Josie Natori didn’t set out to revolutionize the lingerie industry. She might easily have ended up with another business: McDonald’s franchises (“They wouldn’t let me open in Manhattan,” Natori recalls) or antique furniture reproduction (“The chairs weighed more than I did”) or even a car wash (“We would park and count the cars that went into them”). In her search, Natori, 60, who was born and raised in the Philippines but moved to New York City in 1964, was merely trying to satisfy an entrepreneurial urge that she traces back to her grandmother, who owned several businesses, including an ice factory.
Finally, in 1977 she settled on apparel when a friend in the Philippines sent her a suitcase of embroidered shirts that echoed the peasant blouses YSL was doing at the time. After cold-calling a buying agency, she was sent to Bloomingdale’s—to the lingerie buyer, as it happened. The buyer suggested Natori make the blouses longer so they could be sold as nightshirts. “Everyone thinks I am obsessed with lingerie,” says Natori, “but it was a complete accident.”
Natori quit her job as a vice president at Merrill Lynch and set to work creating her first collection. Thirty years later, the woman who gave us the seamless bra and modern, chic camisoles that can be worn either to bed or out on the town has four lingerie lines available everywhere, from Saks to Dillard’s. She is also expanding into menswear and home, with a bedding collection and, down the road, rugs, tableware and lighting.
A former concert pianist, Natori still looks forward to reading the sales reports every week. “There’s no better high than seeing something you’ve designed fly out of the stores.”