WWD.com/globe-news/intimates-activewear/agent-provocateur-enters-china-market-7103836/

HONG KONG — British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur is expanding rapidly into China.

The London-based label will open its first freestanding store in Beijing on Sept. 1, followed by two concessions, at Lane Crawford in Shanghai at the end of September and Chengdu in March.

“Obviously, we’ll see how these do, but I think there is potential in China for many more,” said chief executive officer Garry Hogarth, who aims to open up to 10 retail units across mainland China in the coming years.

Located in a new, upscale shopping mall, Parkview Green, the Beijing boutique will stock several categories: core and classic lingerie, a bridal line, swimwear, hosiery, accessories and beauty products. The cozy 560-square-foot store will feature signature black and pink interiors with brass fixtures and oversize silk curtains similar to the U.S. flagship in New York.

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The decision to enter the China market stemmed from the increasing number of mainland consumers flocking to Agent Provocateur boutiques in international hot spots including Hong Kong, Paris, London, New York and the Middle East, said Hogarth.

Asked if the brand will cater to local tastes, Hogarth replied, “Not really. We are selling the same range because we feel it works. The customers are buying this already in different markets. We just want to make it available in their own country.”

While more visible status symbols such as handbags and clothing once trumped intimate apparel in China, the demand for luxury innerwear is growing, said Hogarth.

“It’s very easy if you are wearing Louboutin shoes or a Chanel handbag for everyone to see, but now [Chinese] people who have all of these beautiful clothes and handbags really want luxurious lingerie as well. I think it’s changing, but it will take time,” he said.

Hogarth noted that Chinese consumers are also becoming more discerning about fabrics and fashion.

“In the past, China was more functional [about style], perhaps with lots of padded bras.…But I think consumers are becoming more fashion-aware,” said Hogarth, noting that high-quality French leavers lace is a top-selling classification.

“It’s like cashmere versus acrylic, people understand the difference is huge,” he added.

He anticipates one of the biggest challenges will be to change people’s preconceptions about the brand.

“People think it’s just sexy lingerie and you have to have the perfect body and be 20 years old. But it’s really for all women, and it’s designed in a way that it fits well in all sizes,” he explained.

The move into China comes at a time when Agent Provocateur’s global expansion plan is gaining pace. The brand, which currently has 77 freestanding stores and franchises in 28 countries, is rolling out eight new shops in the next three months in Paris, Moscow, Australia and Mexico.

Within Asia, the high-end brand recently cut the ribbon on stores in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and more will follow in the region.

“We’ve got plans to open up shortly in Singapore and Thailand. We are looking all over Asia, actually,” said Hogarth.

Following on the heels of Russian and Korean-language e-commerce Web sites launched in 2012, Agent Provocateur is now working on a Chinese-language site, which it hopes to unveil in the coming months.

“China is quite a challenge. Logistically it’s been the most difficult market for us. But we are not going to rush. We are confident about the market, and we want to build it in a long-term way,” said Hogarth.