Life & Culture

'It's time to be fabulous'

Put away the biscuits, treat yourself to nice underwear, it's time to get ready to be fabulous again says Aliza Reger who inherited her mother's lingerie business and has weathered the lockdown with some help from Hong Kong


The clothing of choice for many women throughout the past year has been tracky bottoms, anything with an elasticated waistband and comfy big knickers. It’s a fairly safe bet to say that the last item does not feature in Aliza Reger’s wardrobe, pandemic or no pandemic. Reger is head of the Janet Reger lingerie company, having taken over running the business after her mother’s death in 2005.

The company was founded in the mid-1960s, and by the 70s had redefined what underwear could be: exciting fashion pieces in their own right, rather than bland “foundation garments”.

Reger was part of the business from a young age. “I worked in the school holidays, I was sitting on the office floor stuffing envelopes in the days of mailouts,” she says. “I was always quite driven and financially motivated, I was very fast and managed to earn quite a bit of money. By the age of ten I was in the back of the shop doing all the gift wrapping.”

Her greatest enjoyment now comes from the design process. “I love making new collections because I love the creative side, seeing new fabrics, seeing how something can be done a little bit different, or take something that was a fabulous seller and re-invent it.”

The early success of the company meant that Reger had what she called “a privileged upbringing” and at one point admitted spending thousands a year on fashion accessories. “I have indulged in bags and shoes but these are not the important things of life. A pair of shoes is a treat, it is something enjoyable, but you are not a better person for having a more expensive pair of shoes. Lockdown has made everybody reassess, and certainly in this period of time, if we have a job, if we are loved, if we have a roof over our head, if we have food in the fridge, then I think we are very lucky and we are blessed.”

Over the past year, Reger has insisted on keeping a structure to her day, which has helped her cope. “I have my bad days just like everyone else but we [she and her husband Andrew] have been very disciplined. Every day has a rhythm and a format — there’s none of this lying on the sofa all day and watching Netflix — for one thing, we are busy. Dinner is the highlight of every day. I’m really missing seeing my family and friends. I have been working from home pretty much for the last ten years so I have my office set up from home anyway, but what I have really missed is meeting for coffee or for lunch, or going to someone’s office.”

During lockdown she became more observant in her Judaism. “My mother came from a very traditional, nice Jewish home. They kept kosher — they weren’t what I would call overly devout — chicken soup, chopped liver, the works. My father came from a Holocaust survivor background and God did not play a huge part in that. He was born in what was then Czechoslovakia and came to Germany as a small boy, as a refugee. My father grew up in Munich — he was too German for the Jewish population and he was too Jewish for the Germans.” Nevertheless he sent his daughter to Jewish schools which has helped Reger form what she calls “a strong bond” with the religion. “I’m probably more traditional than my father — I light candles, I observe the holidays — I think it is important to have a tie to your roots, I think it is grounding.”

Over the years, the business has gone through difficult times, and Reger has drawn upon her late mother’s attitude to help her through these low points.

“My mother was very positive and she would always say things like ‘God shuts a door to open another’ so I don’t know if I have inherited her talent but I certainly try to emulate the things that helped her carry on through bad times. You need to have the back bone and the strength to get through it and know that there is a positive. If you put in the hours and put in the work, something good will come out.”

It is something Reger has had to draw upon since the demise of Debenhams — a major outlet for her lingerie lines — during the pandemic.

“That didn’t happen overnight. I think a lot of the licensees they were working with, the so-called ‘Designers at Debenhams’, probably saw the writing on the wall. We certainly did and we had terminated our contract with them anyway on the basis that we would work with them on a different basis, that we would become a supplier.

“We were under contract with them; we couldn’t work with anyone else. I was tied in, which also had its advantages and I’m certainly not going to say anything negative because for the best part of 20 years it was a really positive relationship that worked well for both of us. They made a lot of money, it was good for my brand, I was in every Debenhams, so it worked for us. It stopped working because we were restricted and then things were starting to go wrong and so we restructured everything.”

A new door opened in the form of Hong Kong-based Hop Lun, one of the world’s largest lingerie manufacturers, with whom Reger has now signed a contract. “We felt it would be sensible to go with somebody really big and so far it has proven to be a very positive move. The new licensing will globalise the brand. They have distribution resources pretty much globally… there is going to be a significant roll-out.”

Given the current political unrest in Hong Kong, did she have any qualms about signing a deal with a company based there? “I am worried about what is going on in Hong Kong. I don’t know enough about the situation but I do believe the Chinese are very focused on maintaining the business side. But clearly from a humanitarian perspective of what is going on there, it is deeply worrying.”

She says doing a whole new collection without touching a piece of fabric has been a “massive challenge” but so far business is going well. “We started with a capsule collection called Janet Reger Rouge, and that is now available from Next — it is just flying out the door. There are four lines, each one is super wearable and it’s very fashion forward. In this time when people are wearing a lot of tracky bottoms and not getting dressed, it is really nice to wear lovely underwear.

“At the moment we are only selling online which is great because Next has a huge presence online, as do Ann Summers and Kaleidoscope [where Janet Reger lingerie is also available]. People will carry on buying online but it is absolutely my firm conviction — and I may be wrong — that once lockdowns are over, people will want to go out, we will want to shop, see it, feel it.”

She is also looking to feature some more gender-neutral pieces such as tops, silk shorts and sleepwear, along with lingerie for more generously-sized women.

“The shape of retail has changed; we are much more environmentally conscious and I believe we are making more considered purchases. Future trends are going to be very much about sustainable fabric. The eco message has now filtered all the way done the line. Much of the new collection is based on buying things that you love. It’s that thing of sparking pleasure, and I think that’s important.”

Current focus on the safety of women on our streets and the offensive idea that they are “asking for it” if they dress in a certain way has not escaped Reger, whose lingerie lines can best be described as sexy or even erotic.

“It’s about feeling good. The black lace is probably sexier but the ivory pieces with the bows are just so pretty. It is about what you want. It is not to objectify women, but if you want to wear beautiful, sexy underwear, that is your choice. I don’t think wearing a black lace bra is a reason to be attacked in the streets.”

Reger remains optimistic about the future. “Many of us want to look our best and I think we will all get dressed up again. Clothes are going to get very lavish and the look is going to be super glamorous. A lot of us will come out of lockdown and say, that’s it, no more biscuits, and fashion is going to be really fabulous. Fabulous fashion needs fabulous lingerie.”

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