side. I enjoy creating something that someone will want, but in the end you measure your success by business results.
Your earliest Natori pieces were shirts repurposed as nightgowns: tell us more!
I was showing some embroidered blouses a friend had given me to a buyer at Bloomingdale’s and she said, ‘Why don’t you make this a nightshirt?’ That’s how I accidently found myself in the lingerie world.
How many nightgowns did you sell to Saks in the first season?
We sold thousands! It was a novel idea at the time. Even I didn’t have any idea of what this was supposed to be. I just made clothes that you could sleep in if you wanted to.
How else did you revolutionize the industry?
Bringing color and print to this category was something very revolutionary at the time, because I was treating it like eveningwear. When I got into the industry it was either sweet and traditional or lewd. This was something in between.
How have skivvies evolved since you started?
Lingerie is now incorporated into womens’ wardrobes; it’s not just something you hide. Pajamas, bras, and corsets are not just what you sleep in. It’s gone mainstream!
Do men ever influence your super-femme designs?
Frankly, no. I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 40 years, but I don’t think about what he likes in terms of the business. If men enjoy it, that’s fine, but it’s about the woman. If a woman feels good in something, then everybody around her feels good.
What’s a day in the life of Josie Natori?
These days I travel so much! But normally, I have a trainer at 7 a.m. a few times a week, I’m in the office by 9 a.m., and I try to see my grandchildren for a few minutes each morning. They live five floors downstairs! One is three years old and one is 8 months. Then, I work a full day, at least 10 hours. I never sit still!
How do you like to unwind?
I love to sleep and get a massage. I like to sit around with my friends and just gossip. Also, we have a place in Palm Beach where I like to sit in the sun and do absolutely nothing.
You originally considered getting into antiques. Is that still a hobby?
I’m a shopaholic! I love antiques and going to flea markets. We have quite an enormous trove of archives, dating back 40 years; I’ve been scouring the market.
What are your career highlights?
I gave a concerto when I turned 50 at Carnegie Hall in front of 500 people. That was very personal. In terms of fashion, I just received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Femmy Gala. It makes me feel very old. I’m grateful, but the best is yet to come!
Speaking of your turn at Carnegie Hall, how long have you been playing piano?
Since I was 4 years old. I have to say, I’m happiest at the piano. I like playing Rachmaninoff.
Did you ever want to be a professional pianist?
The business I’m in has allowed me to express artistry in a different way. Sitting at the piano is special, but I don’t have the temperament to become a concert pianist.
You’re unveiling a new retail concept that looks like a boudoir!
This is for our more contemporary brand, Josie. It’s a fairly young brand for us, addressing women who are 25 to 35 years old. The line shows the fun, eclectic, and casual lifestyle of that customer, so the retail concept is meant to look like that customer’s bedroom. We’re actually eyeing a space downtown. Hopefully we’ll open at the end of this year.
What’s your take on the industry today?
Women have so many more choices today, and information travels so fast, you have to be clear what you’re about. But one element that has stayed the same is the consumer’s appreciation of authenticity. Josie Natori is a brand that stands for something, and we’re consistent. I’m grateful we’re still around 35 years later.