15 Jul - Bed to Street with Serena Rees
You’ve probably noticed that in the fashion world, comfort and fluidity are becoming the new norms. That’s thanks, in part, to Serena Rees, the founder of les girls les boys, a self-defined “bed to street” label that aims to bring a cross-cultural, unpretentious mindset to fashion. We are so excited to be hosting les girls les boys for a pop-up at Freehand New York this summer. Read on to learn more about the ingénue behind the biz.
Freehand NY: You co-founded the subversive lingerie label Agent Provocateur when you were 26 with your then partner and husband Joseph Corré, and then left after over a decade. You founded les girls les boys in 2017, which is right on the money for cultural, consumer, and fashion markets. But I noticed the term used to describe the launch of les girls les boys is “comeback.” Why do you think that term is used rather than “new venture”? Do you think it has to do with gender?
Serena Rees: It’s an interesting observation and the reason that likely happened was because people didn’t know what I was doing in between — a little bit of lazy journalism. But I totally agree that it should’ve been referred to as something “new” that I’m doing – it’s not a comeback because I never went anywhere! Do I think it’s because I’m a woman? You’re probably right.
FH NY: Tell me about what you did in the interim of Agent and les girls les boys.
SR: I left home and I left school at the age of 16 and got on with my working life from that moment onward. I never really had a break – from 16 until I sold Agent – in 24 years solidly. And those 24 years, it was working all the hours under the sun including weekends and evenings because I enjoyed it and it was a part of my life. But I was always outputting, and those 12 or so years at Agent were intense, really all consuming, and fantastic. I was designing collections, I was designing fragrances, I was building a brand, I was art directing, I was public relations, and I was also the leader of 300+ employees – I was everything. So, to be creative, and run a business, it’s hard because you’re wearing two hats at once. And that took so much out of me that I realized that when I sold Agent Provocateur, the next day…I was like, “What do I do with myself now?!” I realized I needed to breathe in and take in what was all around me. I worked with Oxfam as well as a handful of other charities based in London, and I started to work in the other areas that interest me – music, art, film, fashion, food and architecture/interiors. I worked with younger designers and mentored them, I sat on the boards of various businesses, I consulted with different brands everything from high street to luxury, I started an artisan chocolate shop and bakery called Cocomaya.
FH NY: Why do you think so many other founders and owners of businesses are afraid to make a change when any number of things are not working?
SR: It depends on the size of your business, and obviously what you’re doing. But the larger the company, the harder it is to change, because they’ve become a big machine and it’s harder to stop the machine from rolling down the hill. And they’re scared because it’s the unknown. However, if you’re the owner and founder of a small business – you’re not scared to make decisions because it’s down to you. I also think in a larger corporation, there’s a lot more people to answer to – there’s a board, shareholders – there might be a lot more at stake, and it’s no longer in the control of one or two people.
FH NY: les girls les boys is described as “a label that offers accessible and stylish options from “bed to street and everything in between.” Can you explain to our readers what this means?
SR: The phrase “bed to street” I coined as a category. What I discovered was that – say for example, you go to a department store. You might buy your lingerie in the “ladies lingerie department” on the fifth floor, you might buy your men’s underwear in the “men’s underwear department” in the basement, your pajamas in the “nightwear section,” and then your sweats in the “sports section,” or the “fashion section,” and you know, it’s kind of all over the place. All of it sounds archaic to me, and not relevant to the way we live, how we dress, or we feel. The phrase “bed to street” was literally everything from the bed to the street and that’s what we are making. And when we say everything between – it’s again, as it sounds – it’s swim, it’s t-shirts; it’s everything in between. It’s accessible and stylish options are designed to be layered, worn together, styled up, dress it down, hang out, go out, dance the night away – whatever it may be, everything in our collection has multi-purpose.
FH NY: Does it feel different that les girls les boys is just your own, and you’re not doing the business with a romantic partner? And how?
SR: No, it doesn’t feel much different because I’m a team player. And that’s one of the things I really missed when I was at Agent Provocateur. Although I had 300+ people on my team, by the end, I have to say the thing I missed the most was my team. I’m a pretty energetic and an optimistic person, but I get even more energy from the people I work with. Today, with les girls les boys, I have a day-to-day team that I work with, I have my partner in the US that I can bounce ideas off of, I have a board that I can go to, and I have friends to ask for advice.
FH NY: Where do you find inspiration from?
SR: Everything around me, all the time. One of my best qualities is my attention to detail. I have a very, very heightened attention to detail and I look at things, and see things, that other people don’t see. I look, I see, I feel, I listen, I take in, and I absorb. I do that wherever I am – I could be in a boardroom with a bunch of boring people, or I could be on the street, or in a gallery, or in a club. I could see a paint brush stroke on a painting, or a certain color, and it can just send me to another place in my mind.
FH NY: What made you know that Freehand New York would be the right home for your first US brick and mortar shop to launch your brand stateside?
SR: It was super exciting to launch our first pop-up with the Freehand in New York and what I love about the brand and the hotel is their whole attitude and feeling, and approach to youth and culture. The freedom for people to come and go and feel comfortable at an accessible price is incredible.
FH NY: We are thrilled to have you here with us and recently les girls collaborated and sponsored a tie-dye how to workshop with us here at Freehand. It was part of a workshop series that we do in collaboration with the New York organization, Foster Pride NYC. What makes you interested in this? Do you work with other non-profits?
SR: The workshops at the Freehand are super interesting because it’s teaching people another point of view. It’s a positive way to reach people, and then for people to learn, share, and go on build on what they’ve learned. I do get involved with organizations linked to various projects and causes. Last month we launched a partnership to celebrate World Oceans Month with a swim pop-up for the #100kinitiative, which is an effort to reduce single-use plastics and protect marine life.
FH NY: We LOVE the collaborative pride shirt you designed to honor and celebrate World Pride with us at Freehand. Can you share a bit about what world pride was like for your team here?
SR: I absolutely love the shirt we did with the Freehand for Pride. I wish I had been there because it looked like so much fun, and this past weekend we had Pride in London and that was so brilliant and exciting. It’s got to such a scale in London — it was the biggest it’s ever been here. So, while I wasn’t there in NYC, I felt the excitement here in London.
FH NY: Favorite items from the Spring/Summer 2019 collection?
SR: Green is my favorite color of all time, so I love the green track swimsuit and two piece – it gives me energy and makes me feel good. I love the itsy, teeny, tiny bikinis, I think they’re just great. The terry shorts, crew neck and zip-up hoodie are super cozy. There’s a fab pink hoodie that I love and wear all the time. Our ultimate comfort is an underwear range that I really love — it’s great because it’s comfortable, with a good fit and shape.
FH NY: What is next for fall?
SR: With every new season, we’re just taking it a step further, and I think that’s going to be clear in our Fall collection. We’ve got great animal prints on our sweats. It’s the first season we’re introducing a seamless collection, which is so beautiful and so comfortable. There’s something quite dance inspired about them and I can’t wait to wear them all winter long.
FH NY: What is your favorite thing about Freehand?
SR: Broken Shaker! Perfect rooftop hang-out for the summer.
FH NY: Oat Milk or Hemp Milk?
SR: I don’t think I’ve ever tried hemp milk so I’ll have to say oat – but I think I might quite like hemp actually!
FH NY: Favorite authors?
SR: So many! But off the top of my head, Joan Didion, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Miller, Milan Kundera.
FH NY: Favorite movies?
SR: The Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight.
FH NY: Favorite music?
SR: David Bowie, Rolling Stones, The Clash, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, Primal Scream, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Velvet Underground, T. Rex, Run DMC, Big Youth