Kathleen Donovan is the founder and owner of Fifth House Intimates, a very individualized lingerie company that believes in the power of “yes.” There are two ways you can shop with Fifth House. You can either schedule a visit to the Carriage House Studio in Sunset Hills, Missouri, or you can book a consultation with a stylist who will hand-select pieces based on your personal style and ship them to you every quarter. Find out why Kathleen wanted to start this company and how her personal beliefs have shaped her journey with Fifth House so far.
MB: For anyone who hasn’t heard of Fifth House, describe your company in a nutshell?
Kathleen: The Fifth House is an astrological term reflecting the house of creative self-expression and romance. As women we do so much for others that we can sometimes deny our own dreams and aspirations. “Someday” we will do, be, wear that, but today is all we have. When we start seeing ourselves as beautiful and worthy now, then it shines through in ways that often surprise others. On a personal note, The Fifth House also represents the fifth city and fifth home that I’ve shared with my husband.
Today, we’re a fashion-focused lingerie boutique with an online presence, but the majority of our clients use our personal shopping and consulting services. Though we’re located in Kansas City, we work with women around the country, educating them on fit and styles, and introducing them to brands of lingerie and loungewear that are harder to find.
For instance, a large part of our clientele participates in the Trousseau program where we ship curated boxes quarterly, helping them build their lingerie wardrobes. For a busy woman, there’s nothing better than the excitement of some new lingerie or loungewear selected just for her.
MB: We love your focus on women taking care of themselves. That’s a biggie for us at Model Behaviors. Would you share a time—either before or after you began Fifth House—when you realized you weren’t taking care of yourself? What alerted you to this? And what did you do about it?
Kathleen: That’s tricky—I can tell you about my Diet Coke addiction or my insomnia when I’m busy working on a project—but really the time that made the biggest impact on me was just before opening Fifth House. We’d been moving for my husband’s career, and I had made a home for us in three different cities—New York, Philadelphia, and (finally) Kansas City. I was giving everything to my family.
When our kids were in school all day, I played tennis and went to luncheons. We had the big, old beautiful home that we had always dreamed of. My husband was achieving his goals, and we were comfortable. BUT, I still felt restless and unhappy, and I felt guilty for feeling this way. Why wasn’t it enough? What was wrong with me?
I kept adding more on my plate to fill that void. Then, I realized that I was looking for me. On the outside I had it all, but it was a life that the outside was creating for me and not a life that I’d created for myself. It’s easy for women to identify with our roles—our career, our husbands, and our children—and we can forget to just do what makes us happy. I enjoy volunteering in the community, cheering for the Chiefs, and spending time with my family. But there’s more…
I wasn’t going to be afraid of wearing what I wanted to wear. I like feeling sexy and confident, and I missed working, learning, and traveling. Above all, I wanted to help women feel good about themselves. But I was afraid of failing, and during this journey, I came to understand that the voice that was telling me that I was unrealistic or silly wasn’t my voice at all. It was other people’s expectations. E. E. Cummings says, “Yes is a world and in this world of yes live (skillfully curled) all worlds.” Fifth House is one way to say yes.
MB: It can be extremely difficult to ignore the “other people’s expectations” voice, especially when it comes to appearance and sexuality. How do you help your clients approach lingerie with the “yes” mentality you’ve cultivated within yourself?
Kathleen: Unfortunately, most of my clients initially come to me with that voice in their head! They feel bad if they’re small chested, thinking they need a big padded bra to be okay. And on the flip side, they feel bad if they’re large chested, worrying about their cup size, especially if its turns out to be larger than they first thought.
What I say to those women is, “You’re comparing yourself to ridiculous standards. I’ve been to the lingerie shows and markets, and the models have great figures, but they also have stretch marks and veins just like everyone else. Who told you that you need bigger or smaller cleavage? Look how amazing you look, and if you’re hung up on cup size, cut the tag out!”
I actually have a client on the coast who is convinced her quarterly trousseau packages have improved her self-esteem and confidence because now she knows her size and what looks good on her. She’s stepped out of her comfort zone and likes how she feels. She exercises more and doesn’t feel like she has to worry about a scar that bothered her before. She’s even referred clients to me from as far as London!
MB: That’s incredible! And I’ve definitely been discouraged when I’ve gone to a lingerie shop and they don’t make any of the cute, fancy bras in anything smaller than a B-cup. It kind of makes me feel like I’m not worthy to wear lingerie (which I know is absurd!). Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that Fifth House was going to happen?
Kathleen: I think it was the moment that I finally landed on the name and logo. I really like everything to have meaning. I loved how the “V” in the Roman numeral five has a period. It’s short for “verb.” I loved how the “V” looked like the Aries ram because that’s my sign, and that bold action was what I was trying to reconnect with. But what I loved the most is that it was all done over a bottle of wine with my husband—who knows me better than anyone. He started writing words like love, crave, and believe, while using the logo that I could imagine far into the future. It was exactly what I wanted my brand to feel like. The next day, I found a graphic designer and the rest is history.
MB: How did you decide on lingerie? Was it an arbitrary choice, or did you already know a lot about it before you ever even dreamed up Fifth House?
Kathleen: I have loved lingerie for some time. While traveling, I would buy things and educate myself on brands. Basically in Paris, lingerie shops are on every corner. Lingerie is a staple for French women’s personal style, and I wanted to live that way too. I started showing pretty embroidered straps or gorgeous bodysuits layered under sheer pieces. I would wear a bustier with a skirt instead of buying a new dress for events. And my friends kept asking where I was finding these items, or wanting advice on how to get more mileage out of these investment pieces. It isn’t about seducing, but rather feeling confident and sexy for ourselves. Little by little, I started buying for friends and seeing a path to share my message and style with others.
MB: If it’s not top-secret information, what are some of your favorite shops in Paris?
Kathleen: Some boutiques you need to experience whether it’s your style or not. I love Chantal Thomass because she’s always been provocative and somewhat theatrical in her window displays and style. Fifi Chachnil on the left bank is so small and charming. She got her start making costumes for the showgirls from Crazy Horse.
Then, there are brands that I really wear and love like Eres and Cadolle. Le Bon Marche has a great lingerie department to get your feet wet with local designers. Hosiery is also something that is much more important in Europe.
Really, a stroll through the back streets of St-Germaine-des-Prés will lead you to many, many special boutiques.
MB: Well, Kathleen, thank you for such an intimate conversation about…well…intimates. We’ve learned so much, and now we’d like to wrap up by asking you about 2015. What exciting new things do you have in store for Fifth House?
Kathleen: I’d like to continue building our personal shopping business. In fact, I’ve seen a big spike in men purchasing these services for their wives and girlfriends.
I’m adding more brands, and I have ideas for my own design of Fifth House camisoles and bodysuits.
It’s never ending! But I’m grateful that I enjoy it and get a lot out of seeing other women feel confident.