By Elizabeth Anderson Thursday, 01 November 2012

Rigby and Peller's June Kenton: Fitting the Queen was 'nerve-wracking'

You Live And You Learn: The director of bra-maker Rigby and Peller on the 'horrific' retail situation, fitting the Queen, and working with her husband for 51 years.

I'm a retailer born and bred. My grandparents were butchers and my parents owned a clothes shop. I joined the family business aged 16 at my father's wishes, even though I desperately wanted to stay at school.

My husband and I started selling clothes in Brixton market in the winter of 1961. It was fantastic - the Jamaicans were coming over and they were freezing so we sold lots of vests and sweaters. But I wanted to specialise in lingerie. In 1970 we opened Contour, our first underwear store, in Croydon and then a second one in Knightsbridge.

I got a phone call in 1982 asking if I'd like to buy Rigby and Peller. It was doing very badly and my husband didn't want to touch it. I got my way and we dolled up the shop, introduced ready-to-wear ranges and moved it from Mayfair to Knightsbridge. Now there are 10 stores.

Fitting the Queen was the most nerve-wracking day of my career. Meeting the Queen is daunting in itself, let alone if it's in her bedroom in Buckingham Palace. But she was very lovely and in 1993 I also got the Royal Warrant to fit the Queen Mother.

I've made more than a few mistakes. We had to close our Heathrow shop after three years. Nobody wanted to buy underwear at an airport. We put a tanning machine in our Knightsbridge shop in the 1970s - that was seen as safe then. But you have to try different things to move on.

The current retail situation is horrific. Small shops don't seem to exist any more. Rents are so huge that they're not feasible. We closed a store in Brent Cross last year because business rates were £125,000.

We sold most of Rigby and Peller last year for around £8m. Van de Velde, a supplier from Belgium, approached us and we accepted, but my husband and I - we are in our seventies - are still involved.

I don't have any regrets. I've had such a fantastic life. People wonder how my husband and I can still be in business together after 51 years. The secret has been to keep out of each other's way - in business at least.

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