Home lingerie parties have been around for at least a couple of decades, kind of like Tupperware sales but with a lot more embarrassed laughter.
The template is a familiar one: a captive audience of girlfriends, fueled by cocktails and gossip, gets to try on some naughty private-label boudoir fashions, share a few indiscretions and commiserate about each other’s shopping agonies. Everyone leaves with an inexpensive bundle and a dollop of buyer’s remorse. No one’s quite sure where the money goes.
Like other social selling strategies from the analog age (think Avon and Mary Kay), lingerie parties are a potent mix of peer pressure, questionable sales tactics and high-margin merchandise of dubious origin. But no one complains: most women will tell you they go for the company, not the goods, and a little communal coercion is a small price to pay.
The addition of sex toys in recent years amped up the concept, and the hilarity, and for a while it seemed like lingerie soirées had become the new bachelorette parties — raucous, tacky and definitely not something you’d bring your mother to.
Today, though, a New York startup called Flora Nuit is determined to give lingerie parties a much-needed image makeover.
Founders Laura Maurer and Melissa Silvetti have taken the old single-brand home-selling model and gussied it up with elements of boutique retailing and those pop-up flash sales that have become such a popular sport in major cities. The result — a high-end pop-up shop of designer brands in your house or apartment, at no cost to you.
“What differentiates us from other concepts is that we are a luxury multi-brand boutique that comes to your home,” Laura told Lingerie Talk.
“When I was younger, my friends’ moms would sell Mary Kay,” added Melissa. “It’s what older women would do to make a little extra money. We’ve modernized that concept.”
Both women have extensive experience in luxury lingerie as former employees of the busy New York boutique chain Journelle.
Melissa, 34, was the shop’s first hire back in 2007 and rose to the position of senior buyer before leaving to start her own showroom representing brands. Laura, 27, handled the retailer’s social media and marketing.
That background gave them exposure and insight into the rapidly evolving world of designer lingerie brands — many of which were first introduced to North American consumers through Journelle.
When they launched Flora Nuit, they knew they wanted to focus on emerging designer labels, and scoured fashion blogs and news reports from around the world to find the next big industry stars.
“We wanted to offer harder-to-find products because we support smaller brands,” Melissa said. “We’ve seen how difficult it is for smaller brands to get traction.”
“It also makes the Flora Nuit concept a bit more interesting,” Laura added. “If we had 12 brands that are all sold at Nordstrom already, the interest wouldn’t be so great.”
The duo has held about 50 lingerie parties so far, mostly in the New York area, offering a curated assortment from a dozen indie labels — ranging from the fashionable fetish UK label Lascivious, to Canadian fave Fortnight (which Melissa first brought to Journelle years ago), to newcomers like L.A.’s Georgia J Intimates and cute sleepwear label MaybeBlu.
The product range is surprisingly extensive, from luxury shapewear (DMondaine) to larger-bust styles (Fraulein Annie) to high-end pajamas (Marigot). There are two South American labels (the uber-romantic Salua and fashion-forward MajoRey), while one brand on the list, the colorful tropical label Aima Dora from Mauritius, was brought to America by Flora Nuit and has become their biggest seller.
Flora Nuit events are typically held in private homes or apartments, with up to 20 guests invited by the homeowner (who gets a $50 shopping credit for her trouble) and last about two hours.
One of the FN ‘ambassadors’ arrives about 45 minutes early to set up a display rack and “transform their living room into a little store,” Melissa said. The hostess provides one or two fitting areas (usually a bathroom or bedroom), and often supplies food and drinks. Any purchases made are shipped about two weeks after the event.
One of the advantages to such an arrangement is that women shop in a private, low-pressure environment without the stress — and personal anxieties — associated with lingerie buying in retail shops.
“A lot of women are insecure about their bodies and don’t want to get naked in a fitting room with a stranger who’s trying to throw a bunch of bras at them,” Melissa said.
Her partner adds: “We really love it when a woman who’s clearly self-conscious about a few things puts on a bra that fits perfectly and comes out and shows her friends and everyone is telling her how great she looks. You’re not going to get that in a Victoria’s Secret dressing room.”
Flora Nuit parties are currently available in the tri-state area as well as L.A. and San Diego, and the company is planning a pop-up shop on trendy Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, CA at the end of June.
And while reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, Flora Nuit‘s approach has meant overcoming the stigma associated with home-selling ventures in general and old-fashioned lingerie parties in particular.
“We’ve definitely had people who were unsure about this, but ended up being pleasantly surprised,” Laura said. “Some people think it’ll be very tacky, like a sex toy party. They don’t plan on buying anything, then end up spending $250.”
The parties held so far have attracted women from their early 20s to early 50s, and one special Valentine’s Day event saw 90 women show up for a Flora Nuit showcase in a New York penthouse.
“Women are maybe a bit shy when they walk in, but they leave feeling very excited,” Melissa said. “It makes for a really fun evening, that’s for sure.”
[Ed. Note: Flora Nuit currently has three ‘ambassadors’ (independent sales agents) in California who will host parties there beginning in June. They are not currently recruiting new ambassadors, but hope to expand that part of the business as demand grows.]