In our Spotlight feature, we bring you those designers who are less well-known. Josie Natori is one of those designers, who despite reaching her 40th year this year, is relatively unheard of across Europe.
Born Josefina Almeda Cruz in Manila, the Philippines, in 1947, Josie Natori began her career about as far from fashion as possible—as an investment banker. Having learned much about business from a very young age from her business-focused family, she moved to America in 1964 and studied economics. At just 27, she became the vice president of investment banking for Merrill Lynch, the first female vice president in corporate finance.
But despite her incredible success in the field, she was bored and wanted to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps by opening her own business. The world of fashion almost missed out, as Natori as she considered opening a McDonald’s franchise or a retro antiques company. Eventually, a Bloomingdale’s buyer gave her the idea to alter her native Philippines’ clothing.
As Natori felt a desire to fulfill her “creative side”, she made the switch to fashion, particularly lingerie. As she described, “Lingerie had no style. It was either Victorian or vulgar. Because I had no preconceived notions about what Natori should be, I was able to produce bold, colorful and unexpected lingerie for the time” (CNN interview, 1977). After holding a trunk show in her own apartment, Saks Fifth Avenue purchased a staggering five thousand pieces.
Her brand—The House of Natori— grew from there, focused on ready-to-wear, sleepwear, and lingerie. Her brand and philosophy is an unusual “East-West mix” both in terms of the designs and business culture. The House of Natori describes itself as “a sophisticated, spirited expression of individuality for the next generation.”
Her aesthetic is Asian-inspired designs, where delicate floral designs meet structured Asian-style tailoring. Her signature designs include robes, embroidered jackets, and velvet dresses inspired by her Asian heritage. In lingerie, her delicate designs include silk and cotton robes, camis, and chemises. Her ready-to wear designs are abundant in embellishments and embroidery, in rich colours and bold prints. Even her “casual” looks elegant and feminine, with structured black trousers and matching tunics.
Natori’s style is eclectic, colourful without being garish, and Bohemian—from printed dresses to flared sleeves, patterned tunics to oversized jewellery. For those new to Natori, her Spring 2017 collection features a wonderful array of embroidered jackets, burnt orange wrap-over dresses and skirts, Asian-inspired wrap-around belts, and chic-peasant-style dresses.
Having served as the commissioner to the White House Conference on Small Business, amongst other accolades and awards, Natori has garnered much acknowledgement as “a self-made immigrant millionaire” who truly achieved the American Dream. But not forgetting her heritage, she continues to produce 70% of her clothing in the Philippines, and is considered an icon to women there. What’s more, Natori is still strongly family-oriented, and her business is still family-run.
The House of Natori designs are available in fifteen countries internationally, her Manhattan boutique, and in U.S. department stores.