A SEXY BRITISH AGENT
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — As Agent Provocateur, the U.K.-based purveyor of upscale undies with a cult-like following among starlets and It girls, opens its first store outside of London this week, designing owners Joseph Corre and Serena Rees will finally learn whether this town is big enough to contain their irreverent brand of lingerie.
Bold enough, likely.
After all, this is a plastic surgeon’s paradise, where the bikini cup runneth over. And there are no shortage of Valhallas devoted to sexy innerwear — among them the landmark purple and pink Frederick’s of Hollywood flagship and the notorious, members-only Trashy Lingerie.
Standing inside their 1,800-square-foot Melrose Avenue space, the maverick couple appear as confident that they have product and a shopping experience unlike anything Los Angelenos have yet experienced as they are that every detail of the shop will be complete in time for the official opening Friday.
(As of press time, a soft store opening had been slated for this past weekend).
The Los Angeles location marks the first in an expansion plan that could lead to 10 more stores worldwide, with an emphasis in the U.S., noted Corre.
“It’s nice to have a place with a bit of space to start to plot our empire,” he said, laughing over his last word.
That, in fact, was among the reasons in deciding on Los Angeles over New York as the site of their first retail venture Stateside. As first reported in WWD, the pair called Gotham “quite uptight.” Relatively astronomical rent undoubtedly was another factor. Here, some 1,500 square feet is devoted to selling space.
An indigenous aesthetic cultivated on sex appeal and glamour invariably appealed to them, too.
“It was quite hard for us as English people to admit we actually liked L.A. Once you get over that, it’s actually alright. There’s a lot of quite interesting people here,” continued Corre, adding that their three-year-old daughter has quickly taken to sunny days by the pool — even in autumn. “I can’t wait to get the doors open.”
Beyond the bubble-gum pink facade is a luxurious interior that recalls an old Francophile salon but, natch, presented with an edge.
The staff of three, in addition to a manager in from the U.K. for the first few months, are outfitted in the black marabou mules, fishnets and pink fitted chic beautician uniforms designed by Vivienne Westwood, Corre’s mum. (His father is Malcolm McLaren, who pointedly invoked the Agent Provocateur label to describe the Sex Pistols in the surreal 1979 film, “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” Corre is McLaren’s grandmother’s name.)
Sharing wooden and burgundy-carpeted floor space with brass-tipped black lacquered antique English shop cabinets are tall, highly polished chrome racks with an Art Deco feel by way of the Sixties that resemble showgirl marquees.
Throughout, there are oversized tarnished brass chandeliers trimmed with frosted white and red jewels.
There are buxom table-top wire torsos based on vintage originals and Etra’s red lip sofas and open flower-shaped chairs.
Corre and Rees designed the silver wallpaper stamped with oversized hibiscus in shades of burgundy, fuchsia and pink that run up to a ceiling saturated in a matte mauve. The flower was lifted off a black-backed textile used for the drapes on the three dressing rooms and between the selling floor and the boudoir-like fitting area. A black chiffon overlay conjures an effect that Rees said is “like a negligee over a flowery pair of knickers.”
While the interior retains Agent Provocateur’s signature flavor, the hibiscus and other individual touches reflect the location, an approach keeping with the other two stores.
“Anyone who visits an Agent Provocateur store will know it’s that, but will find something different from the others. We don’t necessarily have to have the exact window and exact display in every store. It depends on what’s happening at the time,” said Rees, who calls the latest an “English interpretation of California.”
As the largest of the three stores, every effort was made, Rees noted, to provide an intimate mien. Nothing minimal, nothing sterile or too bright.
“That was really important. They’re buying something that’s really intimate, they have to feel intimate. We try to create a really sexy environment.”
Interior decorator Jenny Armit, an English ex-pat locally based, yet familiar with the Agent Provocateur sensibility, was recruited to execute the project.
The windows, of course, will feature the signature provocatively posed life-like mannequins that have caused protest and applause among Londoners.
Whether jaded Los Angelenos react at all remains to been seen. But, surmised Rees, “If they’re stuck in a bit of traffic, it might be quite nice if there’s something interesting to look at.”
The entire Agent Provocateur collection will be available here, including silk-seamed hosiery retail priced from $16 to $40, regular and peephole bras at $55 to $230, panties at $30 to $195 and boned corsets from $140 to $600.
An oversized back cabinet will contain Precieux, the house line of jeweled dog collars and other jewelry priced from $46 to $700, as well as feathery mules and strappy sandals at $100.
The store will also be the only retail outlet Stateside selling the signature fragrance, now only available at the London stores, Harvey Nichols and through the company’s mail-order and and erotic Web site.
“We haven’t officially launched it in America,” said Rees. “It will go beyond our stores, but not until next year.”
A swim line inspired by glamorous poolside parties is also set to make a debut soon in all three Agent Provocateur stores, as reported in WWD.
Sales projections are expected to match the London stores, which generate more than $1,500 a square foot annually, according to Rees and Corre, putting the store’s estimate at more than $2 million. If the Web and mail-order business take off domestically, the store could also eventually serve as a distribution center.
While the company already custom makes and fits corsets and other items, it isn’t ruling out taking the service a step further in celebrity land.
“One of the nice things about Los Angeles is that you do have these kind of film stars and rock stars and customers for whom you can do really elaborate [one-of-a-kind] stuff and not care about the price. I quite enjoy doing that,” said Corre.
In another nod to the homegrown industry, the launch party held Thursday at Deep, a new cabaret and disco, will forgo the conventional fashion show for “Lessons in Lingerie,” naughty-and-nice sketches penned by London playwright Chrissy Iley.
The partners in business and marriage opened the first Agent Provocateur shop on Broadwick Street in London’s Soho in December 1994. A second store followed three years later around the corner of Buckingham Palace on Pont Street in Knightsbridge.
Nicole Kidman, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Jerry Hall are reportedly fans, along with housewives, transvestites and the fashion brigade.
In setting up shop so far from home, the only challenge has been “a bit of jet lag,” said Corre, who doesn’t care to fly. “We’re always a bit over ambitious. So, we’ll see what happens.”