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In Focus | Agent Provocateur

In Focus | Agent Provocateur

To celebrate the launch of Agent Provocateur’s new spring/summer campaign featuring French actress Mylene Jampanoi, we caught up with the brand’s mastermind and creative director Sarah Shotton for a chat. What’s more, we’ll be posting up some memorable videos from the AP archive over the next few days. Enjoy!

How’s business?

Business is good. Everyone needs knickers. Especially during a recession! It’s carnage [in the shops] out there, but we’re up 30 per cent.

Is that because people stay in and shag when times are tough?

I think everyone wants a bit of fun when it’s quite grim out there. AP was started during a recession [in 1994]. But I think there’s also a change of mood. People like me, we were out in the 1990s and Noughties: it was partying and more partying. But it’s quite cool to be AA and NA now.

It’s all swung round and I think people are staying in more. It’s a bit more like a LA mentality. You don’t go out as much. People are cooking more; people are showing off their home and spending more time in. I think when times are tough you do spend more time with your partner. I know what I’m like. If times are hard I think: ‘Oh God, I just need to have a shag, that will make me feel better’.

Is there a big difference between what men and women buy in AP?

I used to work on the shop floor, so I know this: men will go for black and lack, black and sheer or crotchless. It’s quite funny. It is really interesting to see what people are buying, and watch what does really well. I have to say the kinkier stuff sells for us.

Do guys still struggle to choose nice underwear for their partners, or is that an outdated cliché?

I think it’s outdated. Some men are still a bit intimidated by AP; I think seeing all the hot girls in pink uniforms waiting can be a bit daunting!

But I used to know how to deal with them: ‘Oi, you! Over here!’ And the girls are trained to help them and stuff. We’re trying to get that message across: ‘Don’t be scared’, you know? I think when AP started we were all a bit more ‘British’ about sex, but guys know what they want a bit more now. ‘I want her in that’.

If they really don’t know, we will advise them. We go: ‘What colours does she wear?’ ‘What kind of music is she into?’ But what’s really great about AP is there’s something for every type of woman. It’s not all Miss Whiplash in there. Though there’s plenty of room for Miss Whiplash.

Speaking of which: how many of your crystal-tipped whips do you actually sell?

Quite a lot! Yeah! We’ve sold a Swarovski playsuit - it looks like Tina Turner meets Beyoncé – for £15,000 the other day. You would know who the customer was, too.

We’re not at liberty to say! And whips are very popular. What’s really funny is when you’re on the shop floor, how excited people get playing with them. They start automatically going [makes enthusiastic whipping motion] which is quite funny.

And we have lots of whips returned to us snapped in two. We had a telescopic whip that was smashed to bits the other week. We’re just a bit, like, ‘Crikey. Who was on the receiving end of this? Poor person!’

Tell us about AP’s new campaign.

Well, the last campaign was with Paz [De La Huerta] from Broadwalk Empire. It was paparazzi-themed, and quite glitzy and glamorous. It was ‘how to strategically flash your underwear’. Like Lindsay Lohan gets caught with her noonie out, so this was like: ‘Okay, if you’re going to get caught out, make sure you’re wearing AP’.

So for this campaign I wanted it to be much softer, much more feminine, more romantic – kind-of going back to The Story Of O and Emmanuelle, when soft porn was naughty and had a real softness to it. I also think women are less about power suits and high heels right now; they’re wearing less make-up and they’re a bit more natural.

I think that’s sexier anyway. So that’s why we’ve done ‘softer’. [Thinks] I’m sure we’ll go hard again for Autumn, though. Back to spanking!

Is it fun to reinvent all the time?

We’ve been experimenting. Obviously we’re known for [the 2006 bucking bronco] Kylie [campaign] and Rosie [ie: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who featured in the 2010 campaign], and I suppose when Kylie came out that was one of the first virals and it was a new thing.

And we’re always trying to think of new things. Like [recently launched ‘premium lingerie collection’] Soirée, which is quite out there. It’s about showing your lingerie off; its all Swarovski crystals and leather harnesses and beautiful chantilly laces, just really beautifully made and very exquisite.

We were getting lots of offers from high-street bands saying ‘Do you want to do a diffusion line?’ and we just went the other way and did high-end. We’ve done bed linen and that’s doing unbelievably well for us. We opened on Madison [Avenue, New York] and Rodeo [Drive, Los Angeles] last year.

What’s really exciting, though, is there’s the same buzz about the company as there was 13 years ago when I first started. And customers have become much more daring. You’ll show women a playsuit and they’ll be like ‘Oh, no no, I can’t wear that’ and you say ‘Just try it’ and before you know they’re in the changing room saying ‘I’ll have it’. [Laughs] We’re a bunch of perverts, basically.