The VERY racy past of the lacy Knicker Queen flying in to save M&S: A romance with Princess Diana's biographer, a messy divorce and IVF triplets… the secrets of Janie Schaffer
08:02 GMT, 12 November 2012
Women used to have two options for their smalls drawer: the belly-warming Bridget Jones bloomer or the vulgar cheesewire G-string.
But thanks to the woman they call the Knicker Queen, there is a third option.
The Janie Knicker range is saucy but stylish, perfectly respectable and with a touch of Parisian chic – often fashioned from satin and silk, with Swiss lace applique and touches of embroidery.
Knicker Queen: Janie Schaffer, co-founder of Knickerbox, has been appointed as director of lingerie and beauty at M&S
It is a style that creator Janie Schaffer honed during the Eighties and Nineties at the helm of Knickerbox, and for the past five years at Victoria’s Secret.
And its huge popularity is the reason Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland has now poached Schaffer, hopeful that her magic touch will revive his lagging business.
On Monday it was announced that Schaffer, 50, had been appointed M&S director of lingerie and beauty – shortly before the company revealed its pre-tax profits had slumped by 31.5 million since last year.
Yet very little is known about the glamorous blonde designer whom Bolland has invested his hopes in, and who appears to understand women and sexuality so well.
Support act: Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in lingerie she designed for M&S
She took her place at the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show on Wednesday, but was hardly noticeable, while her models – known as Angels – including Miranda Kerr, Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel, strode down the catwalk wearing jewelled head-dresses, shimmering underwear and feathered capes.
Schaffer is happy to stay out of the spotlight these days.
After living a seemingly charmed life making fashion headlines throughout the Eighties and Nineties, in 2005, at the age of 44, she embarked on a passionate relationship with Princess Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton while still married to her Knickerbox co-founder husband, Stephen.
The relationship lasted only months and, soon afterwards, she emigrated to New York where she has lived discreetly ever since. And in 2006, the couple once known as the Bonnie and Clyde of the bra world divorced after 18 years of marriage.
Reluctant though he is to speak about that period, in an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Stephen made it clear that they have remained good friends throughout.
He said: ‘Janie is really glad to be coming back. She’s looking forward to getting her feet under the desk at Marks & Spencer and coming home.
‘She has done the most amazing job at Victoria’s Secret. It has been a very exciting number of years. I’m her greatest fan.
‘We have a long history together with the Knickerbox times, with being married and with having three daughters. We are incredibly close and have a very special relationship. From mine and my daughters’ perspectives, we are absolutely delighted that she is coming back.’
He added: ‘What’s exciting is she’s coming back to where she started, it’s a full circle.’
And the new job is indeed something of a homecoming for the Knicker Queen.
Born Janie Godber, she started her career at Marks & Spencer as a buyer, aged just 22.
There she fell for South African-born Stephen Schaffer, a handsome young merchandiser with an infectious entrepreneurial bent.
'What Janie will bring is inspiration, vision and personality. She has a unique talent'
Ex-husband Stephen Schaffer
They founded Knickerbox together in 1986 and soon became the golden couple of the trade. A ferocious work ethic made Knickerbox an explosive success.
Before launching the business in October 1986 with a single shop on Regent Street in London, Stephen and Janie had spent six months honing their business plan, inspired by chains such as Sock Shop and Tie Rack, which were at the time incredibly successful.
‘We put our heads together and thought let’s do something entrepreneurial,’ says Stephen, now a property investor and developer.
‘They were really exciting times, being young and carefree, not seeing risk in anything. We remortgaged our flats to raise money.’
He added: ‘In those days, it was unheard of to sell underwear in a shop and our landlord was slightly nervous. It was a time when bras were kept in boxes, and knickers were piled up high on counters in Marks & Spencer. We wanted to promote underwear as a fashion accessory, give it colour, excitement.’
Immediately, they grabbed attention, not least in June 1987 when they publicly presented Mrs Thatcher with a pair of electric blue knickers.
/11/10/article-2231019-15F0B0A0000005DC-276_634x414.jpg” width=”634″ height=”414″ alt=”Close-knit: Janie Schaffer, centre, with ex-husband Stephen Schaffer and their triplet daughters (l-r) Amber, Madison and Daisy” class=”blkBorder” />
Close-knit: Janie Schaffer, centre, with ex-husband Stephen Schaffer and their triplet daughters (l-r) Amber, Madison and Daisy
The Knickerbox phenomenon lasted until 1996 when Janie and her husband sold the business. ‘After we sold, Janie spent time with the girls,’ says Stephen. After the sale, Janie also worked as a consultant for high street clothing chain Oasis.
Then, in September 2005, she was pictured on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, eating lunch at Serefina’s with Morton, a 6ft 4in former Royal correspondent who is as famous for his extra-marital relationships – and the alleged kinkiness of his sexual appetites – as he is for writing Diana: Her True Story, the biography that propelled him to notoriety.
