Writer and broadcaster

Aliza Reger

Aliza Reger is immaculately dressed. Immaculately pressed, immaculately co-ordinated. I am transfixed. It is a long time since I have seen anyone dressed like this. “Do you ever, you know, slob out?” “Oh yes!” she laughs and as she does so her hair, many shades of perfect golden-ness and fresh from the coiffeur, bobs up and down in loose curls. “You should have seen me yesterday, I had on just some leggings and a jumper.” Hmmm. This takes some imagining. The photographer is in heaven. Surrounded by so much underwear – posh, silken, fantastic underwear at that – he stays far longer than he should. Aliza, 32, is Janet Reger’s daughter, and as 1997 is chimed away, Aliza will take over the family lingerie business.

This is a very daunting task. Janet Reger is a household name and, 30 years after the label launched, it still has no equals in evoking glamour, glitz, wealth and general naughtiness. Joan Collins wore Janet Reger underwear in The Stud. It is mentioned in best sellers, divorce courts and on problem pages. “I feel excited but also a little bit nervous. It’s so much to live up to and so much to fuck up,” she admits. Actually, she has been practising for this all her life. Aliza was stuffing envelopes in her father’s office when she very little. At 10, she gift-wrapped the merchandise during her Christmas holidays and at 14 she was doing the trade lingerie shows. She earned pocket money and she loved “being with the grown ups”.

Now that she is in charge, what will she do? “I’d like to reposition the company in a younger, funkier way. Our client list is incredible, but I also want to get in the really young women.” Lycra Reger slips are often worn by very young women out to clubs and Aliza likes this. “Four hundred pounds for a slip is a lot of money, but a slipdress from an outerwear designer is not that much short of pounds 600 to pounds 800.” When I say that Janet Reger underwear is something I always promise myself “when I grow up”, she pounces: “That’s what I’m trying to change! You can have it now. Our knickers start at about pounds 20 and our nightdresses at pounds 100. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but it is achievable if you have the inclination.” We have to remember this is the couture end of the market.

She also wants to try to bring out a bra and brief set (current start cost: pounds 100) for pounds 50, but without compromising cut and detail. She talks me through a pounds 400 metallic Lycra slip dress: all the seams are hidden, the considerable amount of applique is all done by hand, the sliders (those things that make the straps longer or shorter) are 18ct gold to stop them tarnishing. It is very beautiful but not as beautiful as the full-length satin silk slips with lace trim for nearly pounds 500, the sort that Joan Crawford would have worn to waft around a very large apartment, fixing drinks and waiting for Cary Grant to pick her up.

Janet Reger Creations Ltd launched in 1967. Her matching, colourful bra and brief sets were revolutionary; the only underwear you could get then was either functional or sleazy and from Soho. With Reger you got both. Even before Janet opened a boutique, the likes of Bianca Jagger and Angie Bowie were visiting her workshop. Peter, Janet’s husband and Aliza’s father, was her business partner. Shops then opened in Bond Street and Beauchamp Place (the only one that remains open today). Business was good.

But then, things went wrong. Janet and Peter had expanded during a recession and, in 1983, they went into voluntary liquidation. Berlei, with whom Reger had a licensing deal, purchased the Janet Reger trademark and Janet lost the right to use her own name. (After years of litigation, and a pounds 100,000 loan, she was able to purchase it back.) In late1985, Peter took an overdose and killed himself. “I was terribly depressed after my father died,” Aliza says. “At one stage, all I did was sleep and eat. I got fatter and fatter. Then I thought, I have two choices, either I do what he did or I make a life. And I made a life.” Today, she is happily married with a three-year-old daughter, Annoushka.

But if Janet and Aliza have been happily working side by side for all this time, why take over now? “It’s been a very natural progression. Janet’s 61 now, she wants to slow down but she’ll still be very involved, and – she’ll hate this – but I can still see her, bright as a button at 80, still yelling, still shouting, still saying ‘That’s not right’, or ‘Get this straightened out’.” Aliza stopped calling Janet “Mummy” some time ago, “especially in a business environment. It takes away credibility both from her and from me to address her as ‘Mummy’.”

As Aliza goes to leave the shop, there is a phone call. It is her mother, calling from a mobile phone (Janet must like gadgets; she has recently mastered her Psion pocket computer). There is a dressing gown in the window, shoulder to floor cashmere edged in satin. It is pounds 682. A set of “Curves”, silicon non-implants that have changed many women’s lives (you stuff them in your bra to give you extra oomph) sit in their pink box. There are chilled champagne and glasses by the door. Tonight and every night up until Christmas is “Men’s night”, when they can come in and select presents for their wives and… nieces. (Sometimes the shop serves both the wife and mistress, so sales girls must be discreet. No “Did you like that purple satin set, Mrs Belafonte?” in case it was meant for other limbs.)

Aliza offers me a lift home. “You see,” she sighs, holding up laden hands, “instant transformation into bag lady.” Um, that hardly qualifies. In her right hand is her large Louis Vuitton handbag, in her left a Tiffany carrier bag. She is wearing Prada shoes. I step into a puddle and sigh. Maybe one day.