Mirror, Mirror: A Blatstein making her name in high-fashion lingerie

Jenna Leigh Blatstein says, "I want my clothes to be paired with the season's trends, not hidden by them."
Jenna Leigh Blatstein says, "I want my clothes to be paired with the season's trends, not hidden by them."
Posted: September 29, 2010

NEW YORK - We all agree that Bart Blatstein's family knows a thing or two about revitalizing neighborhoods.

But what about breathing new life into women's lingerie? That's a whole different kind of rehabilitation process.

Yet that's what Blatstein's 24-year-old daughter, Jenna Leigh Blatstein, is trying to do. She's asking American women to graduate from standard Victoria's Secret stock and pay the same attention to their underwear that they do to their outerwear.

"A girl can have a full wardrobe of my lingerie," said Blatstein as we perused her collection of fall and spring intimates during Fashion Week at her Soho design studio. "I want my clothes to be paired with the season's trends, not hidden by them."

She debuted her line in May 2009 at the opening of her father'sNorthern Liberties urban playground the Piazza at Schmidts and has since garnered more than a handful of fashion accolades.

The pieces are a favorite of songstress Mariah Carey and Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester. Tea Party darling Sarah Palin chose a Jenna Leigh kimono-style robe at a pre-Oscar event where celebrities go to get designer freebies.

Then Marie Claire's September issue listed Blatstein's Malawi triangle bra as one of the top 50 must-have wardrobe pieces for fall. And Allure magazine's cover features Hollywood vixen Kim Kardashian seductively clad in the chiffon-trimmed Elle bra, the Jenna Leigh version of a vintage push-up.

You can buy her goods online and at 40 stores nationwide, including Hope Chest in Haverford, and this season at Barneys New York and Anthropologie.

Jenna Leigh Lingerie is made to be seen, but not in a vulgar, girl-on-a-pole way. For example, next spring's collection includes a grouping called Tremblant - named after the Canadian ski resort - that includes a camisole-like bra with eyelet lace.

"What's really big right now are the see-through sweaters," Blatstein said. "Imagine seeing the eyelet lace through that; it's seductive and fashion forward."

However, for all their pretty fabrics and interesting silhouettes, Jenna Leigh Lingerie may be too flimsy, say some local buyers. Jennifer Sacks, a manager at Hope Chest, had a hard time selling the bras because she says her Main Line customers are more into fit than fashion.

Blatstein says that's exactly what she was going for. You won't find any shapewear here.

"I purposely wanted my fit for younger people," Blatstein said. "It's not that much coverage . . . it's totally on purpose."

Blatstein grew up in Lower Merion, graduated from Harriton High School and attended the University of Miami to major in sociology. While enrolled there, she studied in London for a semester, and during her off-time she perused lingerie. Her favorites: Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney.

"I started to think, why can't American women have lingerie like this?" she said, lamenting our tendency to treat underwear as an afterthought. "And I started forming my vision: to have a fashion-forward lingerie brand that is popular in America for the fashion-conscious girl."

Blatstein started taking fashion design and art classes while she was in London. She graduated from Miami in 2008 and, with a $50,000 investment from her father (and all of her living expenses paid), she moved to an apartment in lower Manhattan and went to work on her brand.

After shopping for fabrics and hiring a lingerie technical designer - a patternmaker of the undie world who designates the sizing, like cup proportions - she created her first set, the Malawi: a silk short slip with a built-in thong and garter with a matching triangle or a soft demi-cup bra.

"The details are really great - the satins, the silks the colors," said Blair Levin, Mariah Carey's stylist and Cherry Hill native who knows the Blatstein family well. "I've put it on Paris Hilton . . . a lot of my private clients have worn it. I definitely use her whenever I do any kind of editorial."

Blatstein acknowledges the financial advantage she has because of her father, but she emphasized that interest from celebrities and editors - who tend to favor European lingerie designers - has been a result of her getting in the right "goody bags" and cold-calling magazines. She may be trying to get Meester to wear a piece on Gossip Girl, but some consider Blatstein a celebrity in her own right: She was the center of a Fashion's Night Out event at New York's Luscious Boutique.

Blatstein won't discuss sales figures, but she says she's earned back her father's investment. Still, she has yet to pay herself - all profits go back into her New York company, a few storefronts away from Philadelphia designer Ralph Rucci.

In a tight economy, Jenna Leigh pieces trade more on their one-of-a-kind-ness than their price point. Panties range from $35 to $60; bras, which come in sizes 32A to 36D, are $65 to $115; and nighties and rompers can run $100 to $120. But Blatstein is constantly working on making sure her pieces feel good.

"Women will buy shoes that aren't comfortable, but not lingerie," Blatstein said. "No way."

Agreed.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.

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