LONDON — Agent Provocateur is turning a fresh page and tapping into many a growth opportunity under its new chief executive officer Michelle Ryan.
Ryan — who has held executive positions at brands including Saint Laurent, Jimmy Choo, Burberry and most recently Kurt Geiger — joined creative director Sarah Shotton at the helm of the brand in January. Even though the two had a mere few weeks of working together before the U.K. went into lockdown, they’ve been keeping the business going from a distance and identifying growth areas.
“I knew that the brand was much bigger than the actual business today. We have an amazing community of Agent Provocateur women who absolutely love us. Sarah and the team have really started to evolve the communications and the brand, and that was happening in advance of my arrival,” said Ryan.
“I felt really confident about that aspect of the business and it gave me a huge advantage to come in and put a strategy in place, so that we can catch the business up to the brand.”
Ryan was referring to a series of plans to broaden the brand’s product offer beyond the special occasion lingerie it does so well; explore wholesale opportunities; elevate in-store services even further — and, like every brand in 2020, accelerate its e-commerce growth.
The brand isn’t having a complete facelift. It wants to preserve its core values, formed in the early days when it was a tiny Soho boutique where John Galliano would hang out after lectures at Central Saint Martins.
“For the 20 years I’ve been here, it’s always been about freedom of choice and representing the strength of the woman,” said Shotton, who wanted to reinterpret these ideas for today. “When we were all locked away in our homes, we started thinking about the brand anchor and who Agent Provocateur was for. Fearless femininity is something that really resonated with the brand, and is the brand.”
With that in mind, the label is debuting its 2020 campaign today — the first major one to highlight Shotton and Ryan’s joint vision for the label.
“We wanted to look at what it means to be a woman in 2020 compared to how it was in the Seventies or the Eighties. What we really noticed is that women have many facets to their personalities, so we wanted to highlight strong, confident women with multiple talents in their careers,” said Shotton, who picked “five real women at the top of their game” for the project.
The campaign features chef and food writer Gizzi Erskine; jazz rap singer IAMDDB; pro-gamer Jamine Asia; actor and yoga instructor Breanna Box, and motorcycle influencer Dominika Grnova, posing at home in their lingerie.
“We wanted to put them in a situation where we’ve all been in 2020, but in a home that’s hyper real,” added Shotton.
Having spent much time at home herself, Shotton has started to think more about purpose-driven products.
“When I started designing, I was focused on really technically challenging product that was fashion lingerie basically. That was my background,” she noted.
“But being in lockdown made me figure product-to-purpose. I kept thinking that I’m a mum, I’ve got a really great career, I like dressing up but I also like dressing down and need more in my lingerie wardrobe.”
For Ryan, this also presents a lucrative business opportunity to expand the label’s product offer within lingerie, which remains its biggest and most important category.
“It was clear to me that people were primarily buying the brand for special occasions. They open their lingerie drawer and take [our product] out for that special evening out, or they’re coming to the brand for bridal. But there’s a great opportunity for us to capture the woman at different moments in her life,” said Ryan.
A new All Hours collection is in the works for spring 2021, its ultimate aim being to offer pieces women can wear “to breakfast, the boardroom and the bedroom,” according to Ryan, who is also looking to develop lounge and off-duty wear further.
“It’s really exciting to see the brand evolving to be this boutique where you can get all your needs in lingerie and sleepwear. It should be a one-stop shop: By next year you’ll be able to go to Agent Provocateur and get your all-hours lingerie, as well as your swimwear, something for the bedroom and even T-shirts or off-duty stuff,” added Shotton.
Other areas of focus include communicating more about the fabric innovations the brand’s design team works on behind-the-scenes, as well as the level of expertise the brand can offer when it comes to bra fitting.
“When we were talking about the new collection, I went out to get fitted at big department stores. I went everywhere and it was a really depressing experience. It was a real eye-opener when I went out and saw that things haven’t really moved on with bra fitting,” said Shotton.
That’s why Ryan wants to put these more intimate, one-on-one services at the center of the store experience: “We have a technical team that has over 80 years [of collective] experience. I really challenged them on letting that expertise shine and make sure we’re communicating that to the client.”
The company is also working on digital fitting tools, having recently migrated to a new e-commerce platform, which also allows for more cross-selling opportunities and helped increase online sales.
“I believe in all channels of distribution,” added Ryan. “We want to move into that 360 approach that offers the best customer experience across all channels, and allows a unified view of all our customer touch points with all the departments involved.”