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.
Is Agent Provocateur dressing itself up for sale?
You’re probably familiar with that real estate term, which refers to the practice of painting, decorating and generally sprucing up your property to make it more appealing to prospective buyers.
Whether intentional or not, Agent Provocateur‘s extravagant new fall collection has the same effect, and comes only a few days after British media reported the lingerie superbrand was getting ready to put itself on the market. Early speculation has it that the erotic trendsetter could fetch £200 for the 3i Group, the private equity group that paid less than a third of that for an 80% stake in AP seven years ago.
Whatever’s going on in the AP boardroom, there’s an eye-popping show happening in the front of the shop that should make investors take notice.
AP’s fall collection is built around the theme of “Le Salon” and four personality types that inhabit it — The Starlette, The Showgirl, the Belle de Nuit and La Demoiselle.
It’s all very feminine, very sexy and very, very French — the lavish photoshoot references French cabaret, brothels, the Crazy Horse striptease saloon and even sports the pink quilted wall coverings associated with Parisian lingerie maven Chantal Thomass, who is probably on the phone with her lawyers today.
Agent Provocateur has never been shy about its francophile fixation, but this may be as close as they’ve ever come to a modern update of classic Parisian boudoir wear.
There are several style ranges in each of the four “personalities” of Le Salon, some of which (like the Fione set in the main photo above) aren’t yet on sale. And, like most AP seasonal collections, its a visual and tactile buffet offering a staggering array of looks that will tempt coquettes and courtesans alike.
The standouts? The Starlette grouping’s shimmering gold lamé Yoshie range and lace-and-chiffon Chii Chi dress; the powerful black satin Patti range in the La Demoiselle group; and the floral lace Denver wrap in the Belle de Nuit set, which somehow is described as a “gown”.
It’s worth noting that this is the second consecutive collection from Agent Provocateur that adopts a decidely retrograde approach to its depiction of women. Last season, AP shot its models doing chores in a kitchen, and this time they’re the main attraction in Parisian strip club or cathouse. It’s a long way from the self-empowered heroines who have been a fixture in previous marketing campaigns, and some women will take offense at the objectification.
That being said, numbers don’t lie and Agent Provocateur has enjoyed robust growth in the past couple of years while results across much of the lingerie industry have been moribund. Maybe that’s just what happens when a girl dresses herself up for sale.
Exactly a year after shaking up the lingerie industry with her directorial film debut for Agent Provocateur, Spanish bombshell Penélope Cruz has returned with another racy fantasy to promote AP’s young diffusion label L’Agent.
The new promo film, which arrived today after weeks of hype, features model Jon Kortajarena as a stranded traveler in the desert who comes across a carload of supermodels who proceed to stage a high-energy workout class in front of him. Poor guy, all he wanted was a drink.
It’s neither as racy nor as surreal as the Almodóvar-inspired debut vid from last summer, also directed by the Oscar-winning actress and starring her hunky hubbie Javier Bardem. That six-minute-plus short was viewed over two million times on YouTube alone and drew predictable howls of outrage from censors.
The new film, at 3-plus minutes, should prove just as popular and just as controversial.
It’s part workout video and part porn fantasy, with faint BDSM echoes, a little girl-girl titillation and lots and lots of bare behinds. Who knew Agent Provocateur had such a thing for bums!?
The film promotes the upcoming Autumn-Winter 2014 lingerie collection from L’Agent by Agent Provocateur which, we assume, will feature plenty of thongs.
Also worth noting is the participation of celebrity fitness trainer Tracy Anderson, who choreographed the models’ desert workout. Is L’Agent — like everyone else — moving into fashion activewear? Wait and see.
And coincidentally (or not), Cruz is making headlines for another reason right now. A day before the much-anticipated release of her AP film, Cruz, Bardem and Almodóvar published a letter in a Spanish newspaper condemning the massacre of civilians in Gaza “while the international community does nothing.”
Think she didn’t know that millions would be searching for her on Google today, looking for a sexy video but getting a harsh lesson in global political reality instead? Clever, brave girl.
So you’ve reached that point in your personal style evolution where you’re bored by the sameness of lingerie from mall brands, but you don’t feel worldly enough to jump into the whole 50 Shades thing being pedaled by the high-end labels.
You want to be on-trend but not too far ahead of the curve, and you’re willing to pay $75 for a bra now, which seemed unthinkable a few years ago.
You’re all grown up now, and ready to step into the shoes — and underwear — of all the bold, confident modern women who blazed the trail for you.
