The Interview: Lucy Litwack, CEO, Coco de Mer
Lucy Litwack is one of the best known leaders in the lingerie business, having had senior roles at brands from La Perla to Bendon and Victoria's Secret. She joined Coco de Mer as managing director in 2014 and in 2017 led a buy-out of the luxury lingerie and erotica brand.
Coco de Mer recently unveiled a collaboration with Julia Restoin Roitfeld, shot by model and photographer Laura Bailey, which Litwack explains is an exemplar of the brand's approach to show women from the perspective of the female gaze.
She tells us about her extraordinary career, how Coco de Mer has adapted to life during the pandemic and her ambitions for the future.
You must be one of the most experienced lingerie executives on the market! Please tell us a bit about what drew you to the market in the first place?
Yes I have over 20 years experience in the lingerie world managing the brand strategy, creative design, merchandising and development of a multitude of luxury and commercial brands. Prior to joining Coco de Mer in 2014, 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.
Retail is in my blood - my parents and grandparents were shopkeepers and it appears I am keeping it alive!
I believe in the empowerment of women, and the healthy self-confidence that comes with pleasure seeking and a more progressive viewpoint. Lingerie is about redefining sexuality on our own terms as women, and it really can be life changing.
What is it about the lingerie market that has kept you so engaged with it for all of your career?
Passion and obsession! The ever evolving - and extraordinary - world of female sensuality, creativity and sexual self-expression. The desire to create a safe space for women to explore, to satisfy their curiosity, to push boundaries and above all, to experience pleasure and joy. 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.
You’ve worked with some of the industry's biggest brands in lingerie but also in men’s underwear with David Beckham Bodywear, what was it like moving to the men’s market – was it more or less challenging for instance?
Working with David Beckham and the XIX Management team was a great experience. I relished the opportunity to develop a collection from scratch based on an icon like David and eventually collaborate with H&M’s global distribution - but women’s lingerie is definitely my passion! There are so many more ways to be creative and push boundaries.
You became MD at Coco de Mer in 2014 and led the buyout in 2017, what was the opportunity you saw with this brand in particular?
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, focused on female pleasure. This is why I decided to complete the MBO.
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. 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. Coco de Mer doesn’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 sexual pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent.
Can you describe the Coco de Mer brand ethos to us please?
We believe that from art to culture, education to pornography, the female perspective on pleasure in all its forms is little discussed or truly understood. And yet, from general happiness and confidence, to deepening and nurturing our relationships – and a fundamental appreciation of ourselves – knowing and owning female pleasure and sensuality can be life-changing.
It’s one of the true gifts of being a woman. Our capacity to experience it is innate, universal and human – and it is never too late to start exploring its extraordinary possibilities. So I wanted to create a safe place to discover its potential; a brand built by and run by women for women; what I am calling The Home of Pleasure.
We are a proudly inclusive brand, welcoming women and men who care about female pleasure and its mutual appreciation. We believe that pleasure done well fires all the senses; that sight, sound, taste, touch and smell are a system greater than the sum of their parts. From statement lingerie to exquisitely designed toys, we are creating products that are designed to fully explore the fun, joy and endless possibilities of women and their sexuality.
Since taking over the business, what have been the key changes you have implemented?
I wanted to place the focus back on women, on the importance of female pleasure and the female gaze as a path to empowerment.
For me, being a brand with purpose is crucial. Underpinning my goals for Coco de Mer is a deep belief in championing women’s causes. As a business, and personally, we work with multiple NGOs and activists in the fight against FGM, in addition to striving to break taboos around female sexuality.
Our partnerships are also core to how we bring excitement and delight to our customers time and time again and this is a key change since I took over the business. Whether it is our capsule collections with Julia Restoin Roitfeld or The V&A Museum, our work with Sotheby’s on their wildly successful Erotic Art Auction, or our collaboration with Waris Dirie in the fight against FGM, we believe that so many things are better, and more powerful done together.
I certainly look forward to continuing to collaborate with new partners and to telling great stories and creating breathtaking experiences in our desire to create a community of interest around the subject of female pleasure.
The other key changes since I took over are the development of new own brand products in all our core categories; the launch of our diffusion lingerie range Muse by Coco de Mer; and the launch of our wholesale business, which has gone from strength to strength and has introduced the brand to a whole new global audience.
