SYDNEY — Britain’s intimate apparel retailers are beefing up business with new, hip labels and featuring lingerie on celebrities in provocative ads and marketing campaigns.

The celebrity weapons include Australians Kylie Minogue, Colette Dinnigan and Elle Macpherson, as well as top lingerie model Helena Christensen.

In December, British lingerie retailer Agent Provocateur unveiled a 90-second commercial featuring pop star Kylie Minogue in racy looking black lingerie straddling a mechanical bull and proclaiming the company’s products are “the world’s most erotic lingerie.”

It’s regarded as a calculated effort to generate maximum publicity for a company already known for risque marketing campaigns, such as X-rated playing cards, catalogs and phallic window displays. Interest in the London-based star is at a fever pitch in Europe, where her single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” has been number one in 13 countries.

“We knew we were going to get a big reaction, but we would have preferred it if the publicity had happened at the time the ad was released,” said Joe Corre, who launched the Agent Provocateur concept with Serena Rees with one store in London’s Soho in 1994 — 20 years after Corre’s parents, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, changed the name of their Kings Road boutique in London to “Sex” and began selling specialty rubber lingerie and fetishist clothing.

Initially planning to open an “erotic department store,” Corre and Lees ended up with lingerie, spotting a market gap between traditional department store brands and adult fare.

The duo has since opened two stores, in London and Los Angeles, and introduced a fragrance in 2000. Annual retail sales now exceed $5 million, said Corre, noting that mail-order and Web-site sales have increased 200 percent in the last 12 months.

Although Minogue said she did the Agent Provocateur ad as a favor, some might argue the move is clever preemptive marketing for Minogue’s own line called Love Kylie, which was launched here in April by Holeproof and is slated for a European rollout by 2003. Holeproof’s parent, Pacific Dunlop, claims a 35 percent share of Australia’s estimated $390 million intimate apparel market. (All figures are converted to the U.S. dollar at current exchange rates.)

On Nov. 30, Pacific Dunlop sold its Pacific Brands division — comprising Sara Lee’s Australian brands — to an investor consortium led by CVC Asia Pacific Ltd. and investment managers Pty Ltd. for $379 million.

The Love Kylie brand is already a top performer at the 73-unit Myer Grace Bros. department store chain here, according to store officials, and was a sellout within a fortnight of it’s mid-September delivery at the Brazin’s Bras ‘N Things chain.

“It’s pretty spectacular and very unusual for something to go that quickly in Australia,” said Brazin’s managing director, Ian Duffell.

But Kylie is not alone in London. In late November, Marks & Spencer introduced its second lingerie sub-brand: a 14-stockkeeping-unit range called Wild Hearts from Sydney’s Colette Dinnigan. Released initially into 12 of M&S’s 300 units, the launch is being supported by a print and point-of-sale campaign shot by Ellen von Unwerth and featuring Danish model Helena Christensen.

Rory Scott, business unit director for lingerie at M&S, said he expects the Wild Hearts line could generate retail sales of $7 million to $11 million its first year. In March, Scott will expand distribution to an additional 13 M&S stores and plans to reintroduce the Salon Rose lingerie brand, which was initially designed by Agent Provocateur.

Dinnigan designed and exported lingerie for two years before branching out into ready-to-wear in 1994. In the U.K., her primary lingerie line is stocked at Selfridges and Dinnigan’s freestanding Chelsea Green boutique.

Selfridges is also getting a piece of the lingerie action with top model Elle Macpherson. The Elle Macpherson Intimates (EMI) line bowed Sept. 30 and, according to the retailer, has quickly become its number-one-fitting brand. The launch was supported by a print and marketing campaign.

“EMI injected a certain newness into the fitting side of our business and is doing very well — certainly beating Triumph and Warner’s,” said Jane Yeo, Selfridges intimate apparel and swimwear buyer.

The line was initially launched in the Australasia region in 1990 by the Auckland, New Zealand-based Bendon Group. Bendon declined to give figures, but industry sources said EMI accounted for 40 percent of the firm’s $33 million volume in fiscal 2001.