Fleur Turner’s passion for lingerie blossomed into an award-winning luxury brand.
Fleur Turner, the eponymous founder and CEO of luxury lingerie brand Fleur of England is standing in the bright, serene loft showroom of the label’s Bristol headquarters, flicking proudly through a chunky black sketchbook.
Dotted across the pages are Turner’s intricately detailed, hand-drawn sketches of delicate flowers, polka-dots and swirling galaxies – the last inspired by a night spent stargazing with her children in Greece. These images are directly translated into the elegant embroidery that adorns Fleur of England’s signature range of lingerie.
Attention to detail combined with a focus on top-quality fabrics and fit helped Fleur of England pick up the award for Lingerie Brand of the Year at the Drapers Independents Awards in 2018. As the brand’s first pop-up store opens in London, Turner now plans to expand her brand’s digital presence, and will not rule out launching stores as part of her aim to make underwear that makes women feel valued.
“We want to make women feel amazing in their underwear,” says Turner. “To make them feel treasured, loved, elegant and sensual. We are creating a world of sensuality.”
Turner originally launched the brand with the name Fleur T in 2001, and rebranded to Fleur of England in 2008 to better fit the luxury feel of the brand. In addition to its ecommerce site, which makes up 40% of total sales, the brand currently has 40 stockists worldwide, including six in the UK – among them Matchesfashion.com, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Edinburgh independent Odyssey Boutique.
A third of total sales come from the UK, one-third from the US and the remainder from the rest of the world – France, China and Russia perform strongly.
Small but mighty
Despite remaining small – the close-knit team of nine employees is based in the chic office space in the Redland area of Bristol – growth is continuing apace. Although Turner declines to give profits or exact figures, she says that sales are up 30% year on year across the business for the first half of the current financial year.
To say that Turner is passionate about lingerie would be something of an understatement, and her enthusiasm is grounded in the quality of the materials she works with, including silk and guipure lace.
“It’s about the sheerness of the fabrics and the way they feel,” she explains. “Having something that feels that amazing next to your skin is just wonderful. It gives you so much confidence when you’re wearing something that fits really well and you feel supported.”
For Turner, lingerie has been a life-long obsession. Growing up in Guildford, as a child she would cut up her mother’s old clothing and designing corsets, after which she attended the University of Northumberland in Newcastle to study fashion marketing. During her holidays, she worked as a fitter in a lingerie boutique.
It was in her final year of university that Fleur of England began to take shape, when a course project to design a brand led to the initial concept for a lingerie brand named “Fleur T”.
After graduating in 1998, Turner worked in design for the slips and camisoles section of a lingerie supplier in Bristol.
In her evenings, she continued building the skills she would need to launch her own label: “I shared a flat in Bristol with some really talented technical bra pattern cutters, and they helped me learn how to cut bras, because I didn’t know. I wanted to learn, so they helped train me up in the evenings.”
I saw a real gap in the market for luxury lingerie that fitted well
After being made redundant in 1999 and working as a designer in Hong Kong for a year, she took the plunge and set up the brand in 2000. Her first collection, under the Fleur T brand name, launched at Harrogate Lingerie Exhibition in 2001 and was an immediate hit.
“I wanted it to look really different and unique,” she explains. “I saw a real gap in the market for luxury lingerie that fitted well and was made really well and was beautifully finished. I also wanted it to have an element of quirky humour and a ‘bespoke-ness’.”
Turner describes the debut collection as “lacy, feminine and pretty” – it was decorated in hand-drawn stiletto prints. It drew the eye of the buying director for Liberty, which went on to launch the first season as an exclusive.
“I was literally jumping up and down afterwards – I was so excited,” smiles Turner. “You couldn’t have asked for a better start than that.”
Sensuality and sophistication are two words Turner uses time and again to describe her designs, but she also pays close attention to fit, fabrications and the storytelling behind the collection as a whole.
Lots of women fall in love with the brand the moment they see it
Sarah Connelly, Odyssey Boutique
“Fleur’s designs are unique,” explains Sarah Connelly, owner of lingerie store Odyssey Boutique, and a judge at the 2018 Drapers Independents Awards. “They are elegant with a sexy edge and you can tell that they are designed by women for women. The styles are not overly provocative, but they have a suggestive edge.
“Lots of women fall in love with the brand the moment they see it, and keep on coming back for new items. I always have 100% sell-through with Fleur: as soon as someone puts it on it walks out of the door with them.”
Lucy Litwack, CEO of lingerie brand and boutique Coco de Mer also praises the brand’s universally flattering styles: “Their floral embroideries are pretty and feminine, and the simple styles are flattering for every body type. They stick to a tried-and-tested formula that holds true to their romantic ideals. Their use of feminine and sensual colours and embroideries suit many skin tones, and they offer a softer alternative to the other, more dramatic, brands that we stock.”
