Lace has its own place: Agent Provocateur opens Hong Kong stand-alone store
British lingerie brand known for its risqué advertising is growing fast in China and worldwide
Think saucy lingerie and Agent Provocateur will be one of the names that springs immediately to mind. Established in 1994, the London-born brand has come a long way from its humble beginnings in London’s Soho district, helped by advertising campaigns featuring the likes of Kate Moss and Daisy Lowe. Recently, international expansion has been hotting up: the label moved into China two years ago and now owns seven shops there – a number which is set to double over the next three years.
In Hong Kong, Agent Provocateur has been sold at Lane Crawford in the IFC mall for some time, but has now opened its first stand-alone shop in the city, in On Lan Street, Central, to capture more of the local market.
Buying underwear in Hong Kong was until recently a chore for many women, with few options beyond cheap market stalls, Marks & Spencer, and Lane Crawford. Only in the past few years has a wider range of sophisticated undergarments become widely available with the arrival of Intimissimi and several local on-and offline start-ups, the expansion of Calvin Klein Underwear and, recently, the arrival of La Perla with its flagship store in Russell Street, Causeway Bay.
On a recent trip through Hong Kong, Agent Provocateur CEO Garry Hogarth reflected on how far the company has come in the past decade. “In 10 years, we have grown from 14 shops to 114 worldwide,” he said. “Asia is a very important market for us with enormous growth potential. We have only been in China a few years so the challenge is to build brand awareness and educate the customers to understand what we have to offer.”
Agent Provocateur’s offering hasn’t changed much over the years: quality has always been paramount, but perception was now key, said Hogarth. “Agent Provocateur’s offer is unique in the lingerie market. We use the finest lace and fabrics in the world with 90 per cent of our fabrics coming from France. But it is important that [the customer] understands that we have lingerie for every day and not just for special occasions.”
The brand’s reputation has been burnished by advertising campaigns that are risqué but always tasteful. As proof of that, look no further than its award-winning website, which receives more than 20,000 visitors a day, or the brand’s 2009 promotional campaign, which saw Kylie Minogue star in a video in which she spends close to a minute riding a velour-clad bucking bronco, wearing only Agent Provocateur lingerie. Not surprisingly, the video was named number one cinema advert of all time by the Digital Cinema Media Poll.
This year’s autumn campaign nails the brief on seductiveness, featuring singer Paloma Faith and photographer Alice Hawkins, both former Agent Provocateur sales girls who went on to achieve fame in their respective fields but never forgot their days in pink uniform. Inspiration for the label’s designs comes from within the creative sphere, says creative director Sarah Shotton. “We are very inspired by London, exhibitions which are on at the amazing galleries we have in the city. Also film and music are other key areas which influenced us to dream up heroines for [our autumn-winter 2015 collection] and we looked at icons such as Sophia Loren, Kim Basinger, Cindy Crawford and Lara Stone.”
As for whether Asian customers differ from those in the West, Hogarth says he doesn’t see much difference. “In general, our Chinese and Asian clientele is very similar to that in Europe and elsewhere. Our customers all want to experience the unique styling of Agent Provocateur lingerie.”
Shotton agrees that the brand’s designs appeal across regions. “Our designs are used internationally; we do not amend any design for a particular market. What we do look at is if a particular item is popular, such as a corset, and we will try to have a wider selection in the territory.”
The autumn-winter 2015 collection is elegant and irreverent as ever, with a selection of sultry, gothic wrap dresses, dramatic luxury corsets inspired by 1950s screen sirens and figure-hugging dresses in French lace and Italian tulle. “Key styles this season include the Lindie, Nicolle and Willa collections,” says Shotton of this year’s range. “We also worked a lot on our outerwear section, such as the Maxene, Mona and Lillian dresses.”
Asked how she feels about the threat of rival brands in the region, Shotton has no qualms. “I don’t see that anyone is really doing anything that is similar to us. Of course, other lingerie brands could be seen as competitors, but how we design and use our imagery is unique, and it sets us apart.”