Emily Bendell, founder of lingerie company Bluebella, tells Billy Langsworthy about why the brand has been such a hit for the firm.
How did the Fifty Shades of Grey deal come about?
We saw the book exploding through our customer base. We were hearing about the book and how it was creating a sensation. We felt that we were very well placed to bring the lingerie line to life because we create high-end designer style lingerie at an affordable price point.
The thing about Fifty Shades is that it’s all about a billionaire lifestyle. It’s a book that everyone has read, from your best mate to your mum to your sister. We felt quite strongly that we could bring together that feel but make it accessible and affordable to women.
We pitched and happily we got the licence.
What impact has your Fifty Shades line had on the business?
It’s been phenomenal. We’ve created two collections. One is inspired by the love story between Ana and Christian with F&F. It’s softer with lots of blush pinks and detailing like silk trims, but it’s a more mainstream collection.
Then separately we’ve done a Black Label collection. It’s more erotic and is inspired by the after dark relationship between Ana and Christian with bondage-inspired detailing that we’re selling through Bluebella.com and other retailers.
The two collections reflect the two different aspects of the story and both have been really successful. Readers wanted to buy into the brand in different ways. Some have been inspired to push their boundaries and are buying things that are naughtier than what they otherwise would have gone for. But the reason the book was so popular is the love story so the more romantic pieces have done well.
It’s been an interesting journey.
So fans are getting behind both collections?
Yes, F&F has sold the collection across over 300 stores. It’s not a niche market. Fifty Shades has such a wide appeal and the brand has fundamentally changed our industry. The lingerie industry has been affected because people have become more open to more provocative products. They are now more daring.
Is this your first foray into licensing?
Yes, it’s our first licensing deal. We actually didn’t go out looking for a licence. We fell in love with the concept and the brand and felt we could do a brilliant job with it. It’s authentic because it spoke to us and so we wanted to design a collection. We weren’t just looking commercially for a licensing deal.
Has it opened you up to further licensed ranges?
It’s definitely opened our eyes to licensing but it’s all about the brand. It’s only worth doing if you really understand and love the brand. That’s when you nurture it like you would your own. Without that, it would be challenging because there are all sorts of challenges around a brand when you don’t have full ownership. So you have to be really engaged in it, which we were and still are with Fifty Shades.
So we’re absolutely open to doing another licence, but it has to be the right one.
How involved was E.L. James with the range?
She was very involved. The great thing about Erika is that she knows what she likes and she knows what fits. She has a very clear vision. She approved every piece and sometimes things took a while to get right but it was worth it.
She wanted the product to be distinctly Fifty Shades, in and out of the box so to speak. That was interesting to us because it meant we could think quite hard about what design details conveyed the brand, whether it was crystal key charms on the bras, metalwork, slogans from the books or bespoke guipure. It was about translating the brand onto the product in creative ways, which was fun.
Her involvement makes it authentic and it keeps everything consistent. Her readers that are buying into the brand through lingerie or any of the other products will be pleased to know that Erika was involved in every aspect of it.
Looking ahead, are you set to introduce more Fifty Shades lines?
Yes, I hope so. We’re thinking about Christmas next year at the moment and working on things for that.
Why should brand owners embrace the world of lingerie?
Lingerie is an incredibly personal purchase. When we’re designing lingerie, we always say it’s not actually about who sees it, it’s about the woman who wears it. It’s a very intimate form of self-expression. It’s a very emotional purchase.
If there is a brand out there that has a very deep connection with women, then lingerie is a very natural product to license.