As the head of Britain's premiere lingerie shop, Rigby & Peller, since 1982, professional bra fitter June Kenton has built her career around matching all types of woman — including the Queen of England — with their ideal cup and band combinations. "About 85 percent of women are wearing the wrong size, and haven't got any idea how to deal with it," she says. "So we developed our own method to help." This involved ditching the measuring tape and simply assessing each customer's needs by sight. "A tape measure doesn't say, for instance, 'she's big here with a narrow back.' It just gives you numbers. But we can look at what figure type you are and find the solution immediately."
This hands-on approach has not only earned Kenton a royal warrant (the highest honor that an individual may receive for providing The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or The Prince of Wales with goods or services) from H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and an A-list clientele over the years, but has also given her business a successful platform on which to grow. Most recently, that meant expanding across the pond, where the brand has merged with Intimacy, an American chain owned by the same parent company, Van de Velde. Also known for a wide range of underwear options, and highly attentive sales staff, the boutique's 14 former locations have generally maintained the same layout and employees, while assuming the finer points of relaunching as Rigby & Peller: an even broader selection of options, a rich heritage that dates back to 1939 and an endorsement from the most powerful woman in England.
While Kenton was in town to oversee the opening of company's first New York outposts, she took some time to chat with me about the unbelievable places her bra know-how has taken her — from private appointments at Buckingham Palace to regular lunch dates with Princess Diana.
How long have you been in the business of bras?
Since 1970. Back when I started, there weren't any larger bras you could buy [off the rack] because D was the biggest. Women with fuller chests would be fitted in D, and we'd take the back in. Anything bigger was made to measure. It was also important to us to carry swimsuits under the same roof — those are just as difficult to fit as bras. So we wanted to offer swimwear in the most gorgeous sizes, with concealed underwires. Basically, we can get options that fit people when they have an awkward size — they aren't awkward to us.
Do you think there's a major different between American and British lingerie shops?
I don't think you've got good stock in the stores, so it's difficult to find the right fit. It's very important, really, to have smaller band and bigger cup options. Now we've got drawerfuls! We were the first place to offer 30 bands, and to go all the way up to size J and K cups. And anyone who starts working with us can't do any fittings for three months until they've been trained. Because we base everything on sight, it's impossible to let someone who doesn’t know what they're doing loose with a customer.
How to did you come to be Queen Elizabeth’s go-to lingerie lady?
The woman who previously owned Rigby & Peller got the royal warrant to The Queen in 1960. So when she asked my husband and I if we wanted to buy the shop [in 1982], there was one big snag: the royal warrant is given to a person, and not to a company. That meant I had to go to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen in her bedroom to see if she would allow it to transfer to me. To put it mildly, it was very nerve-racking — most people who meet the Queen meet her dressed!
So obviously she wasn't able to be wearing a lot of clothes [for the fitting], but clearly it worked out.
It turned out brilliantly, and the Queen agreed I could have the royal warrant. But it was intimidating. You have to be there dead on time. She's very formal, although lovely, just the loveliest person. I get on with her extremely well, and I hope that I do a good job.
Have you worked with any other members of the royal family?
I was very close to Princess Diana. She would come into our shop in Knightsbridge, and would always bring flowers. She was just the most amazing person. I used to go to Princess Margaret a lot. We even used to make her swimwear. She only wanted it made by Rigby & Peller, she wouldn't have anything "ready-to-wear" — it was all custom-made. So I saw her quite a lot.
Have you helped Kate Middleton?
Yes we have, and she's lovely. She's very nice.
So she wears Rigby & Peller bras?
Sometimes. I'm not saying anything! [laughs] I think people assume so much about Kate. When she goes out everyone's like, "The dress was a hundred and something, the shoes were so and so and the coat was two thousand something." Everything she wears is priced. I think it's really sad for her.
Can you tell me any stories about your your experience with Princess Diana?
Every time I saw her was a memorable moment. We used to go for lunch together, and it was just so absolutely fantastic. The boys [Prince William and Prince Harry] were at boarding school at the time, in Eton. I would save her all the lingerie posters with girls in swimsuits, or bras and panties, and she'd send them to the boys to put up on their [dorm room] walls — [all their classmates were so] jealous because nobody else could find a poster as naughty as that. We used to speak on the telephone, and she'd write to me. I was heartbroken when she died. But then again, I don't know how she would have managed to find somebody who was prepared to take on always being in the public eye. She would have had cameras outside her house with her husband permanently.
Did the paparazzi follow her when she came by the store?
She always had protection. But toward the end she didn't, actually — the protection I think was taken away. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn't. Regardless, she was really wonderful.
Okay, royalty aside, let's talk about some the celebrities you've worked with.
Renee Zellweger was in the other day. Lady Gaga's been a customer, and the Kardashians. Kim was in our Glastonbury location the other day. She's fairly big [chested], you could say that.
Who's been the most surprising person to walk through your doors?
Any time a star comes in, we usually get a phone beforehand. The PR people will phone and say, "so and so is coming in." It's not like [celebrities] really wander around Knightsbridge and think, "Oh, I'll just pop in for a bra!" We usually get notice and sort out a fitting room we can use, and deal with it that way.
Who have you been the most starstruck by?
I think Princess Diana. I just loved being her friend, and was so starstruck by her. I enjoy having Joan Collins as a customer. She'll come in and expect to be noticed with her hat, standing there and waiting for someone to recognize, "That's Joanie!" She'll always just stand there and wait for somebody to say, "Oh! Miss Collins! Do come forward!"
As for the celebrities you've worked with in person, have any of them been totally off-base with their bra sizes?
Of course! 85 percent of women are. A lot of notable people are wearing the wrong size because they want to show a bit more, though. You know what they look like sometimes, especially at a film premieres. They're coming out the middle of the bra, let alone the dress, and it's not nice. I think they do it on purpose. That's what really gets them noticed, isn't it? Everybody to themselves, but I like to wear a bra that actually fits me.