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Agent Provocateur Sets Expansion

British lingerie brand is shifting into high gear in the U.S. and at home in a bid to double sales within the next three years.

A sketch of the Madison Avenue interior.

LONDON — British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur is shifting into high gear in the U.S. and at home in a bid to double sales within the next three years.

This story first appeared in the January 28, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The company, whose turnover is 25 million pounds, or $40 million at current exchange, opened a Madison Avenue flagship last week, and has another in the pipeline on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles.

It will unveil its first eyewear line, with Linda Farrow, for spring, and plans to launch a third fragrance, L’Agent, next month.

“This is all the culmination of three years of hard work, and all of the growth has been funded internally by the company,” said Garry Hogarth, the company’s chief executive officer.

Hogarth added that Kim Winser, Agent Provocateur’s chairman and the former ceo of Pringle and Aquascutum, stepped down on Jan. 1. “She is so great, so talented, and she helped us to build the luxury lifestyle side of the brand,” said Hogarth, adding a new chairman would be named later this year.

The private equity giant 3i, which is Agent Provocateur’s majority owner, brought Winser into the company in early 2010. She has in the past served as a senior adviser for 3i’s retail companies.

Agent Provocateur’s 2,500-square-foot flagship at 675 Madison Avenue spans two floors and features double-height windows, mirror-paneled walls, a “hosiery library” and a conservatory at the back. The space was formerly a temporary Jimmy Choo store, and is diagonally across from Barneys New York. The store is the brand’s third retail unit in Manhattan, after a shop on Mercer Street and a concession at Bloomingdale’s. Hogarth said the company would mark the opening on Feb. 13 with a party during New York Fashion Week.

Hogarth said the U.S., the firm’s second-biggest market after the U.K., was also its best-performing one. He said he was expecting a 9 percent rise in like-for-like sales in the U.S. this year.

On Feb. 7, a second L.A. unit — after the one on Melrose — will open on Rodeo Drive, across from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The 1,500-square-foot store will have an “Art Deco Hollywood glamour,” according to the company, with hand-painted silk walls.

By this summer, the brand will have 11 retail units across the U.S., in cities including Boston, Miami and Las Vegas.

Hogarth said the company would also focus this year on beefing up e-commerce in the U.S. About 11 percent of the brand’s revenue is generated online.

Agent Provocateur is also looking beyond the U.S. and the U.K. for expansion and is aiming to have 100 stores within three years. The brand currently has 54, a mix of wholly owned and franchises.

The brand will open its sixth store in Moscow in the next few months, and is looking to open up to six stores in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is also looking for stand-alone spaces in Rome and Milan.

Hogarth said the company plans to double the size of its space at La Rinascente in Milan to 750 square feet, and that its unit there has the highest sales volume per square foot of any Agent Provocateur store in the world.

The brand sells exclusively via its own retail, and Hogarth said there are no plans to change that distribution strategy. The only exception is Net-a-porter, which has an exclusive on about seven styles, Hogarth said.

There is much more in the pipeline than retail, though. On Valentine’s Day the brand will have a soft launch of its third fragrance, L’Agent, which will be sold exclusively through Harvey Nichols for the first two weeks. In the U.S., the scent will launch on Feb. 4 in Agent Provocateur’s own stores exclusively. Hogarth added the company still has plans to launch a capsule color cosmetics range.

The Linda Farrow eyewear line will consist of 10 sunglasses and seven optical frames. The glamorous sunglasses have cat eyes, twisted rope details or perforated black patent leather at the temples.

Hogarth’s partner in growing the business is creative director Sarah Shotton, has been busy on the brand’s image. For spring, the online campaign features a voyeuristic, homemade-looking film of the French model Josephine de la Baume in an apartment, walking around in her bra, panties, stockings and garters.

During an interview at the boudoir-like Agent Provocateur showroom in Clerkenwell, London, Shotton described the spring collection as “pretty but naughty” and inspired by the Sixties and Seventies, with a palette of mint greens and soft pinks and polka dot prints.

In addition to designing the lingerie — which represents 80 percent of sales, the hands-on Shotton also keeps a watchful eye over licensees, which include Linda Farrow and BJB Ltd., for Agent Provocateur’s costume jewelry line. For fall, the brand plans to launch bed linen, including cashmere throws with suede tassels, and silk sheets and a line of stretchy, no-wrinkle nylons with a seam at the back.

“For some reason, men find it very sexy when traditional nylons bag and crinkle, but it’s just annoying if you’re a woman with a busy lifestyle,” said Shotton, who has spent much of her career at the company and who was promoted last year.