The photo above brings back fond memories of an outfit I wore to a junior high school dance back in the mid-70s. No, I didn’t go in blue lingerie, heels and cowboy hat. But that throw cushion — it’s a perfect match for the burnt orange velveteen bell bottoms that were, indefensibly, my favourite clothing item when I was 15. I wore them until the fabric on the rear and thighs had worn to a shine and a friend dropped a cigarette in my lap and almost torched me.
Had I known back then that the polyester pop-art smorgasbord that was 1970s fashion would one day be resurrected under the undiscriminating lens of nostalgic retrophilia, I might have developed more conservative tastes.
So it should be no surprise that the new campaign lookbook from UK lingerie label L’Agent arouses (in me, at least) mixed feelings, like thumbing through an old yearbook. It’s an almost museum-calibre recreation of 70s kitsch, set in the kind of family rec room — complete with shag carpeting, faux cherrywood paneling and leatherette furnishings — that many of us grew up in and which today is usually only seen in serial killer movies.
If the campaign looks different from the label’s first four seasons, it’s because it’s the first time L’Agent has created an editorial-style promotion with a narrative subtext to help express its emerging identity. It’s also meant to represent a “fresh new phase” for a label that is commonly considered the little sister of UK erotic trendsetter Agent Provocateur.
What’s different this time? The lookbook models are a bit more mature than previous seasons, the poses are more suggestive (the models’ legs are closed in only two of 19 images) and the lingerie styles steer clear of the playful prints, trim and frills that appealed to younger customers in past collections. It’s no stretch to assume L’Agent is evolving into something of an affordable basics line for women who lust after Agent Provocateur‘s indulgent luxury garments.
A company press release describes today’s L’Agent customer as “an uber-babe with a nonchalant coolness and devil-may-care attitude,” which sounds a lot like the big sisters who shell out for Agent Provocateur‘s sexual adventure costumes.
The visual references in this lookbook also offer clues to L’Agent‘s new-ish approach. The campaign was directed by Sarah Shotton, who is the creative director for both labels, and was inspired by the work of mid-century photographer Elmer Batters, whose “leg art” (above) helped popularize foot and hosiery fetishes in the 60s and 70s. Batters is an unlikely source for retro fashion marketing (much of his work was very explicit), but it’s not the first time Shotton and Agent Provocateur have turned to vintage erotica for inspiration (remember the Bilitis-inspired campaign from a few years back?)
It’s also not the first time that the slightly seedy vibe of 70s rec rooms has been used in lingerie marketing to trigger lurid flashbacks of those suburban teen caves where many of us either learned about sex or at least filled our time talking about it. Lascivious picked up on those associations in last year’s Polaroid-style campaign, and Mexican sensualist Marika Vera made rec rooms slightly less creepy in her memorable David Lynch-inspired shoot a few years back. And NYC label The Lake and Stars got the jump on L’Agent with a raunchy girl-girl shoot (above) in 2010 that also referenced the legacy of Elmer Batters.
For L’Agent, like those brands before it, showcasing sexy models in the most mundane and unsexy of settings serves to make the fantasy seem more attainable. It also points to a more open and expressive erotic expression in the label’s identity, one that will allow it to piggyback on the substantial brand recognition and marketing power of Agent Provocateur.
“L’Agent has grown from a wholesale diffusion line to a fully fledged brand with standalone stores and an ecommerce platform, all within the last year,” the company statement says. “L’Agent has Agent Provocateur‘s DNA running throughout, but differs in fabrics, colour palette and construction, offering a more accessible price point point to appeal to a wider audience.”
In other words, more of AP’s famously seductive lingerie, for less. Hard to beat that formula.
Now, if you can handle a few more cringe-inducing flashbacks, here’s the rest of the L’Agent AW15 lookbook, shot by Liz Collins and styled by Phoebe Arnold.