Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear

Rhonda Shear should be the spokesmodel for the ever-changing shape of beauty and success. She parleyed her skill-set as a sultry television actress, standup comic, and Playboy model into a career as the figurehead of the lingerie empire, Shear Enterprises.

Much can be assumed about Shear from the fact that she won more than 40 beauty pageants growing up, including Miss Louisiana: she's attractive, talented, well spoken, comfortable on stage, and competitive. However, these titles obscure Shear's uncanny ability to flip failure into success.

While completing her communications degree at Loyola University in the mid-70s, Shear was stripped of one of her debutant titles for appearing in a clothed Playboy pictorial. Instead of cowering from this controversy, Shear ran with it. She used the press generated from this "sex scandal" to fuel her campaign for public office against the very man who confiscated her crown. She lost by only 135 votes, which was a win in itself considering that she was the first woman to ever run for public office in New Orleans. With a summer free from the responsibilities of school and an elected position, Shear went to Hollywood. That summer turned into a 26-year career.

Shear appeared on virtually every television show you remember from the late 80s and early 90s: Happy Days, The A Team, Dallas, Cheers, The Fall Guy... At first, Shear struggled against being typecast as the sexy, quirky blonde. Once she realized this was how Hollywood saw her, she embraced the stereotype. Her blonde hair got bigger and her spandex got tighter. She even posed nude a few times in Playboy. Capitalizing on her image, Shear appeared for more than eight years as the playfully sexy host of Up All Night. This celebrity helped Shear re-brand herself as a standup comedian.

click to enlarge Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear - PLAYBOY.COM
Playboy.com
Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear

At the turn of the century, Shear's career and love life went in a new direction. She got married, moved across the country to St. Petersburg, Fla., and started the intimate apparel company, Shear Enterprises. You may recognize Shear from her frequent appearances on home-shopping channels and infomercials, where her various talents, and her merchandise, are on full display. In 2011, her company earned around $73 million in sales, largely off the success of the Ahh Bra. Building on this momentum, Shear plans to add a line of slimming swimwear, fragrance, and cosmetics.

I recently had the chance to chat with Shear about her life, success, and the business of shaping beauty.

Was it a happy accident that Shear Enterprises is located in St. Petersburg alongside The Home Shopping Network (HSN), or was this a savvy business decision?

I was living in California the first time HSN invited us on. We went on and sold out with about 6,400 units. Every time we went back on, our business expanded. I was living in Beverly Hills at the time. My husband and I had only been married about a year at that point. We just thought it would cool to start up someplace neither of us had lived. We also thought that if we moved here our business would really grow, which it did ... We officially moved to St. Petersburg in 2006 and love it.

Obviously the type of clothes people wear in Beverly Hills is different than what people walk around in here. Have the styles of Tampa Bay influenced your designs?

It's very relaxed here. In Beverly Hills it's a dressy kind of relaxed. Everyone tries to look casual, but usually no one goes out without makeup on and their hair done. No doubt St. Petersburg has influenced me a little bit, but at the end of the day, women are women everywhere. It's all about comfort. I've gotten more into that being in this area and finding fabrics that are good for this weather and climate, but our style is universal.

click to enlarge Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear - SHEARENTERPRISES.COM
ShearEnterprises.com
Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear
  • ShearEnterprises.com

As a woman who profits off of shaping the idea of beauty, how do you walk the line between empowering women by helping them to feel sexy, and reinforcing the idea that in order for women to be sexy, they must look and dress a certain way?

I am totally about comfort. I am dressing people from the inside out with bras, under garments, and shaping pieces. It's totally empowering. We are involved in a number of charities, like helping women who have gone through breast cancer. We are also all about making these garments more comfortable. We make products without wires and utilize the latest fabric technologies. A lot of our things are knitted on really sophisticated machines that leave our products without seams, so there is nothing that itches or binds.

Also, all designers tend to design with themselves in mind. I've been everything from a size zero to a size twelve, so I know what a little person needs and I know what a larger gal needs to feel sexy.

Is lingerie more timeless than the seasonal trends of outerwear?

It depends. With lingerie there is what we call one-minute lingerie, which is what a guy buys a woman for his pleasure. Then there is the lingerie that she really uses and sleeps with that is comfortable or that she uses as a layering piece, as a top, a bottom, as leggings or as yoga wear. We focus on the kinds of pieces that she will pull out of her closet and go to a movie, lounge on the couch, or travel with. Pieces that fit into every woman's wardrobe and that can stick in her closet for awhile. Also, we design most of our intimate apparel pieces to be the kind of stuff she can wear outside as a top or underneath a business suit. Most of my pieces are very universal.

We are getting ready to design a line for Crystal Harris Hefner, the new Misses Hefner. She had actually opened a lingerie boutique. She had all this sexy stuff, but what sold was the comfy, cozy stuff. We asked her, "Well what do you like?" She liked the comfy, cozy stuff. The little, sexy pieces sell, but they don't sell the kind of volume as the items a woman wears every day.

click to enlarge Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear - SHEARENTERPRISES.COM
ShearEnterprises.com
Shaping beauty with lingerie mogul, Rhonda Shear
  • ShearEnterprises.com

Your catalogue features two busty models you might expect to see in a gentleman's magazine, as opposed to the kind of waifish female models featured in women's fashion magazines.

I really am not into waif thin. I don't think it's healthy. Even Twiggy, who was a fashion icon of the 60s and 70s, she thinks it's very unhealthy what women are doing now. I think for the most part, men and women would rather look at a curvier body than a stick figure. However, fashion designers often want there clothes to hang on their models—they call them hanger models.

