IWD Special: Q&A Lucy Litwack, owner & CEO, Coco de Mer
Lucy Litwack is one of the most experienced executives in the lingerie industry with a CV that includes tenures with Victoria's Secret, La Perla, Bendon and David Beckham Bodywear. Three years ago she led an MBO at luxury lingerie and erotica fashion brand Coco de Mer. She talks about her career and leading a brand with purpose, to empower and support women.
What’s your background – when did you join Coco de Mer and how did you get to your current position?
I have over 19 years’ experience in the lingerie and luxury retail world managing the brand strategy, creative design, merchandising and development of a multitude of luxury and commercial brands. Prior to the MBO in 2017, I was Coco de Mer’s Managing Director for three years. Before Coco de Mer, I held director positions at brands including La Perla, Bendon and Victoria’s Secret in addition to developing and launching David Beckham’s Bodywear line.
What was your remit when you joined? What did you want to achieve with the business?
The Coco de Mer brand had always punched above its weight, but I still believed it was yet to realise its full potential. It had been considered a niche brand in the past but it had the potential to be so much more - a true, global luxury brand.
There were several things I wanted to do immediately to help grow the business – firstly by getting everything organised behind the scenes – stock control and management, staffing etc. I wanted to use my lingerie experience to expand and improve the own brand collection and ensure that margins and production facilities were also the best they could be.
Then wholesale seemed like a big opportunity that hadn’t been thought about yet. And the opportunity to launch new own brand products in categories in addition to lingerie.
Tell us a little about the management buyout in 2017 – how did this come about and why was it something you wanted to do? What did that move allow to change?
I am so passionate about Coco de Mer. After three 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. There is something very special about the brand. The MBO provided us with a strong platform and supported our strategy to grow the business both at home and internationally at the luxury end of the market where Coco de Mer was already well-positioned and had a very strong customer base.
I believe in the empowerment of women, and the healthy self-confidence that comes with pleasure seeking and a more progressive viewpoint. Owning and growing Coco de Mer allows me to influence and support dreams, sensuality, and satisfaction.
We are always looking to excite and delight our customers and will continue to do so – Coco de Mer has been at the leading edge of erotica for a very long time. Building a luxury brand around personal experience has allowed us to craft and control any new developments to ensure that our customers' experiences are always personalised and special.
We will continue to curate a unique collection of products in all of our categories - from luxury lingerie to designer sex toys, exquisite bondage, fashion latexwear, sensual body products, delightful gifts and books, and immersive live experiences. At the same time, we are continually looking to offer new channels of distribution, exciting new collaborations, partnerships and products.
What are some of the most significant changes that you’ve implemented since you took on the role of CEO?
The launch of wholesale which has now become 30% of our business.
Own brand products in the categories of toys, latex, beauty, bondage.
Collaborations with Sotheby’s auction house, Pamela Anderson, Playboy, EL James, V&A Museum.
Bringing stockroom in house for easier management, more control and quicker turnaround.
New website that feels more on brand and helps to bring the experience of the boutique online.
Launch of a diffusion range, Muse by Coco de Mer.
Collaborations and events to help end the practice of FGM: we created shoots and films to raise awareness, and the proceeds of the collections went to charity.
How would you describe the business as it is now?
Coco de Mer is a luxury lingerie and erotica fashion house. We offer a curated selection of products, education and guidance for a decadent and individualised erotic experience. We are purveyors of sensuality. We are the voice of the erotic imagination.
And we offer an immersive experience that helps women feel empowered - with the importance of female pleasure always at our core.
What are your key focuses for future growth?Digital/wholesale/stores/international?
Even though the retail world is developing and progressing further online, for our business the physical boutique is paramount and I believe that physical stores, particularly in the luxury sector, will continue to be important. Retail isn’t dead. Boring retail is dead. Our customers love the personal service, the opportunity to touch and feel the products and the immersive experience.
We have definitely grown our online business over the years and this becomes more and more important, however, our physical boutique is core to our brand and customers continue to visit from all over the world.
For the near future, we will look to increase the wholesale side of our business by opening accounts with more international markets and moving into new territories.
At the same time, we will continue to work on the growth of our online business and look into potential new categories through licensing.
How have you seen the lingerie sector changing in recent years?
Attitudes have really opened up regarding sex and pleasure in the past 10 years. People are more confident in claiming their own pleasure. There has been more interest in the exploration of sex and Coco de Mer has responded with different outlets of education to ensure that sex is pleasurable, fun and safe for all participants.
Fifty Shades of Grey provided a step-change in the industry, introducing people to the idea of using our products, it almost legitimised the process and allowed people to more openly experiment and explore their desires.
The lingerie industry has definitely evolved into a much more fashion-focused area. Lots of smaller, new brands have launched and since the launch of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, there has definitely been a greater interest in the more erotic side of the market.
The lingerie market is continuing to grow and there are more and more brands joining the marketplace.
As more lingerie design courses open up, there will also be an influx of new, directional brands entering the arena. I believe there will be a merging of ready to wear and lingerie with more brands offering loungewear, soft bras and a crossover between innerwear and outerwear.
How do you ensure that Coco stands out in a competitive market?
Luxury is taking on a new definition today. It is no longer just about owning a designer product - instead it is about individual, exceptional experiences, and an emotional connection. These experiences need to be authentic, unique and immersive. At Coco de Mer, we don’t just offer products. We offer experiences and education in order for men and women to make discoveries, explore their desires and embrace the complexity of pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent.
We have always been a very British brand, and that heritage is important to us, particularly from a global standpoint. However, so is spreading the message of female pleasure and female empowerment to more people.
How do you weave the social and ethical projects the brand works with into the business? Why is this important to you?
As part of our work at Coco de Mer, we are leading new efforts in erotic education and the growing importance of female pleasure and empowerment in today’s world.
Our collaboration with Waris Dirie and The Desert Flower Foundation was an important part of that education. The core of the Coco de Mer brand has always revolved around female empowerment and the importance of female pleasure – and FGM is a direct disabler of this. We wanted this collaboration to bring awareness and help eradicate such a cruel and inhumane practice.
I visited the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver last year, and I am now even more motivated to continue my work on gender equity and helping to empower women in developing countries, as well as closer to home. There is no other single change that can do more to improve the state of the world, than empowering women. And sometimes all that is needed to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.
We are continuing to work with activists and NGOs such as Nimco Ali and SafeHands to raise awareness of FGM and continue to fight for its eradication.
This is a cause very close to my heart and at the same time, it feels relevant and authentic from Coco de Mer’s point of view.
For me, it is important for Coco de Mer to mean something, to stand for something - over and above selling beautiful products. Therefore, we work on creative projects to raise awareness of the fight against FGM and to help both financially and practically.
What do you think are some of the key aspects needed for a successful, modern lingerie brand?
Brands need to understand their audience and the culture around them, not just their product. Be current. Be relevant. We are all in the relevance business today.
Heritage brands may need to evolve to continue to appeal to their customers, and new brands need to ensure that their product fits well, is inclusive, is comfortable and has a USP.
There is a lot of competition out there. What do you stand for? Do you have a purpose? There must be an emotional connection between your brand and the consumer. And that connection needs to be authentic and sustainable.
Coco de Mer is available to buy from www.coco-de-mer.com and its boutique on Monmouth Street in London's Seven Dials.