As the lingerie brand turns 50, Drapers talks to CEO Aliza Reger about how Janet Reger has stood the test of time.
From a history of high-end stockists and clients including Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 1970s and 1980s, to dominating the high street in later years, Drapers speaks to Aliza Reger, CEO and founder Janet Reger’s daughter, to find out how the label has survived and how it will continue to develop during the next five decades.
How has Janet Reger survived 50 years when many other brands have failed?
Tenacity, luck, the ability to change with times and markets. We have had our fair share of scary times but I believe concentrating our focus on the diffusion lines for the past five years has had a big impact on the brand’s survival. We have two collections for Debenhams: Reger by Janet Reger Collection (retail prices start at £20 for bras), and the slightly more upmarket Reger Noir (bras retail around £35). These diffusion brands have democratised the Janet Reger business and brought some affordable luxury to the high street. Our 15-year collaboration with Debenhams has enabled us to reach a huge market, not only in the UK but also overseas. My Always Aliza capsule range of lingerie for JD Williams, launched a year ago, is geared to a more grown-up market, and has highlighted the desire and need for well-fitting pretty lingerie for bigger sizes. To celebrate 50 years we will launch a special anniversary collection in the Reger by Janet Reger Collection.
How has the brand evolved?
The brand started with my mother working from a room at home and my father taking samples to buyers in a small suitcase. They secured our first stockists, and Fenwick, Miss Selfridge, Selfridges and Harrods followed pretty quickly. The 1970s were about carefully building the brand, then the 1980s and 1990s were all about business growth and riding the various economic storms, Janet’s designs were a favourite with royalty and celebrities.
The big changes came with the recession in the late 2000s. We put the couture collection on hold in 2010 as it wasn’t growing as fast as we needed it to, and we focused on licensing, as we didn’t need the big infrastructure of an office, a factory and a design studio. The business went from being a small family operation with a very targeted high-end distribution to having a far wider appeal with affiliated licence products, including eyewear and bed linen.
How has the market changed?
When my mother started in the 1960s, the lingerie market was dominated by Marks & Spencer. Lingerie was functional and available in only three colours. Changing social attitudes, the democratisation of fashion and huge technological advances have all changed the industry. Elastane, alongside other manmade fibres, was a game changer.
What is the most iconic style of the last 50 years?
When I look at our archives a great-fitting sexy push-up padded bra is the item that stands out the most no matter the season or the decade. Janet made the sexy bra an art form years before Victoria’s Secret and the famous “hello boys” Gossard Wonderbra campaign.
It’s a family business. Did you always know you would get involved in the firm?
I started as the Christmas gift packer in the back of our first shop in Paddington when I was at school and when I was 17 I became the office junior. I never started out with the intention of being involved for a lifetime but life just took over and before I knew it, I was completely immersed in the business. I love textiles, I love lingerie and I love the architecture of it having to be both completely functional and beautiful.
What does the future hold?
We are currently rebuilding our website which will be transactional for the first time when it goes live this autumn. However, my biggest focus is the relaunch of the core brand Janet Reger Couture. We are currently in discussions with several potential partners and we hope to re-establish and grow the Couture range of the business online, with select luxury stores and our own standalone store. I am also working on an athleisure line, which is in its early stages and is very sports underwear focused.
What has been your career highlight to date?
Packing silk pyjamas for David Bowie when I was about 12, and preparing Diana, Princess of Wales’s wedding trousseau.
What’s the favourite part of your job?
It has to be working on new collections. Being creative is the best part and as the business is heavily focused on licensing I am privileged to work with some really talented and creative people. Working to a particular price point has taught me a great deal of discipline and to be a lot more scientific in my approach.
What new trends and styles are you seeing in lingerie?
We are feeling a big movement towards the oriental and exotic. The feel is sultry Marrakech and bold statement pieces are key. Muted terracotta, burnt saffron, and organic shades of green and bold blues are popular. It’s also all about the eyelash lace, and suggestion and seduction with key holes, peep holes. It is about sophisticated glamour and statement pieces layered over dramatic lingerie. The body is a big comeback piece, and long-line bras and bigger-shaped knickers are also key.
What opportunities does online hold for lingerie?
Online is an amazing addition to our businesses – it allows a 24/7 retail access and gives us the ability to transmit whatever message we need to convey to our customer. While I believe people still like to go to an actual store for the immediate retail buzz, online will only continue to grow. The online option means women can try on the bras in the comfort of their home, and for those who are more body conscious, this allows them greater privacy. Once she knows her size with a brand, she can re-order without having to leave the house.