The worldwide lingerie market has been mostly flat (pardon the pun) for several years, but among all the brand makeovers and corporate shuffling in the past year, one remarkable tidbit of news leapt out: Agent Provocateur, the UK-based erotic fashion brand, saw its sales increase by 25% in the fiscal year ending in 2013, and the company’s profits doubled.
And don’t expect that astonishing trend to slow down any time soon.
AP’s enviable growth has been attributed to many factors: plum celebrity endorsements, consumer curiosity driven by the whole 50 Shades of Grey thing, and the introduction a few years ago of its super-expensive Soiree collection.
Most analysts will tell you, though, that AP owes its growth to a very aggressive retail expansion strategy. The brand now has nearly 100 stores or in-store boutiques around the world, with recent openings in cities like Seoul, Hong Kong, Cannes and even Calgary (for all you naughty cowgirls) and many more in the planning stages. You can buy AP’s pricey knickers in prosperous places (Dubai, Doha) and in countries where cultural conservatism and/or economic deprivation (Turkey, Indonesia, Kazakhstan) would seem to leave little room for shops selling bejeweled bras.
Long a style trendsetter in the international lingerie market, Agent Provocateur has emerged as a global powerhouse — it’ll do over £50M in business this year — with no indication that it plans to retreat from this strategy.
What’s less often cited as a key to Agent Provocateur‘s growth — simply because it’s too new — is the impact of its year-old diffusion label, L’Agent by Agent Provocateur.
When the widely publicized collection developed by actress Penélope Cruz and her model sister Monica was introduced last summer, AP officials were quoted as saying they expected L’Agent would one day account for 50% of the company’s sales. That seemed extremely ambitious, especially since L’Agent is a wholesale label that is sold to (and by) third-party retailers who reap the lion’s share of profits at the cash register.
But after the release last week of L’Agent‘s third lingerie collection, those early projections don’t seem far-fetched. L’Agent offers its parent company a can’t-miss formula for unlimited sales growth, appealing to a broad range of customers unrestricted by age or economic status, and unencumbered by the headaches and expense of running all those bricks-and-mortar stores around the world.
L’Agent is the savviest brand intro we’ve seen in years, with a wide range of styles that are as irresistible and unpretentious as the Cruz sisters themselves. And a cursory look at the AW2014 collection reveals why it’s turning into AP’s cash cow.
L’Agent is mostly a bras-and-briefs label, but within that category there’s a lot of variety. There’s the classically feminine French influence that first inspired its parent company, along with several frill-less modern styles that make impressive statements with geometric patterns.
It’s a vividly colorful collection but, again, the choices range from the traditional (baby pink and black) to the contemporary (neon orange, ultraviolet). There are structured shelf bras and soft lacey ones, sleek satin briefs and sexy sheer ones. Throw in a few leopard prints, polka dots and the odd satin bow and you have a veritable Chinese menu of underwear options.
L’Agent is clearly focused on creating a durable catalogue of styles that will sell from year to year. (It introduced a “Classics” line in only its second season, and this month began online selling through its own webshop.) As a result, the big new collection really only contains about 7 “new” styles, side by side with additions or revisions to previously introduced ranges.
And sexy? Well, that’s always in the eye of the beholder, but L’Agent is far less explicit than what you get from big sister Agent Provocateur. With AP, the eroticism is triggered by peekaboo bras, ouvert knickers, deeply plunging décolletage and lots of BDSM accessorizing. L’Agent appeals to an entirely different part of the libido: its sexiness comes from sleek minimalist silhouettes, simple color combos, modest design embellishments and — new this season — the delicious tease of semi-sheer colored mesh.
The L’Agent aesthetic is very pretty, but it’s also slightly juvenile (all those polka dots and candy pink bows!) but that too helps explain its broad appeal. L’Agent‘s target market is post-college women who are happy to let their lingerie keep the illusion of youthfulness alive for as long as possible.
Here’s the full lookbook for the L’Agent AW2014 collection (somewhat bizarrely shot with a gym/workout theme, since these are NOT activewear garments). The standout among the all-new styles is the Esma geometric range (pictured above), but you’ll also swoon over the ridiculously sweet Tabita line and the beautiful layered mesh arrangements of the Ceri line.