Britain's Secretive "Savile Row of Lingerie" Sells $8,000 Bespoke Bras To The Rich And Famous
Grand gold letters gleam across Luna Mae’s smart black shopfront. Its window display—framed by exotic palm fronds—certainly looks sharp enough to be on London’s Savile Row.
Yet, located on the opposite side of St James’ Park from the capital’s menswear mecca, this tailor doesn’t specialize in gentlemen’s suits or shirts.
It’s a bespoke lingerie shop, and its founder Claudia Lambeth says it’s the only one of its kind.
Luna Mae has high-end clientele who travel the world to spend thousands on the perfect bra and knickers, dozens of whom have NDAs against their names, Lambeth tells Forbes.
The most extravagant item in the store today is a £6,000 ($8,000) cream corset, hand-beaded with lilac and blue silk flowers, which hangs beside bras with solid gold sliders, intricate appliqued knickers and Chantilly lace slips.
It's price tag, however, pales in comparison to Luna Mae’s upcoming debut swimwear line.
Launching this summer, one ornate swimming costume costs a whopping £50,000 ($66,000) thanks to its white gold, diamond-encrusted butterfly pin—a collaboration with jeweler Stephen Webster (the designer who created Madonna and Guy Ritchie's wedding rings).
“I looked a lot to Saville Row,” says Lambeth of her inspiration for Luna Mae. “Other brands might take a strap in or do something in a different color, but we really specialize in full bespoke, which make us very different from other brands on the high street.”
Inside Luna Mae
You’ll have to book ahead to get into Luna Mae, where ringing a small gold doorbell will see you welcomed into a lavish boudoir (Lambeth is already taking fitting requests for December).
Here, slinky underwear lines the walls, a book of embroidery patterns fans out before a chaise longue, and plush curtains can be pulled around a large mirror for the shop’s intimate fittings.
But what prompted the “lingerie-obsessed” Lambeth—then a 22-year-old law student—to start such an opulent brand back in 2012?
“Walking into department stores, I felt really looked up and down,” recalls the entrepreneur. “I thought, God if I feel like this at my age, what does someone who’s had a few children going to feel about buying lingerie?”
Poor physical fit and quality was also causing luxury brands to fall short, adds Lambeth, explaining that the typical “off the rack” fitting method (which uses one measurement over the top of the breasts, and one measurement underneath) simply cannot account for the fact that woman come in many different shapes and sizes.
“The word luxury gets thrown around so much, but when you actually look at the market so much is mass-produced with low-quality standards,” she explains. “You get a really pretty bra on the outside but on the inside its all raw edges, bits of elastic sticking out, and bulky underwire casing. I really wanted to refine it.”
Bringing bespoke lingerie to the fore
With this in mind, the entrepreneur launched her own tailored lingerie service, offering items designed from scratch—starting at £1,200 ($1,600)—and semi-bespoke items from £680 ($910), which are personalized from existing fabric patterns.
The founder initially bootstrapped the business off the back of modest savings before raising rounds adding up to nearly $1 million (£680,000) in the years leading to 2017.
These rounds involved investors like Will Hobhouse (who’s led high-end brands like Whittard, Jack Wills and Heal’s) and 24 Haymarket angel investors like Hugh Lenon, chairman at Phoenix Equity Partners (which sold Jimmy Choo for $100 million in 2004).
“The business model I created didn’t need a huge amount of cash to start with,” Lambeth explains of her lean beginnings. “I didn’t have a big flagship. I’d travel to clients in their homes or hotel suites all over the world and took 50% deposit at the time of the fitting and 50% on the balance of delivery.”
To keep up appearances, however, Lambeth does admit she often pretended the business was bigger than it was.
“I’d use three different email accounts—press, sales, and appointments—but they were all me with different tones of voice, enabling me to grow the brand before we were really ready,” she says.
Luna Mae today
This savvy paid off, as Lambeth built up a black book of hundreds of customers across cities like New York, London and Paris, opening her first showroom next to Claridges in Mayfair in 2016, and her boutique on Belgravia’s Elizabeth Street last year (where all items are sewn in an atelier underneath the shop).
Today, with eight staff and around 500 clients, Luna Mae is thriving.
In the peak of “wedding season” Lambeth has been completing 10 fittings per week, 85% of customers are repeat clients (their patterns are saved on file, much like a customer’s foot last is kept by a bespoke shoemaker), and the average spend per customer is around £4,000 ($5,300).
There are still some VIPs Lambeth will visit in person, but 75% choose to come to the shop where she offers both swift half-hour fittings and indulgent afternoon sessions open to family and friends.
“Everything is personalized, it’s about understanding what the client wants, whether that's champagne or matcha lattes, seaweed crackers or macarons,” says the founder of the treats she offers her customers.
This isn’t to say that everything has always gone to plan. Lambeth had to think quickly when her newly refurbished boutique unexpectedly fell apart just before her first customer was due.
“One of the clothes rails was completely hanging off the wall,” says Lambeth, wincing slightly with the memory. “We had to balance a very minimal display and try to make it look deliberate. Luckily we pulled it off.”
Surviving the digital age
Undoubtedly critics will say it's counterintuitive to launch a physical store at a time when high streets are struggling as e-commerce booms (this global market is expected to reach nearly $5,000 billion by 2021).
But Lambeth says she receives many bookings from America, Russia and the Middle East, and that no one finds the store's physicality or distance problematic. In fact, its inaccessibility is almost part of the appeal.
“Our clients love it that we are British, and everybody comes to London at some point during the year,” she explains.
The furthest a client has traveled for a fitting is 11,000+ miles, after flying in from New Zealand, she recalls. “They had family living nearby, but they literally flew specifically for us, stayed at the Rochester Hotel and had a 3-hour fitting on a Saturday afternoon.”
The brand isn't a digital dinosaur either: it has nearly 40,000 followers on Instagram, with many customers simply sending Instagram or Whatsapp messages to book in their next visit.
“Social media is really important for us as we can create a beautiful space to show everything that we do,” says Lambeth. “We always make sure we respond very quickly, almost like a cultural concierge service.”
Additionally, those who “really want something Luna Mae” can shop a very limited ready-to-wear selection online, but this only consists of loose Chantilly lace robes and slips, as Lambeth refuses to fit a bra without a real-life fitting.