With over 19 years of experience in the intimates business, Lucy Litwack lives and breathes lingerie. She’s held senior roles at Victoria’s Secret, Bendon and La Perla, in addition to having been the mastermind behind David Beckham’s bodywear range for H&M. Since 2014, she serves as the CEO of Coco de Mer, the luxury British label best known for encouraging women to empower themselves and explore their sexuality. Upon joining the company, Litwack immediately knew she wanted to “own and grow it”. In 2017, that mission was accomplished when she acquired the business from erotic gifts e-tailer Lovehoney in a 5 million-pound buyout backed by an undisclosed investor.
Now that Coco de Mer is in her hands, Litwack has her eye set on expansion, as she believes it has “the potential to be so much more” than just a niche label. To reach that goal, Coco de Mer has been scoring a number of high-profile partnerships: its second collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum was unveiled this week, and an upcoming collection with Playboy is in the pipeline for 2019.
FashionUnited spoke to Litwack about these collaborations, future plans for the brand, as well as the past, present and future of the lingerie market.
Coco de Mer and V&A. That is a rather unexpected collaboration! How did this partnership come about?
I love the V&A Museum and felt that as two British heritage brands with a love of beauty we were very well matched. We met and felt that we could produce a lingerie collection that would embody the key elements of both of our brands: luxury, opulence and glamour.
Can we expect Coco de Mer and V&A to team up again in the future?
This is the second season of our collaboration with V&A and next year we will be partnering with some new individuals and brands in order to continue to excite and delight our customers. Playboy is first up in January and then we will be partnering with a charity from March which is very close to my heart, and very close to what Coco de Mer stands for.
How does the brand choose its partners? What’s the label’s strategy when it comes to choosing collaborators?
At Coco de Mer, collaborations are a core pillar of our strategy. We are developing partnerships that are greater than the sum of their parts, as a strong driver of creative evolution, business growth, and industry innovation.
Coco de Mer is a very female focused brand. Our entire ethos is based around female pleasure and female empowerment and we only work with partners who we believe share our passions and vision. Playboy, for example, has always stood for personal freedom — from civil liberties to self-expression to sexual freedom — for all people. And although the world has changed a lot since Playboy came on the scene in 1953, many of these freedoms are as threatened by today’s political environment as they were when the journey began. We have developed such a playful and feminine collection together which perfectly encompasses the empowering images and silhouettes from Playboy’s golden age with Coco de Mer’s signature erotic styles.
You led the company’s buyout in 2017, becoming one of the very few women who own a lingerie brand. Why did you decide to do that?
I am so passionate about Coco de Mer. The brand has always punched above its weight, but I still believe it is yet to realise its full potential. It has been considered a niche brand in the past but it has the potential to be so much more - a true, global luxury brand. This is why I decided to complete a MBO last year. After 3 years at the helm and an entire career in the lingerie industry, I knew that Coco de Mer was the brand I wanted to own and grow.
Where would you like to take Coco de Mer now that it is yours?
The management buyout provided us with a strong platform and supports our strategy to grow the business internationally at the luxury end of the market where Coco de Mer is already well positioned and has a loyal customer base. Our flagship store in Covent Garden is strong, and we launched and are growing a beautiful website which is translating the opulence and decadence of our brand to our online customers.
As we see international growth continue to accelerate, I am very excited by all the opportunities ahead. I believe in the empowerment of women, and the healthy self-confidence that comes with pleasure seeking and a more progressive viewpoint. The lingerie industry has evolved from a functional service to a fun, fashionable expression for women. Owning and growing Coco de Mer allows me to influence and support dreams, sensuality, and satisfaction.
In addition to having a woman as owner, nearly 100 percent of Coco de Mer’s staff is female. What’s your advice to other female executives working in fashion?
Opportunities rarely come with a set of instructions. Take risks from time to time or you’ll never achieve anything. It’s a great industry, enjoy it!
Prior to joining Coco de Mer, you’ve worked for several other lingerie brands. The talk of the day is how Victoria’s Secret’s sales are dropping as consumers become more interested in brands with a more inclusive offering and discourse (such as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty). As an industry insider, you’ve seen all these developments from within. In your view, how has the lingerie market changed since you started your career?
In the last 18 years, the lingerie industry has certainly evolved into a more fashion focused category, with lots of new brands entering the market. Several of the brands which have entered the market recently have offered collections that are about comfort and ease; with size ranges and models that embrace diversity. This is a great addition to the marketplace, helping to ensure women feel strong, self-confident and in control of their bodies.
At the same time, the sexier end of the market is also crucial. Lingerie is an expression of sexuality and can absolutely make women feel empowered. Women should have the confidence to explore their desires and embrace the complexity of sexual pleasure in whatever way they choose.
It is an outdated opinion that women cannot be both sexy and feminists. In the #metoo era we are currently living in, it is more important than ever for women to claim their sexuality themselves and feel free from the taboos of the past. Because the rise of technology has given us both democratization and anonymity, women specifically are finding a power in ourselves that potentially we would not have found as easily before. We are able to more freely explore, and we are increasingly able to set boundaries and exert power and demands in a way that maybe we would not have otherwise. We explore, we connect, and we feel more naturally validated in all of our needs.
More erotic designs have also become increasingly popular over the last few years. Bedroom wear, open styles, strapping and flyaway designs have all increased in popularity. Our best sellers are nearly always open playsuits, open knickers and peekaboo styles.
”It is an outdated opinion that women cannot be sexy and feminists”
What are the future plans for the brand? Anything you can already share with us?
Our partnerships are core to how we bring excitement and delight to our customers time and time again. Whether it is our capsule collections with Pamela Anderson and The V&A Museum, our work with Sotheby’s on their wildly successful Erotic Art Auction, or our very exciting upcoming work with Playboy, we believe that so many things are better, and more powerful done together.
We have always been a very British brand, and that heritage is important to us. However, so is spreading the message of female pleasure and female empowerment to more people. Our strategy is to grow the business internationally at the luxury end of the market where Coco de Mer is already well positioned and has a very strong customer base. We can see from our website sales that customers from USA, Europe and Australia love our brand and we are always being asked when we will open stores internationally - which I would love to do one day!
I look forward to continuing to collaborate with new partners in the worlds of art, design, and fashion, and to telling great stories and creating breathtaking experiences.
Photos: courtesy of Coco de Mer