Finding a retailer who doesn’t gush about Josie Natori is about as likely as the designer putting a blinged-out rhinestone-covered bra in her collection.
Natori, whose impeccable taste is well-documented, has a large following in the fashion community, and is beloved by her loyal customer base, which only endears her more to her retail partners.
When Natori in August threw a party to celebrate her company’s 40th anniversary, the guest list at the Prince George ballroom read like a who’s who of retail with Hudson Bay’s Jerry Storch, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo, Burt Tansky, Terry J. Lundgren, Ron Frasch and Rose Marie Bravo in attendance.
“As the first retailer to buy Josie’s line in 1977, Saks has invested 40 years in the Natori brand,” said Tracy Margolies, chief merchant of Saks Fifth Avenue. “From Day One, and through the decades, her impeccable talent has never wavered. She knows how to make women feel flawless. Josie has been a wonderful supporter and partner of Saks as well, and we’re incredibly proud and happy to have witnessed her brand evolve into the empire it is today.”
“Josie has always understood the importance of collaboration,” said Neiman Marcus senior vice president and fashion director Ken Downing. “She’s a great business partner at retail and gracious friend to all who meet her and always makes you feel immediately warm as welcomed.”
Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director of Macy’s Inc., admires the care Natori’s lavishes on her products and her “clean and modern aesthetic. She’s an incredibly passionate person. The work she’s done besides fashion is very interesting. The attention she gave to sleepwear and pajama dressing was really avant garde and certainly relevant, when you think about what’s going on today in fashion.”
Fischelis met Natori in Paris when she was working for Saks Fifth Avenue there, prior to moving to the U.S. in 1991 to become Saks’ fashion director. “I remember Josie when she was there,” Fischelis said. “She was always very curious and used to wear Pierre Cardin. She ‘s an individualist. She was very sophisticated and aware of what was going on in the world of fashion. She dressed with her own sense of sophistication.”
“Josie had been a vendor with us for a very long time and her partnership has been integral to the success of our Intimates business. Much of our success has been with her foray into the newest fabrications and prints from sumptuous robes to printed pajama sets,” said Erica Russo, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president and fashion director of accessories and beauty, adding that Bloomingdale’s in April unveiled a pop-up shop of ready-to-wear, accessories and sleepwear to celebrate the anniversary. “We we were celebrating our longstanding history with the brand.”
“My favorite moment with Josie was a chance meeting at Chez André one night in Paris,” Downing said. “Hugs, kisses and crazy conversation ensued, which resulted in an invitation to her sumptuous Jacque Grange-designed apartment. Aware of our chaotic fashion week schedules, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Her stunning home, magical meal and the witty repartee were only upstaged by her brilliant talent; Josie, an accomplished pianist, took to her grand piano and broke into song. Pretty soon, everyone was singing and laughing along with her. Only a women like Josie could bring that much joy to a room.”
Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president, women’s fashion director and store presentation, said, “They don’t make them like Josie Natori anymore. She’s widely admired not only for her consistent and signature design ethos rooted in her personal heritage, but for her extraordinary dedication, perseverance and absolute grace. She’s a true lady. Her mix of femininity, business savvy and talent make her a perfect industry icon. She’s in her own pantheon and a role model and inspiration to countless people including me.”
When Fargo was designing her fourth floor Linda’s at Bergdorf Goodman shop, “Josie created uber-luxury exotic embroidered silk kimonos for the fitting rooms,” she said. “So many clients want to sashay out with them. They weren’t bought to be sold, but client demand changes everything. Now, Josie’s uber-kimonos are for sale.”
“I am a huge personal fan of Natori,” said Lyn Lewis, founder of Journelle, which operates three stores in Manhattan and one in Chicago, adding that Natori’s Feathers style is one of Journelle’s top two styles. “It’s incredible. I personally own it in four colors. The bra is great because it is both highly functional, fits a wide range of breast shapes and bra sizes well, and is still feminine and pretty. The style of Natori lingerie speaks to so many women. It is a comfortable, practical, femininity. Who doesn’t want to look nice, while feeling great. So much women’s clothing tries to sacrifice one for the other.”
“I have always enjoyed my personal contact with Josie,” said Brenda Meadows, owner of the Lingerie Shoppe in Birmingham, Ala. “I’ve seen her several times in New York and had the pleasure of a brief visit she made to my shop, which is celebrating 71 years in business. I’ve owned the shop for 29. I inherited a limited inventory of Natori, but in these 29 years, Natori classics and Josie have been consistently sought after. I make sure I have deliveries each month. The Josie items have always appealed to a wide range of customers and the fabrics, prints and styles appeal to many ages. The price points makes them affordable for young women on a budget.
“Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, even though my shop is in an affluent part of Birmingham, I’ve carried a little less of the Classic line. I have customers who loved the beautiful fabrics and embroidery on the gowns, but those items have pretty much disappeared. I understand from an economic standpoint that products need to have wide appeal and that styles and fabrics have to change to accommodate budgets. The Natori and Josie styles have tried to stay true to the brand and the demand. I always spend a good amount of time at Curve looking at the line. I always write orders at market, so that I don’t lose my immediate impression of the line.”