Both of the gals that are in my catalogue are Playmates. We wanted to find bustier models, but it was very difficult. We went through ever single model we could find in this area and Miami, and everyone was just so tiny that it really didn't do our garments justice. The average American woman is a size 14. Our sizes go from extra small to 4X. I don't necessarily feel like I have to show a garment on all shapes and sizes, but I want consumers to look at my models and at least feel like they can relate to her. She is healthy. She is curvy. She is a real woman. That's just my preference. I don't go by what other designers do. I like a sexier model. I like long hair. I think it just fits with intimate apparel.

Considering that you once had a huge foot fetish following from Up All Night, have you considered designing accessories and shoes that appeal to foot fetishists?

I did capitalize on it during my Up All Night years. When I realized what was going on, I played to it for my foot fetish fans. To this day I get emails from a wide array of people who apparently still adore my feet. I like it. I understand the fetish from years of learning about it.

I am getting ready to put out more legwear, though not because of the foot fetish fans. There is just a demand for it. I am getting ready to launch a really big hosiery and legwear line. It just kind of went out of style for a while. To me, hosiery has always been sexy, and it always makes your legs look better. I am really excited to help bring it back.

I've never gotten into the shoe business, but I am going to be adding slippers and socks and things. I'm not saying I won't go into shoes, but at this point I like that my line is growing organically. A fashion shoe really wouldn’t go with what I’m doing now. But, I am doing hosiery, which I think will make all my foot fetish fans very happy.

Have you already filmed the pilot for your reality show?

We did a sizzle reel. It's being shopped around to different networks. I am really hopping it happens, but I just don't know if we're naughty enough. Well, I won't say naughty. We are certainly naughty. I don't know that we are dirty enough. The sizzle reel has my stand up comedy, my business, my models, my stepson and his tons of girlfriends. It has a lot going on. It will just depend on the networks. Right now some of them are really getting down and dirty. Personally I wouldn't want to go that direction.

How much of the opportunities you've had to work hard in order to be successful stemmed from the publicity you received when you were stripped of your pageant title for doing a clothed photo shoot in Playboy?

When it happened I was 21 and still in college. It wasn't a beauty contest. It was a kind of festival that I was the reigning queen of. Pseudo debutant kind of stuff. I was also the reigning Miss Louisiana, though they didn't care. I was supposed to represent the city and the festival organizers were shocked that I was in Playboy. I ended up running for public office against the guy who was the president of that organization. But we knew it was really the women, the wives of those guys, who really got up in arms about the Playboy thing. In the 70s, the connotation of Playboy was much different.

At that point, I wasn't necessarily looking for a career in show business. When that scandal hit the newspaper, it went over the AP wire, then went international. Playboy picked up on it too. Playboy loved the controversy. They doted on me for years after that. I ended up doing a few celebrity pictorials for them, though I was never a playmate.

If I had been looking for a career in show business, and if the Internet had been around, it could have been really cool. If something like that had happened today, I would have ended up with a reality show and all that. I did get a lot of press very quickly, but I was still in New Orleans and I didn't leave for another year. I was already known in the New Orleans area. So locally it didn't really do anything other than get people to say that I should run for public office. I was the youngest person to have ever run for public office at that time, and the first woman. It was kind of cool to be a trailblazer. Everything kind of came out of that whole craziness. But, it certainly did not spearhead my Hollywood career.

Though I did utilize controversy throughout my career. I did. Because, no matter what I did, I was always typecast as sexy. I really tried to play the girl next door, but I just never could. I never could. I was always typecast, so at some point I just started going with it. I just said, "You know what. Why fight it. If this is what I am going to get cast as, I'm going to go for it." That's when I landed Up All Night. That led to comedy. I have no regrets. I had fun ... I was in LA for 26 years and I worked the whole time with great people. I was dying to have my own sitcom, but I did have a long, happy, fruitful career.

It seems like you always appeared in one episode of TV shows as the sexy love interest of one of the main characters.

Right. I had a million of those parts and I would have thought that they would have eventually led somewhere more. If I would have stayed in it, and stayed in LA, who knows. A lot of my peers are now major producers and directors, and they cast their friends. But, I just felt like, after 40, I couldn't keep dragging around LA, knocking on doors and auditioning. If something came my direction now, I would jump on it. I will always love show business. But, at some point you have to give up the ghost and say, "It is what it is."

A lot of people don't reinvent themselves. I have friends that are still doing it, going to auditions in LA. All my stand up comedy friends are still on the road. I just can't see myself doing that at my age. I love what I'm doing now. I have one foot in show business and I have a supportive husband. I just did a comedy show at the Mahaffey Theater, and I may be looking to take that on the road a little. But now I'm not doing it for a living. It is for my pleasure. That makes it a lot easier. I'm in a really nice place right now.

It seems like you made a good choice. What were the profits of your company in 2011, something like $72 Million?

Yeah, I think it was $73 million ... We're in a really nice place right now. We're all over the world: China, Italy, Germany, UK, Canada. The infomercial on the Ahh Bra really catapulted our company, though a lot of people now think of us as just the bra company, which we are not. We have 5,500 items in our line. We are a fully vertical apparel and intimate company. We're known all over, but on the other hand, you know, we are not in a Macy's or Bloomingdales yet. Thirty-seven percent of our business is done online. A lot of women don't even want to go into a store to deal with intimate apparel.



To learn more about Shear and Rhonda Shear Intimates, visit RhondaShear.com, ShearEnterprises.com or follow her on Twitter, @RhondaShear and Facebook.

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