You’re the little sisters of the fashion world, flush with your own income and ready to explore new things, searching for yourself in style and love and work and adventure.
If that sounds like you, then L’Agent is probably going to become your favorite new lingerie brand.
L’Agent, created last year by the celebrity designer duo of Penelope and Monica Cruz, is quite literally the little sister of the lingerie world, a youth-oriented diffusion line of the UK-based power label Agent Provocateur.
L’Agent recently unveiled its second seasonal collection and it’s wonderfully varied and filled with personality. By our count there are a whopping 16 style ranges that incorporate a host of familiar references: classic Parisian lace pieces, hints of both vintage nostalgia and sleek, geometric modern looks, and even a few bows and ruffles to create a coquettish look.
For younger women looking to get a start in building a lingerie wardrobe, this is like a how-to guide to finding something that works for you.
L’Agent is also going to make other lingerie brands pay attention, too, if it hasn’t already. This is an exceptionally well executed new brand with a broad reach that appeals to women with many different tastes and inclinations. (FYI, cup sizes now go up to an E, but don’t be surprised if those sell out quickest.)
Everything is pretty and colorful without being juvenile; very feminine but not too “girly”; sexy without being overtly sexual; and with the design allure of much more expensive labels. You’ll see echoes of many other charming industry leaders here, most notably Stella McCartney and Mimi Holliday, but L’Agent pulls it off without seeming like a copycat.
The new collection also gives us a glimpse into the future of the label, which is very much here to stay (barely six months old, it’s already offering a Classics line made up of styles from its debut collection). L’Agent has built an impressive retail presence in both boutiques and department stores and its exclusive partnership with Net-A-Porter provides an unbeatable online shopping destination.
The Cruz sisters appear to have plunged into their design collaboration with AP with gusto and a lingerie aficionado’s appetite for statement style. You can tell they had a barrel of fun doing this, and many of the playful style ranges are named for and meant to reflect the diverse personalities of their friends. (Except the kittenish cobalt-and-fuschia Monica range, shown at the top, which is named for Penelope’s little sis.)
For Agent Provocateur, this is all a very clever strategy. Little sisters grow up, after all, and when they do both AP’s erotic main line and its luxurious premium label Soiree will be there to help them expand their horizons.
Now here’s a look at the style ranges in L’Agent‘s spring 2014 collection.
Feminists are going to have a field day with the new promotional campaign for Agent Provocateur‘s spring 2014 collection, which revives the classic 1950s fantasy of the foxy housewife who cleans house in her underwear.
You know the one — whether cooking, vacuuming or on her knees scrubbing the floor, she’s always in the kitchen, and always ready for sex.
AP’s Behind Closed Doors campaign is meant to be an ironic send-up of Mad Men-era revisionist glamour, but a lot of women won’t find this kind of cleverness very funny.
Photographer Miles Aldridge poses his Stepford Wife models suggestively holding a vacuum cleaner hose, a rolling pin, a mixing bowl and other household devices, all while fetchingly attired in AP’s latest slinky, kinky gear. The effect is to equate domestic servitude with sexual availability — the same template that drove so much chauvinistic advertising in the 50s and 60s, and provided so much fodder for the women’s rights movement.
Agent Provocateur routinely courts controversy in its advertising campaigns, generating a bonanza of unpaid advertising and press attention around the world. And, just as routinely, it gets accused of portraying women as mere sextoys — willing, erotic consumables.
The company’s usual rejoinder is that it’s trying to portray women as powerful, independent beings in control of their own sexual identity. That’s going to be a tough sell this time, though.
But the most questionable thing about this campaign isn’t that it’s regressive or intentionally provocative, it’s that it’s also really, really unoriginal.
The retro sexist fantasy of the hot housewife is almost a cliché in the advertising world, a dependable trope that triggers familiar associations. As you can see in the examples below, nothing excites the male libido like a picture of a semi-nude woman gripping a vacuum cleaner hose.
This kind of idea has been used widely in lingerie advertising and magazine editorials and, in fact, AP’s campaign is a transparent, if polished, knockoff of a similar shoot done three years ago by the small Australian label Elegantly Scant, which you can see here. Even one of AP’s closest UK competitors, the luxury label Damaris, offered a modern update on the housework-in-lingerie theme in their 2010 promo film, Chore (below).
Of course, the horny domestic servant is also a familiar fixture in porn videos, and that’s the association that Agent Provocateur is really trying to trigger here. No matter how humdrum your suburban workaday life, it seems to be saying, the fantasy realm of porn-quality sex is just a change of knickers away.
Yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.