EUROPEAN SHOP TALK
REGARDLESS OF THE CONTINENT, SEX AND PRICE SELL LINGERIE. HERE, A LOOK AT TWO EUROPEAN SHOPS WHICH KEEP CUSTOMERS COMING BACK.
Byline: James Fallon / Samantha Conti
LONDON — Agent Provocateur has brought a buzz to London with everything from a “Miss Agent Provocateur” beauty contest to a street demonstration by lingerie-clad models during London Fashion Week last October.
The shop’s goal is to capitalize on the power of sexy lingerie.
“Lingerie is very personal,” says Joseph CorrA who co-owns the 1,000-square-foot shop on Broadwick Street with Serena Rees. “What a woman chooses to wear under her clothes puts her in control. We want to use everything that comes off of that idea. It can be about anything that involves control — jewelry, a political party, a television show, whatever.”
So far, the formula seems to be working. Agent Provocateur, which opened here in December 1994, expects retail sales of about $465,000 (300,000 pounds) this year, says Corre, a son of designer Vivienne Westwood. According to CorrA, the store is regularly shopped by executives from Victoria’s Secret, Warners and Frederick’s of Hollywood.
The retailer expects to expand over the next 12 months by introducing more private-label lingerie, launching a jewelry line, opening more shops in Europe and rolling out a mail-order catalog. It may also wholesale its own collection.
“We have made people aware of who we are and what we are doing,” says CorrA. “Now we want to capitalize on that.”
The shop began by selling mainly Fifties vintage lingerie which CorrA and Rees found in old warehouses or markets. It still sells some vintage apparel, but now most of its lingerie is current season merchandise by such French manufacturers as Folies by Renaud, Carnival and Sybaris. CorrA says the majority is exclusive to the store, with even branded merchandise designed or colored to its specifications.
“We don’t carry major lines that everyone else carries,” Rees says. “We want to be different.”
There’s always a sexy edge — from demure to S&M — to whatever Agent Provocateur carries, including lace-trimmed bras, heavily boned corsets and feather-trimmed negligees. Retail prices range from $31 (20 pounds) for a bra to $403 (260 pounds) for a negligee. The store’s new jewelry line, which is made by Erickson Beamon, plays heavily on its sexy image, with such designs as a rhinestone dog collar and cuffs, beaded pasties with tassels, and ankle chains. Retail prices range from $31 (20 pounds) for a pair of earrings to $775 (500 pounds) for a diamantA necklace.”It’s Fifties glamour,” Rees says. “So much of this kind of jewelry is cheap and tacky.”
The Agent Provocateur lingerie line, which should be in-store by September, will play on similar themes. There will be at least two bra shapes, a corset, a girdle, several negligees and probably one or two shoe styles, CorrA said. The idea is to sell the line in the store as well as a mail-order catalog.
Corre said Agent Provocateur is also in talks with a major German mail-order catalog about doing a collection for it. Other plans include the opening of franchised Agent Provocateur stores in Paris and perhaps Milan by fall; the expansion of its own line into lingerie styles that can be worn as outerwear, and the eventual opening of “a whole shop for the sexy lifestyle” which would carry everything from lingerie to home furnishings, Corre says.
“We want now to establish ourselves outside of just lingerie,” he continues. “We want our customers to take it for granted we have a good product and that we show it in a way different from anywhere else. But above all, we want them to know we stand for a certain ideal. We want to turn Agent Provocateur into a lifestyle.”
MILAN — Nailon Stile made its name selling nylon lingerie when the fiber made its fashion debut, after World War II. Today, nylon is still a staple fabric — along with silk, cotton and cashmere — in the store’s high-end, often extravagant lingerie.
The store, on Milan’s swanky shopping street, Via Monte Napoleone, is a haven for wealthy Milanese women hunting for made-to-order nightgowns, dressing gowns and slips and a mecca for Italian mammas whose daughters are engaged to be married. At Nailon Stile, mothers, grandmothers and aunts can order part of the corredo — the traditional collection of home linens and nightgowns — for the bride-to-be.
“The old Milanese families and Italian contessas from Switzerland come here for their lingerie,” said Marco. “The old families are very tied to tradition, and it has become a tradition to shop here.”
Some of the store’s most famous customers include the Mondadori and Rusconi families — both big names in Italian publishing — and a gamut of Italian actresses. Maria Callas was once a regular client, and Ira von Furstenberg’s first corredo, according to the manager Francesca Marco, was prepared here.
The store, whose name comes from the Italian word for nylon, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
Nailon Stile’s specialties are nightgowns and dressing gowns — off-the-rack and made-to-order. Marco said often women will have a silk nightgown made for home and a copy made in a silky, nylon and polyester for travel or for the country home. The nylon fabrics often have a satin, jersey or georgette finish.
“It’s not the kind of nylon you might imagine — it is antistatic, hypoallergenic and doesn’t go up in flames like the old kind used to,” she said. “The nylon we use can last more than 20 years and is virtually indestructible.”
Styles range from simple and sporty to lavish, lace-encrusted numbers.
A sleek, floor-length, navy blue nightgown made from nylon polyester that sells for $160 (255,000 lire) is one of the store’s bestsellers. For princesses, heiresses and divas, there are nightgowns made from transparent silk and white lace, gowns with handmade smocking or ones with regal folds in the back that make a slight train.
Silk and lace nightgowns — depending on the amount of lace — hover around $688 (1,100,000 lire), while the most lavish nightgown and dressing gown ensembles carry a $1,125 (1,800,000 lire) price tag.
Their nylon cousins are not far behind in price. Because the lace — most of which is imported from France and Switzerland — largely determines the price, a nylon version of a lacy silk nightgown will cost only about $63 (100,000 lire) less than the silk one.
Nailon Stile has three workshops — two in Milan and one in Florence — that produce each season’s collection, as well as the made-to-measure orders. Marco said most of the styles haven’t changed since the 1950s. What has changed are the fabrics and colors.
The store also carries luxurious silk and lace slips that range in price from $244-$375 (390,000-600,000 lire) and a variety of high-end lingerie brands such as Christian Dior, Andre Sarda, Exilia, Christies and VeraDonna. While Nailon Style does not offer made-to-measure lingerie, it will make alterations.
Marco said the store generates about $106 thousand (170 million lire) per month in sales from a mix of traditional customers and tourists. Sales are not what they were in the 1980s, she said. “Today, customers buy fewer items and only buy what they need. They still don’t care about the price tag, but they are more thoughtful and do not buy on impulse anymore.”
“I buy lace bodysuits, little nylon things and bras,” said Evelina Schapira, a Milanese socialite and faithful client. “I love the nylon — there are certain things you can find there and nowhere else. The saleswomen are very helpful — and extremely well-mannered.”
Service, Marco said, has been Nailon Stile’s success secret in the more frugal Nineties. “We are polite and very discreet. That’s very important for the Milanese customer.”