Can you explain the distribution strategy (stores vs wholesale vs web)?
Currently, we have one flagship boutique in Covent Garden, a D2C website and a wholesale business that we launched in 2016 and where we sell our lingerie collections to Net a Porter, Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman and Zalando in addition to independent lingerie boutiques globally.
As today’s world shifts shape, we’re looking to drive growth in many different ways across customer touch points, with a focus on direct to consumer channels and social commerce. We know consumers are making more informed decisions about purchases, it’s our job to serve their needs and push the boundaries of pleasure and sensuality on their terms.
Please tell us more about the recent partnership with Julia Restoin Roitfeld, what drew you both together and what did you set out to achieve?
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, brand storytelling, and industry innovation. I was thrilled to collaborate with Julia and Laura [Bailey, who shot the campaign] as they are both remarkable women and tastemakers who brought to life their unique perspective on the subject of female pleasure. Their take is intimate, quietly powerful and sensual, yet totally relatable. Julia and Laura are personal friends; we had an all-female team and the shoot felt so safe and empowering – aspace free from inhibitions.
Female pleasure exists in so many forms and with our Home of Pleasure platform, we want to build a community of interest around the subject - and celebrate the extraordinary world of female sensuality.
For me, this collaboration explores our most intimate interpretation of sensuality yet; demonstrating a level of trust, passion, and acceptance that will hopefully inspire all women to embrace, champion and celebrate their bodies and their pleasure.
How has the response been since it went live?
Overwhelmingly positive which is great! There is just something very moving about the female gaze – we are able to get closer somehow. I believe this inspires women everywhere. This female gaze is hugely important, even more so with intimate items such as lingerie. There is a trust and confidence in the female interpretation of sensuality which is inspiring.
I have always believed that female pleasure is integral to female empowerment and I have seen the hugely positive impact it can have on a woman. Being allowed to explore her desires and embrace the complexity of sensual pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent – without fear of being judged – can have an extraordinary effect on a woman’s confidence. That is why I like to work with all-women teams on our shoots.
This year has been unique in many ways, but we’re told that sales of lingerie and erotica rose during lockdown, was that the experience Coco de Mer had? And what about Lockdown 2?
Yes, there was definitely an uplift in sales during the first lockdown. We saw a huge increase in the purchase of sex toys specifically, which made me happy to think that so many people were finding the time for some self-love or exploring their sexuality with a partner during this tough time. We all need a release and there really is no better gift than the gift of pleasure. There is no doubt that the sense of touch, companionship, and intimacy are crucial in developing a happy life, so technology and eroticism have the potential and the promise to tie much more closely together – particularly at times like this when we are kept away from our loved ones.
What have you learned about doing business at this extraordinary time that you will take with you moving forward?
It has, of course, been a challenging year for us as a retail brand. Our boutique in Covent Garden has been the heart and soul of the brand for 20 years; so its closure was devastating. We had to learn quickly to become a digital-first brand. However, it has also highlighted to me something that I had always believed - the importance of self-love and pleasure to a happy life. The uninhibited exploration of pleasure that we have strived to deliver to women leads to self-acceptance and a sense of fulfilment, together with confidence, joy and improved health. Pleasure isn't a luxury, it's a necessity - and it can be life changing.
As we saw a huge increase in the purchase of sex toys during the first lockdown, it felt like people were really finding the time to explore their desires, alone or with a partner. Maybe this can be one positive to take from Covid - it has forced us to look inwards; to demand more substance and to put self-care at the top of our priority list.
As Covid kills empty brand hype, consumers are becoming collaborators. We’ve seen retail empowering and cultivating communities. It may feel bleak and desperate sometimes, but I think we can be hopeful for a brighter future - filled with curiosity to explore the endless possibilities of pleasure.
Looking further down the line to a post-COVID world, if we can imagine such a place, what are your ambitions for the brand for the future?
We will continue to create and 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, erotic gifts and books, and immersive live experiences. At the same time, we are constantly looking to offer new channels of distribution, exciting new collaborations, partnerships and products.
We have refreshed our brand positioning to bring our core purpose of championing female pleasure to the fore under the new banner of The Home of Pleasure. Going forward, we will be taking a more editorialised approach to content and brand storytelling as we build a community of interest around the subject.
We will continue to pivot towards a digital-first strategy and work on ways to bring our passion for, and dedication to female pleasure to life.