The rocket science of designing lingerie for real women
Juli Lee surprised her family with her career choice. They never could have guessed that she’d end up as a lingerie designer. After all, the 49-year-old entrepreneur majored in computer science at MIT and later got an MBA there.
“My mother always says, ‘You have two degrees from MIT, and you make underwear!’ She thought I was going to go be a rocket scientist,” Lee says.
Instead, Lee focuses on a more imperfect science: helping women find just the right undergarments. Her Burlington company, Julianna Rae, specializes in high-end designs for “women who have graduated from Victoria’s Secret,” as Lee puts it, ready to dress to please themselves — not a paramour.
She launched Julianna Rae — a mash-up of her name, her mother’s name, and that of a best friend — after working at GJM, a private label group that designed for Victoria’s Secret. She then left fashion and returned to MIT for grad school and spent a few years at the Boston Consulting Group and Microsoft before returning to retail in 2004 to launch her business. She was drawn back to fashion after commiserating with peers over the lack of age-appropriate undergarment choices.
“We didn’t see something in the market that wasn’t old and fuddy-duddy. There had to be something in between! [I design for] women who are accomplished, connected, have a more mature style. They want better quality, something flattering, which makes them feel really good and comfortable,” Lee says.
Lee has advice for trying on lingerie: “Sit down in whatever it is you’re trying on! Anything looks good when you stand up straight. When you sit . . . a whole bunch of things happen. Your hips spread. Also, wave your arms, just to make sure you’re not getting gaps or feeling too tight in the back.”
Nightgowns, robes, and undergarments in high-end silks and cotton are designed with real women’s bodies in mind. Lee uses fit models with “different shapes and sizes.”
Her bestseller is the reversible Il Cieli spa robe ($265), silk on one side and mini-terry on the other, ideal for loafing or drying off post-shower. There’s also a new line of mix-and-match silk camisoles and lace-trimmed shorts in cooler-weather colors like midnight blue and lavender. Their largest size is an XXL, which she translates to roughly size 18 or 20.
“Who cares what the tag says, as long as it feels good?” she asks.