He and Janie had met during a skiing holiday. Both good skiers, they bonded on the slopes, according to friends.
Asked about his ex-wife’s relationship with Morton, Stephen said: ‘It was months long, if that. I have no idea why it ended.’
At the time, Morton was married to Lynne, his teenage sweetheart, who was painfully aware of his string of lovers. She has previously said: ‘It is not a secret that Andrew had two or three relationships with other women.’
One of these women was travel writer Debbie Gaiger, who has said she ended their relationship as his sexual demands became ever more kinky.
A close friend of Morton told The Mail on Sunday this week: ‘I don’t think Andrew’s relationship with Janie Schaffer lasted very long, he hasn’t discussed it with me and she was never around when I met up with him.
Magic touch: The glamorous designer has been chief creative officer at Victoria's Secret, the lingerie famously modelled by 'Angels' including Miranda Kerr, pictured
‘There was a very acrimonious split between him and Lynne. The fact is, he’s not a rich man, even though the Diana book took off. When he and Lynne split, she knew where everything was. She was his partner in the whole business.
‘I doubt he and Janie stayed in touch.’
Since they separated, Janie has not been seen at public events with any other partners, but Morton settled down with a beautiful Californian interior designer Carolyn May, and the pair, who married in Beverly Hills in October, now split their time between London and the US.
He is now a grandfather and has ‘started to live life as a grown-up’, says the friend.
Morton went on to write highly publicised biographies of Madonna and Victoria and David Beckham, but Janie slipped out of the lime-light until she was approached by Victoria’s Secret five years ago, ‘completely out of the blue,’ according to Stephen.
She took a luxurious loft apartment in the heart of New York’s trendy SoHo district and – as a divorced woman living in a city that wasn’t her home – she threw herself into work at Victoria’s Secret.
A source who worked with her in New York told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Janie is extremely hard working.
She’s someone who runs a tight team and is a born leader.
‘Her reputation within the company is of someone who has a clear vision of what she wants and she has a remarkable track record of producing products that real women want to buy.
‘She pretty much invented the idea of everyday underwear that could be practical and stylish as well as sexy.
‘She’s not someone who socialises a whole lot and she never discusses her private life. She’s something of an enigma.’
Leading New York fashion consultant and editor Betty Ann Grund told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I’m sure a lot of people in the industry here don’t even know who Janie Schaffer is, but that is no surprise.
‘Victoria’s Secret traditionally haven’t given their top people credit because they don’t want them stolen away by competition.
‘But you can be sure that Janie is very good. She wouldn’t have lasted here for more than six months if she wasn’t. Victoria’s Secret is a very tough company.’
Though the flamboyant billionaire owner Leslie Wexner runs Victoria’s Secret from Columbus, Ohio, where he owns one of the largest houses in America, Janie is based at the unglamorous New York offices in a nondescript commercial building a few blocks from the garment district, where she is reported to earn a ‘six-figure’ salary.
Janie Schaffer founded Knickerbox with her then husband Stephen Schaffer in 1986, and they soon became the golden couple of the lingerie trade
Last June, in a rare interview, she
spoke passionately about a new Victoria’s Secret collection to
influential fashion publication W, saying: ‘It’s such an exciting move
for us, to be able to do something so ethereal and beautiful.
‘And I think [the public] now sees us as a lingerie retailer, more than just a shop that sells knickers and bras.’
Relationship: Janie Schaffer in New York with biographer Andrew Morton in 2005
Janie's triplet daughters – Madison,
Daisy and Amber – are now 19 years old and while they were growing up,
Janie was often photographed, sometimes raising champagne glasses to the
camera or posing with the girls.
These days she is rarely seen at parties other than those for Victoria’s Secret.
Madison and Daisy live in Paris, and Amber is studying at The London School of Beauty and Make-Up in East London.
and impeccably photogenic, the family of five were pictured together
earlier this year at a party, looking happy and as close as ever, and
with no hint of the emotional and professional roller-coaster ride they
have experienced over the years.
despite her exciting new challenge and the obvious warmth and closeness
of her family life, Janie remains tight-lipped on her appointment at
Marks & Spencer, where she will begin her rebuilding project in late
Bolland has laid the blame for plunging profits on a catalogue of problems inherited from his predecessor Sir Stuart Rose.
He is hopeful that his new team, which also includes former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl, will help turn around these flagging fortunes.
The recently-appointed Marks & Spencer executive director John Dixon said: ‘Since joining the team in October, one of my priorities has been ensuring that we have the right leadership team and right structure to take us forward.’
Stephen, for one, has no doubt that Janie will do just that. He said: ‘Things are changing, it’s a dynamic management team [at Marks & Spencer]. If it catches some of that sparkle from the past, it will be very exciting.’
He added: ‘What Janie will bring is inspiration, vision and personality. She has a unique talent.’