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A starstruck salesperson approaches Josie Natori as we sit in the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. "I just want to say I have been admiring your designs. You're fantastic." The soft-spoken designer smiles broadly and replies, "Oh, you're so sweet! Thank you! Well, you look so chic."
Mrs. Natori, as her staff refers to her, is wearing a long sleeve black dress with an embellished bolero from her fall collection. She has just returned to the U.S. from the Philippines, and she has been meeting with customers and salespeople at Neiman's all afternoon. After our meeting, she'll fly back to New York, and then, once again, to Asia. It's a packed schedule, but one that Natori is accustomed to after 37 years in business.
Though she travels between New York and Asia monthly, Natori is in San Francisco for a meet and greet because it's the first season that Neiman's is carrying her ready-to-wear line in Union Square. The collection is refined, but full of playful touches that keep it out of the boring category. Her light layers —perfect for the Bay Area— strike the right balance of professional and stylish; tailored dresses mix and match with statement-making jackets to create an effortless work wardrobe. It makes sense given Natori's Wall Street background.
Natori started her career in finance and was the first female VP in investment banking at Merrill Lynch. She made the leap to fashion in 1977. At the time, she simply wanted to start a business. Though she always had an artistic side —she has played the piano since she was four— she didn't set out to become designer. "Never had I fantastized, or dreamed, or even cared about being in the fashion business," she recalls. "We were looking at a McDonald's franchise or a car wash, so it was totally by accident, but it was a wonderful accident because it combines the left brain and the right brain. I guess the artistic side of me was able to channel that, but it had to be for a business."
Almost four decades later, Natori sits at the head of a company that produces four different lines —Josie Natori, Natori, N Natori, and Josie by Natori— and creates products ranging from lingerie and ready-to-wear to home textiles and accessories. Her approach to RTW is simple: She strives to create separates that easily work with one another. "It's like creating a symphony; I love to be able to create the scenario that this works; that you can put these things together."
She may have become a household name as a lingerie and swimwear designer, but Josie Natori's latest collection shows that she has also an eye for well-made, ladylike apparel.