The Natori Bra Has Been A Cult Favorite For Decades

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Photo: Courtesy of Natori
Before fashion products went “viral,” they gained a cult following that took years in the making. For iconic lingerie brand Natori, which Filipinx- American designer Josie Natori launched in 1977, the Feathers underwire contour bra eventually became one of fashion’s most famous intimates — and it all happened via word of mouth.

While at first blush the Feathers is rather unassuming (some may say it’s rather modest in appearance), the magic of this style lies entirely in its construction that suits people of all bust sizes. Over at Nordstrom, the Feathers boasts a staggering 4.5 out of 5 stars from 3,735 ratings. A smaller-busted reviewer wrote, “I’m very shallow at the top of my breasts so most non-pushup bras gap at the top and look horrible under clothes, [but] I love how this one NEVER gaps.” One larger bra wearer wrote, “As a 36DD, I hated bras in my size [because of] SO much material and coverage that came up higher than my neckline. I found this after searching for bras by rating and have never looked back. It's sexy, it's supportive, it comes in gorgeous colors and it makes ME feel good.”
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In true T-shirt bra fashion, the Feathers has contoured plunging cups. The brand’s signature Italian lace trims the upper cup and band. The mesh outer molds itself to the breast for a seamless look. Plus, this bra comes in an array of bright and playful hues for wearers that are averse to boring nude- or flesh-toned bras. The Feathers is sexy but not overwhelmingly so — wearers need not fear the accidental nip slip or elastics digging into the skin. (If you need further proof of its comfort, Lady Gaga wore a black Natori Feathers bra as its own top to a 2019 Grammys after-party.)

But even beloved icons need an update once in a while — and for Natori, this means making the Feathers more sustainable by using recycled materials in up to 50% of the bra. Natori’s sustainable efforts have also expanded into all other categories, as well. Shoppers can expect fashion apparel made from biodegradable and naturally derived fabrics like 100% cotton, Tencel Lyocell, and Tencel Modal. The company has also updated its production process to use up to 20 times less water. We catch up with Natori founder and CEO Josie Natori on how the Feathers bra continues to be a perennial favorite 30 years after its debut.
It’s rare that I get to speak with a fashion designer who’s been in the game for as long as you have — you launched Natori in 1977, way before the internet or social media. What do you think is the secret to the brand’s longevity?

“My goodness. Yes, we do take a lot of pride — it’s been 46 years. Obviously, Natori was started by a woman; it’s family-owned, and now my son is with me as president. But honestly, I think that [the company’s success is] due to the kind of culture I come from, my heritage. I also love what I do — I often say that to the people. I was in Wall Street for nine years and I got bored, and that's why I left and started this business. It’s an ever-changing business, and I love the challenge; it’s more difficult now than ever 46 years later. There’s also the constant gratification where you know that you built a brand, and I was always here for the long-term.”

What was the lingerie landscape like when you first started the company and how has the business changed?

“We had built a niche in the industry — when I got in [in 1977], I was a big fish in a small pond, and I had a very fresh approach. How we started was [thinking about how lingerie is] a more emotional purchase for women. It’s feel-good; it’s a self-reward. Nobody really needs it. You just want it.  

“I never treated lingerie like clothes you were supposed to sleep in. Some people happened to sleep in them or wanted to sleep in them, but that wasn't my approach. My approach was feminine dressing to gratify yourself — ‘me time’ at home and for comfort. Natori [operated on] that premise of feel-good dressing for two decades before we even launched underwear. Our bras happened 16 years later, after we made that connection with the customer. The lingerie industry was very different than what you see today. It was a lifestyle. I didn't realize that's what I was building. I was just doing it the way I would have liked it as a customer.”
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When you released the Feathers bra in the early ‘90s, what went into the development process? 

“I am totally controlling and was very hands-on with the bras. For the very first T-shirt bra, I worked with the mills to develop this soft, soft, soft, soft fabric from the get-go. It was very important in terms of the fabrication and the way it's made to get that feel-good softness. I was fixated with that. It was soft. It conformed to the body. And women just loved it. My recollection of those times [in the beginning was that] most bras looked like they were poking out or they looked bulletproof. But there’s no reason to ever sacrifice comfort from beauty and glamor.

“I grew up with the baby boomers and now their daughters and their granddaughters are wearing the bra. I have to say it's very gratifying. It's a starter bra for a lot of young women because it's friendly and not intimidating. What makes the Feathers bra unique is the fit, and it's flattering. There's something sexy about it, the intricacy with the lace. You feel glamorous.”

Now in 2023, can you tell us how the Feathers bra, as beloved as it is, has been evolving with the changing fashion industry?

“I believe you can always be better. You don't ever want to sit on your laurels — nothing’s perfect, and I feel very strongly about that. So starting with spring ‘23, we made the bra with 35% recycled materials; by fall, it'll be 50% recycled. We’re mindful of updating a favorite bra sustainably with materials and all the components but keeping the fit. It takes over a year to change things in the production cycle, so it's not a joke with coordinating all of that. It just takes time. But we are very committed to it in every way.”

Your East-West sensibility is often cited as what sets Natori apart. I wonder how you have managed to stay true to your original vision and ethos after all these years.

“I'm very proud of my Filipino heritage and I’ve always said my biggest asset has been, No. 1, being a woman and, No. 2, being Asian. Combining those two elements has really given Natori a distinctive point of difference. The East-West sensibility comes naturally to me because I've been in this country since I was 17.

“Our artisanship has always been front and center. People know me as a collector of art and our mission has been bringing that art into your daily life, even if you’re wearing these under your clothes. Our prints, our sense of color — you can tell from far away if it’s a Natori piece. The attention, the femininity, the strength. Natori is never wimpy. It’s never quiet. Investing in lingerie is self-indulgence, but I say indulgence is a necessity. It’s a treat that I believe we all deserve. I laugh because I hear that sometimes your generation doesn’t want to wear bras. I guess in the ‘60s women burned their bras, right? But, in the end, you come back to the bra because it’s practical, and you really want to feel good in it.”
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