As luxury lingerie retailer Rigby & Peller opens in Harrogate, Stephanie Smith talks to June Kenton, Royal corsetiere.
A good bra can change your life, says June Kenton. And she should know. Her knowledge and judgment in matters concerning supportive underpinnings is legendary, sought out by the highest in the land – she is corsetiere to the Queen, no less.
“I’ve had the Royal warrant to the Queen since 1982. I also had the Royal warrant to the Queen Mother and I used to go to Princess Margaret at lot, so we’ve been serving people right from the top to everybody, and it’s been just an amazing journey,” she says.
Born in 1936, June has spent most of her life in the lingerie business. She and her husband, Harold, bought luxury lingerie retailer Rigby & Peller in 1982 (it was founded in London by Mrs Rigby and Mrs Peller in 1939) and sold 87 per cent of the business to Belgian lingerie manufacturer Van De Velde in 2011. The couple, who live just north of London and have two children and three grandchildren, remained on the board and June’s invaluable experience means she still acts as the face of the brand.
“When my husband and I first started, the largest cup we could get was D,” she says. “There was no such thing even as Double D and we had to get them from America. When Double D came in, we had a waiting list.” Back to the importance of a good bra. “When you do get it right, your whole being feels so much better,” she says. “You’re wearing a bra that you’re not conscious of, the straps are not falling off, the underwire is not digging into you. It’s so important to put a bra on in the morning and take it off at night and forget about it, not to keep re-organising yourself.” Most women, of all ages, shapes and sizes, will know exactly what she is talking about.
A few days ago, June was in Harrogate, for the opening of Rigby & Peller’s ninth UK store – its first “up north”. She loves the town, and it has long been an ambition to open there. “Harrogate is just so wonderfully upmarket. It’s just the most gorgeous town and I feel it’s Rigby & Peller.”
The tape measure, it seems, can and does lie, and it takes three months to train a fitter. “We don’t measure anybody,” June says. “We take them in the fitting room and we do it by sight. If you get measured by, I would say, 90 per cent of the stores in the North, you’re measured over your clothes, and you don’t get the right answer. The tape measure doesn’t tell you whether it’s your back that’s broad and there’s not much at the front, or vice versa. That’s why we look at you, we go out and we go straight to a drawer and we put bras on you, probably in a size that you’ve never, ever taken in a fitting room before.”
There are huge health problems associated with wearing badly fitting bras, June explains, not just the rubbing of the underwires but also upper back problems, neck problems and headaches. “When you’re wearing the wrong bra, you’re walking around very tense, because you are trying to hang on to everything that’s going on in the front,” she says.
In 2007 June underwent surgery for breast cancer. Now fully recovered, she is an ardent fundraiser for breast cancer charities and Rigby & Peller also offers help
“If you’ve had a mastectomy, please make sure that you go and find out what size you should be wearing,” she says. “Always come to somewhere like Rigby & Peller, have a proper bra fitting with your good side so you can get a correct fitting for where you’ve had a mastectomy and the right prosthesis.”
Although its values are traditional, Rigby & Peller appeals to young women too through its gorgeous colours, fabrics and designs (some surprisingly risqué). Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson are among the A-listers that use the retailer, which stocks more than 35 brands of lingerie and swimwear including Aubade, Implicite, Simone Perele, Gottex and Shock Absorber. Owner Van De Velde manufactures the PrimaDonna and Marie Jo brands.
Chairman Dirk De Vos says there are plans to grow Rigby & Peller in the North, but they want to learn from Harrogate. “We came to Harrogate first of all because it is known as a very good community with great taste, and we had a lot of customers from Harrogate and the Leeds area that already came to London,” he says.
He describes June as Rigby & Peller’s “founding mother” and, watching her mingling and showcasing at the Harrogate store, it’s clear that her enthusiasm is undimmed. “What a wonderful thing to be in a retail business that changes people’s lives,” she says.
All lingerie featured here is available from Rigby & Peller, Station Bridge, Harrogate, and online at www.rigbyandpeller.com.