INTERVIEW: Passionata’s Mary Cameron

After 25 years in the industry, Passionata is still focused on offering fun and feminine lingerie that appeals to consumers and retailers alike. Here, the brand shares the secrets of its success and talks about how it plans to mark the milestone.

In 1989, after the so-called burning-bra movement of the 1960s and 70s, when lingerie was widely viewed as restrictive, conformist and artificial, a fun and flirtatious French brand was launched with the aim of helping women learn to love their lingerie once again.

That brand was Passionata, which this month celebrates 25 successful years in the business.

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Looking through the archives, Mary Cameron, managing director of Chantelle Lingerie, the group parent company of Passionata, takes us back to when the brand started out.

“Women had changed a little in terms of they’d been through the resolution and they were ready to reclaim their femininity and enjoy their curves. Passionata was appealing because it was all about embracing women’s fun, easy-going spirit and it was immediately successful,” she says.

Over the years, the brand has stayed true to its original vision it set out with, creating fashionable and playful lingerie with pops of bright colour and feminine design details, and today, it is sold by retailers all over the world.

“We talk about appealing to a consumer with a ‘forever 30’ mindset and she still wants accessible, feminine and flirtatious lingerie – that hasn’t changed,” says Cameron.

But despite minimal changes to Passionata’s design hand-writing, the brand isn’t stuck in its ways. Quite the contrary; Passionata has moved with the times, creating advertising campaigns that appeal to the modern consumer and constantly finding new ways to drum up business and drive the company forward.

Campaigns through the ages

Shortly after it was founded by Patrice Kretz, the current CEO of the business, Passionata launched a TV ad – a rare move in the lingerie industry at the time – called Les Loups, which is French for wolves.

“It was a story of these wolves that would gather under a revolving billboard and every time the Passionata ad came up they would howl at it like they were howling at the moon,” explains Cameron with a laugh. “It was a very different and a very successful ad.”

“That was followed by another advert that leveraged the Latin spirit of the brand. Then, in 2005, there was a campaign launched around a range called Passio and the campaign tagline for this was Typically Feminine,” continues Cameron.

The range, with its fashion-forward lace details and multi-coloured stripes, was an immediate hit with consumers and a Passio bra was sold every 10 seconds in the week following its launch.

In 2008, Passionata commissioned renowned photographer David LaChapelle to shoot an advertising campaign that revolved around a femme fatale sitting on a rocking horse made of ice.

“It was quite a sensual and passionate ad and, by the end of it, the ice rocking horse melted into a puddle,” recalls Cameron. “That rocking horse, along with the beating hearts that were used in the ad, are still symbols that we use today in our logos and bags and things.”

Two years later, Passionata made another smart business decision, enlisting Israeli fashion model Bar Rafaeli to become the face of the brand.

“The press, consumers and the whole company love her flirtatious spirit – she really embodies that flirtatious, seductive feeling of the brand and we’ve used her ever since,” says Cameron. “She’s been on billboards and press campaigns. We even had her on London buses and on the tube.”

Competitive edge

Over Passionata’s 25 years, there has been an influx of flirty, feminine and seductive lingerie brands coming into the market as women experiment with new shapes and colours to boost their inner and outer confidence.

So how has the label been able to compete with these younger brands?

“I think part of it is the fact that the products are high quality but are sold at affordable prices. They’re not the cheapest products out there, but they’re good value for money when you compare them to some of the more expensive brands,” says Cameron.

Consumers have also embraced Passionata for its persistent attention to detail – the little logos that read “made with passion”, the delicate satin ribbons, the refined lace and the feminine appliqués all contributing to the brand’s success story.

“Also, we’re family-owned and we have a long history, so we’re really specialised and you can generally really count on the fit and the fact that when we launch something it will fit and it’s not a one-shot product,” insists Cameron.

“We have a reliable customer service, not just for consumers, but also for our stockists, which don’t have to make one big order months in advance; a garment is replenishable, generally. Also, our creative campaigns keep refreshing the brand all the time. I think someone like Bar Rafaeli, and the way she has embodied the brand, has also helped to keep it so appealing,” she adds.

Marking a milestone

To mark its 25th anniversary, Passionata is inviting both consumers and retailers to join in the celebrations.

Last month, the brand ran a promotion through its independent stockists, offering consumers 25% off for a week. The retailers who got behind the promotion have received gifts with purchase and a window kit featuring signs, banners and balloons, to enable them to enter a window design competition.

“So we’re asking retailers to be creative with their window and they can win their own birthday kit, including their own personalised birthday cake and party decorations, or they can win some stock if they prefer,” explains Cameron.

“People should really have some fun with it and use it as an excuse to create a little bit of excitement in the market and have chance to win something,” she adds.

The winner of the competition will be announced at the end of this month, once all entries have sent photos of their window displays to Passionata.

The brand is also using social media, retailers’ newsletters, online publications and its consumer database to recruit five models – or Passionistas – to win five sets of Passionata lingerie worth £300 and star in a photoshoot, which will take place at the label’s 25th birthday bash.

“They’ll also be a balloon release – 25 balloons with things inside the balloons,” adds Cameron. “So the release will take place in the Guildford area, which is near our office, but they can float for hundreds of miles so hopefully someone will find them and we’ll have some interesting stories on that!”

But perhaps the most exciting plan that Passionata has lined up to celebrate its birthday is the launch of larger cup sizes for SS15.

“We are going to be launching new lines up to a French H cup, which is a FF in the UK,” says Cameron, sounding thrilled.

“We’ve been wanting to do this in the UK for a while and I think gradually all the other markets are beginning to demand larger cups too. So, finally, the larger cup bras are coming and I think our retailers will be very happy with them because they help meet the needs of the consumer.”

Passionata will showcase the large cup bras at Mode City Paris and Moda trade shows in July and August, along with all the fun and flirty lingerie the brand is renowned for.

For SS15, the label’s collections take on a “sexy funfair” theme with a variety of colour harmonies to “colour your life”.

Look out for the July and August issues of Lingerie Insight for a full preview of what Passionata, and other brands lingerie, will be bringing to the market next season.

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