Mosaic Fashions’ Sophie Turnbull tells Lorna Hall about her role designing lingerie for the group’s Odille and Karen Millen brands.
How did you get where you are today?
I studied womenswear at college, but lingerie was always my passion and I managed to get my first job at US supplier and brand SaraMax. It was an excellent introduction to the lingerie market because the US business is set up differently to the UK’s.
In the US the largest commercial share is in smooth and moulded product, while fashion product is seen more as the icing on the cake. So as a designer in the US there was a lot of emphasis on the technical side of the business, which was great training.
From SaraMax I came back to the UK and worked at Debenhams as a lingerie designer, before returning to the US to work for the Victoria’s Secret chain.
I then headed back to Debenhams in the UK as a senior designer, and was later promoted to design manager. Next I worked at retailer Myla for a short time before joining Mosaic Fashions. My US experience will come in handy because Odille has just signed a US distribution deal with distributor NAP, which also handles lingerie brand Princesse Tam Tam, bra brand Shock Absorber and Derek Rose nightwear.
Where do you find your inspiration for the lingerie collections?
Odille has always had a slightly retro feel, so I often look at brands and retailers that have the same aesthetic for ideas. When I am in the US I always look at what lifestyle retailer Anthropologie is up to.
But it is often from fabrics, particularly vintage prints, that I find real direction. Karen Millen, which launched its first lingerie collection for autumn 07, is all about reflecting the brand’s sexier, body-conscious personality, so I get great ideas from the womenswear ranges.
How has the lingerie market changed since you started work?
The most dramatic change has been consumers’ approach to product. When I started, so much of the market was about basic black, white and nude collections, with the only real differentiator being lace.
Customers are much more sophisticated now; they want a lingerie wardrobe to suit their mood and what they are doing during the day. Many women now have a mixture of lingerie that covers all aspects of their lives, from functional and comfort styles to fashion and flirty. Women are also no longer afraid of colour or print, which has made the life of a lingerie designer so much more fulfilling.
What are the biggest influences on the lingerie market?
Over the past couple of years price has been an issue as the discounters and supermarkets move into the sector. But what is really interesting is the growing awareness among women about what a good bra can do for them, and the realisation that well-made lingerie is a good investment.
TV shows such as Trinny and Susannah’s What Not To Wear and Gok Wan’s How to Look Good Naked, which have shown the benefits that wearing the right-sized bra can have for your figure, have had a huge influence on customers.
At Odille we are working on our fit to make sure the brand is seen as a serious lingerie player. The market has come through its boudoir phase – lingerie brands today have to be credible whatever their market position if they are to thrive beyond being a niche business. It’s fascinating to see how the fashion and technical sides of the business are merging, and that’s all about consumer demand.
Who is your fashion icon and why?
It’s always been Ava Gardner. I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that she had the perfect lingerie figure, but also because she strikes just the right balance between 1950s movie star glamour and innate style.
Actress Ava Gardner starred in films such as Mogambo, The Night of the Iguana and 55 Days at Peking. The green-eyed brunette was a noted beauty, and her movie career was almost a sideline to her celebrity that sprung from a number of high-profile marriages. In 1942, at the age of 19, she married actor Mickey Rooney.
Her second husband was big band leader Artie Shaw, while her third and final marriage in 1951 was to Frank Sinatra, who left his wife for Gardner. Her lovers included film actor Robert Mitchum and director Howard Hughes.
Gardner remains a style icon, and with a career spanning the 1940s and 1950s, she encapsulated the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Sleek and elegant, her trademark look comprised long gloves and figure-hugging clothing, including fitted skirts and wide belts.
Sophie Turnbull is head of design at Mosaic Intimates