Best selling styles include the balcony bra (from £95 retail) and the Boudoir non-underwired triangle bra (from £88). The Jasmine style in particular – with its tulle cups and guipure lace embellishment – has become a cult hit since it was launched in autumn 2012, and sparked a slew of similar styles across the lingerie sector.
“I was the first to do something like that with the guipure on the front. It was really lovely that people responded to it so well,” she says. “It really was a seminal piece for us. I’ve seen it everywhere since – it really impacted the lingerie market in terms of its design.”
Wholesale prices for the overall collection range from £31.50 for a thong to £150 for a robe. Bras are on average £39.50 depending on style. With its premium price points, the brand caters to a discerning and demanding customer.
“She’s sophisticated, determined, she knows what she wants and she’s passionate,” says Turner of the typical Fleur fan.
To satisfy high expectations, the brand works closely with fabric suppliers and manufacturers. With the exception of Chinese silk, all fabrics are sourced from Europe, and items are made at a small factory in Portugal that the business has worked with for 12 years. It uses elastics made in the UK, and used to manufacture a small amount of product at the factory of lingerie supplier AJM Sewing in Wales, before it closed in October 2018.
“We were so sad when it closed: it was the end of an era,” says Turner. “We worked with them for 10 years. When they first set up, I was in there sewing with the girls. But they put up their prices and it would have just been unaffordable for people to buy the range.”
Although a lot has changed for the brand in nearly 20 years of business, the importance of digital is something that has always been core to Turner’s approach.
“One thing that was really important to me was to have a website from the very start. It was hilarious and basic looking back at it, but I have always had a fascination with digital,” she explains. “I guess I’m a marketer as well, and I think it’s amazing that you can just reach so many people. Even back when I set up, I was fascinated that I could create my brand on a screen and everyone could look at it.”
Fleur of England does not have any own stores, but the website grants an insight into the brand and seeks to replicate the luxury service that would be provided in shops. The site features an online fitting room to guide women to their correct size with a range of videos and size calculation tools.
The “Men’s Area” acts as a guide for men buying lingerie for the women in their life. The section offers tips on fit, size and styling with video instructions and a five-step buying guide. With male shoppers making up 40% of the online customer base, this is a clever addition.
The brand also has a growing social media presence – it has almost 50,000 followers on Instagram. The brand is a favourite of social media influencers, including Millie Mackintosh, InTheFrow, The Lingerie Addict and The Grown Up Edit.
To cater for this growing demand online, a new website is currently under development – scheduled to launch around July. The new site, complete with refreshed branding, will prime the business for further growth – refining back-end operations and user experience.
Although the idea of opening its own stores remains a possibility, Turner stresses that the focus for 2019 is driving online growth. Alongside digital expansion, the wholesale arm is also set for a busy year. The brand launched its first-ever pop-up shop in Harrods on 7 February, showing the spring 19 collection and running for four weeks – “over Valentine’s Day,” smiles Turner knowingly.
Following on from this, in March, the brand will launch an exclusive, 14-item capsule collection with Matchesfashion, featuring a unique print designed by Turner.
As the industry evolves rapidly and businesses shift their approach to buying and selling, Turner also stresses the continuing importance of trade shows for wholesale businesses. For the autumn 19 season, the brand showed at the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris, and will show at Indx Intimate Apparel in Birmingham and Curve in New York.
“People ask if trade shows still matter, but people like to see people, which is so important,” she says. “I love going to the shows and seeing my customers, talking to them finding out how Fleur of England is performing for them – what works and what doesn’t, and asking if they have any fit feedback for us.”
With almost two decades in the lingerie under her belt, Turner’s enthusiasm, passion and creativity remain vibrant, and are accompanied by a smart head for business.
In addition to leading on strategy as CEO – “It’s like I have an active profit and loss ledger in my head at all times,” she jokes – she retains a close involvement with the creative side of the business. All embroidery designs are conceived in the black sketchbooks that sit on her desk, and the creative direction for every season is guided by Turner’s inspirations.
“Most of the time I am a businesswoman, but I love the creativity. That is my passion,” she says. As the business seeks to grow further, Turner stresses that managing future growth successfully is underpinned by the strong team she has built.
“When you’re a really small business and you’re growing, you all have to do so many different things,” she says. “You’re all running all the time, especially in fashion. There’s never a lull. I think that having the team really engaged is so important – they’re a fantastic group of ladies. Everyone takes ownership for their part of the strategy, everyone comes up with ideas.”
Across the team, the enthusiasm for the brand is palpable, and the office has a strong sense of community. Seeing their dedication and warmth, its no surprise that Turner is leading the team into an exciting future for the Fleur of England brand – celebrating and supporting women through her female focused ambitious brand.