LONDON — Agent Provocateur wants to become a global luxury player.
The small but profitable British lingerie brand has a new management team, and is eager to expand its retail footprint through emerging and established markets, e-commerce and licensing, as well as its core products.
“Lingerie in the luxury sector hasn’t been through its growth spurt yet,” said Kim Winser, who was named chairman this month by the company’s private equity owner, 3i. “Lingerie is starting to have its place in fashion collections, and people have been spending crazy money on bags and shoes, and are looking for what is next.”
Winser, former chief executive officer of Aquascutum and Pringle, said she sees enormous potential for the brand, especially for e-commerce. Female empowerment will be a key message for the label.
“This is a brand by women for women,” she said.
As evidence of that, the company has promoted Sarah Shotton, who designs the collections and has worked in different capacities for the label since 1999, to creative director. She replaces the brand’s co-founder and creative director Joe Corre, who left in October. Winser succeeded Stuart Rose, a former deputy chairman of The Body Shop who had been with the lingerie company for two years.
Garry Hogarth remains ceo of the company, which 3i purchased for an estimated $123 million in 2007 from Corre and his ex-wife and former business partner, Serena Rees, who also left the business.
Annual sales are about 22 million pounds, or $33 million at current exchange. The company is expecting a double-digit increase for the year ending March 31, and Winser said the brand is profitable in all of its markets.
About 80 percent of revenue comes from lingerie, with the rest generated by hosiery and fragrances.
During an interview at Agent Provocateur’s slick new headquarters here, Winser, Hogarth and Shotton elaborated on initiatives intended to boost revenue and raise the label’s profile.
Hogarth said the brand plans to more than double the number of stand-alone stores to 100 from 47 in the next three years, keeping up the rapid pace of expansion. Three years ago, Agent Provocateur had 14 stand-alone stores.
The units in the U.S. and the U.K. are wholly owned by the company. Stores are operated through franchise agreements in markets such as Asia and Eastern Europe.
The brand has nine stores in the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago. “And there’s potential for a lot more,” said Hogarth, adding that a few weekends ago, French president Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, shopped at the Bal Harbour, Fla., store.
The brand, which has stores in cities such as Paris, Milan, Berlin, Vienna and Copenhagen, is looking to expand worldwide. A shop opened this month in Seoul, Korea, and the company is scouting for a second space at the Galleria Mall there. This year, Agent Provocateur plans to open a sixth Moscow store, and another in Saint Petersburg as well as a unit in Kiev, Ukraine.
Stores are also slated to launch this year in Prague and Toronto and next year in Rome. Winser said the brand hasn’t even begun to tap into Japan and South America, where there are no Agent Provocateur boutiques, and the Middle East, which has a unit in Dubai.
She added some existing stores would be replaced by larger units, and the label plans to increase the size of its shop-in-shop at Selfridges in London in May. There are no plans to wholesale the line, she said. The e-commerce site, agentprovocateur.com, was updated in September and delivers product worldwide.
“People are familiar with Agent Provocateur, and I think it’s comfortable for many women to buy lingerie on the Internet,” Winser said. “We also have a sizable business in giftware over the Internet, and that draws in new customers.”
Regarding the product mix, Shotton said the brand would focus more on swimwear, with cup sizes ranging from A to F, and on mix-and-match tops and bottoms.
“We really want swimwear to sit like a proper collection,” she said, adding that the brand was eager to leverage its expertise in corsetry for swimwear.
“Women come in all shapes and sizes, and they buy swimwear in a similar way to lingerie,” Shotton said. “We design with their problems in mind.”
Agent Provocateur has also developed other product extensions, such as the Soiree line, a collection of high-end, one-off pieces made from Couture fabrics or leather, some of which are embroidered with Swarovski crystals. A bra from the Soiree collection starts at 200 pounds, or $300, about four times that of an entry-price one from the main line.
Agent Provocateur’s third fragrance — the name hasn’t been disclosed — will launch in August under a new 10-year licensing deal with the British fragrance manufacturer and distributor Designer Parfums. The brand’s current scents are its namesake signature scent and Maitresse.
A fourth fragrance is slated for spring 2011. In September 2011, the brand plans to unveil a capsule cosmetics range with a focus on eyes, lips and nails. The range will be sold through the stores and online.
Just before Christmas, Agent Provocateur signed a deal with BJB, another British company, to manufacture a line of costume jewelry, including hoop earrings covered in thorns and rings with saucy tassel details. A capsule collection of the jewelry is currently in-store.
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