In 1997, we first met Josie Natori, founder and CEO of lingerie enterprise The Natori Company. Known in New York’s social circles as a stylish woman, Natori filled her wardrobe with Yves Saint Laurent, Alaia, Balenciaga and Givenchy.
When she launched her ready-to-wear line over a decade ago, Natori had been wearing most of her designs.
At the presentation of her recent collections at Raffles Makati, she wore an Italian jacquard coat over a shift. She complemented her outfit with dangling, feather-shaped earrings in carabao horn by Arnel Papa, and Italian shoes.
Her fall look is inspired by Japonism, the Western interpretation of 19th-century Japanese design. Orchid pink, violet and rose floral and peacock feather prints adorn the fabric. Whether it’s sleepwear, lingerie or fashion, the brand is distinguished by its East-West aesthetics.
Natori is perennially chic, maintaining the same bob for over a decade. “I take pride that I’m 71. I never hide my age. There’s more wisdom,” she said.
While most people enjoy retirement at that age, Natori looks up to her late father, construction pioneer Felipe F. Cruz, who worked until his death at age 93. Her mother, Angelita Almeda, 94, chair of FF Cruz & Co., still goes to the office.
“I would be unhappy if I wasn’t working,” said Natori.
The Natori Company, which started out with Philippine-made lingerie in 1977, has been experiencing steady growth despite various economic recessions.
Her son, company president Kenneth Natori Jr., has been responsible for the double-digit growth in sales.
“Kenneth brings to the table a perspective from a younger generation. I shoot from the hip while he’s process-oriented. We complement each other,” she said.
Her namesake brand, Josie Natori, is the largest luxury lingerie in top department stores Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. The bras are topsellers in Nordstrom.
The secret, she revealed, is the continuous financial backing to improve and promote the brand.
“We invest in resources and people to build the e-commerce. We invest in content for social media. It’s expensive. You have to be prepared to upgrade to stay on top,” she said.
Three years ago, the company started enticing its customers by mailing catalogs so that they could place their orders on the website.
“We don’t believe that brick-and-mortar stores will disappear,” said Natori. Seventy percent of sales is store-driven while only 30 percent is derived from e-commerce. Its main market is North America.
The Natori Company consists of several labels for different customers. Josie Natori and Natori are the premium collections while Josie is the younger line. N Natori is the affordable category. Natori has expanded to home accessories, towels, linens and fragrance.
For 2019, she will launch Natori RTW, a casual and pocket-friendly fashion line.
At Rustan’s Makati and Shangri-La, the Josie Natori sleepwear is most salable. Younger clients buy the silk pajama sets and wear them on special occasions.
The kaftans, which range from P60,000 to P144,000, depending on the embroidery, are popular with expatriates and diplomats’ wives. The six-figure price is attributed to the number of months required to embroider the fabric. Majority of the lingerie and apparel are made in the Philippines.
Women will appreciate the Fall collection consisting of jacquard jackets, ranging from P37,000 to P49,500. The ponti coat, worth P29,500, is a travel must-have.
Natori has been collaborating with accessories designer Papa for earrings and necklaces. She also introduced slides that complement the embroidery of her clothes.
“I hope that my end game is not about fashion but giving back,” she mused. In the past 20 years, Natori has been on the board of the Asian Cultural Council, an American nonprofit organization that grants awards to artists whose works cultivate exchange between America and Asia.
Natori also sits on the board of directors of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s which had accompanied her in her concert, and the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.
“I’ve been given a gift, so I want to give back,” she said. “I’d like to help make a difference in people’s lives.” —CONTRIBUTED