Serena Rees knows what’s sexy. Formerly at the helm of the era-defining, high-octane lace and lingerie brand of the nineties, Agent Provocateur, the MBE certified expert in making sexy chic is breaking boundaries with her cool kid, sheets to street intimates label Les Girls Les Boys.
The ultimate cool girl herself, Rees has always had a penchant for desirability and the zeitgeist. She draws inspiration from her own daughter and her friends, navigating life as young millennials. Rees’s gender fluid label of modern intimates enacts a new way of existence, one of sharing and a championing diversity.
While at first appearing a deviation from the overt sexiness of her former label, a closer inspection reveals the same dedication to the spirit of a generation and a celebration of fluidity and sexual empowerment at the heart of Les Girls Les Boys.
We chatted with Serena about navigating the transformative face of the lingerie business, what it means to be sexy and the importance of implementing a philanthropic and sustainable ethos for future generations.
Sabrina Soormally: How did you get into fashion? And what motivated you to join the lingerie business?
Serena Rees: I have always been interested in fashion. Colours and the way clothes make a person feel, even from a very early age, the thrill never leaves me.
SS: Agent Provocateur and Les Girls Les Boys are polar opposites of the same field. What inspired you to change up luxury lace for cotton intimates?
SR: Yes, indeed they are polar opposites but weirdly the same in a way: AP was founded in the early 90s; we created something that was needed for those times. Les Girls Les Boys was created in 2017 and it’s what needed now for the general psyche now. Social and political change in different times means we require different aesthetics, a different way to live or dress, or beliefs that affect the way we dress and how we want to feel.
For example, in the 90s we were coming out of a recession and we were saying to women, ‘don’t be afraid of your sexuality, be proud, use it as your power.’ That didn’t mean showing your underwear (unless of course you wanted to), it was liberating – the beginning of the girl power movement. We were pushing for women to stand strong, stand together. It was not necessarily dressing for anyone else other than oneself – however, I think after I sold the brand it lost its way and its original message.
Due to the rise of the internet and social media since the early 90s, that message is no longer relevant and if anything went too far in the wrong direction until society got itself into a situation where we ended up with the #MeToo situation.
Now with Les Girls Les Boys we are promoting that people should feel comfortable in their own skin, be proud to be as you are, that it doesn’t matter what their sexual orientation is, the colour of their skin, the size of their body etc. etc. We do not define – I believe the best one can be is to be oneself and that’s what we promote.
SS: What have you found the most challenging about the transition between brands?
SR: There are many challenges on a daily basis with any brand or new business, I don’t think there’s anything challenging about the transition, if anything it’s just a bonus I have the experience, knowledge, expertise that I have learned throughout my career, and I can learn from past mistakes too. It’s been a great journey.
SS: What inspired Les Girls Les Boys “bed to street” aesthetic?
SR: I was inspired by my daughter and her friends, and all the kids of all my friends, I look back to engaging with them all whatever their age, learning about how they felt, what their views were on fashion, sex, music, life, growing up, struggles, pains, the highs and lows of being.
SS: Tell me about the brand’s angle around fluidity and sharing clothes.
SR: I also noticed how people and generations have changed the way they dress according to new societal norms – working from home, bed, café, park bench – how we’re happy to share each other’s clothes and sometimes take comfort in that. I think we’ve always liked to ‘borrow’ from our friends, our parents, girlfriends, boyfriends, I like that ethos of sharing, it also naturally becomes fluid in many different ways.
SS: The brand already has quite the philanthropic reputation. You made hefty donations to front line NHS workers at the start of lockdown and I’ve seen your donations to and support for Black Lives Matter on both your brand and personal Instagram pages. Talk to me about the brand’s community culture and philanthropy.
SR: In addition we also did a great campaign around an artwork one of my creative team designed during lockdown. Happier times are coming… I created a t-shirt that felt really uplifting during this time and brings joy to both the wearer and anyone they come across, with proceeds going to UK Youth.
I have always been fairly philanthropic across many issues – it’s not something I generally shout about but it is part of me as human and goes further into what I do for work – I believe it’s right for me and my team and my business.
SS: So many brands throw around the term sustainable without actually doing anything to combat climate change. You have been very transparent about your efforts, with a detailed list of your environmentally friendly practices outlined on your website. Tell me about your plans for the future with regards sustainability.
SR: Yes, again we do the best we can within our means – we are not perfect, we just strive to be better in what we do. Again, at first I didn’t even mention it or outline it on our website because, similar to philanthropy, to me it’s a given and what everyone should be doing and I didn’t realise we needed to share that with people so they can understand. But I’ve learned that it’s important to show people what we’ve been doing since day one. People want to know and understand who we are, what we believe in, I just hope that the next generations understand it as a given, whether it’s how we treat our planet or fellow man on that planet.
Being aware of our surroundings and the people, and the effect we have both as a business and as individuals, we have a responsibility.
SS: What are you missing the most about London during lockdown?
SR: The creative process of working with my team in person, eating out, seeing my friends whenever and wherever I want – I like my freedom. But weirdly I haven’t missed the travel!
SS: How is the brand adapting to these unprecedented times?
SR: We have had to pivot, we have had to really knuckle down and the team spirit has been amazing. It’s been really refreshing to see my team rising to the occasion, being supportive and generous for the cause. Without our great team and all their sacrifices and efforts, and sheer hard work and determination during this crisis is the difference between surviving and not!
SS: What can we expect from Les Girls Les Boys for the rest of 2020?
SR: Excited to come out of lockdown! We need to re-energise and refocus and just get better in everything we do, watch this space!
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