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Agent Provocateur extols the virtue of underwear

May 09, 2012|By Shan Li
  • The view from inside the Agent Provocateur store in Beverly Hills.
The view from inside the Agent Provocateur store in Beverly Hills.

At a Beverly Hills party hosted by British lingerie maker Agent Provocateur, shoppers in gravity-defying heels mingled with models strapped into contraptions of lace and crystals.

Circulating among guests at the Rodeo Drive store Tuesday was Garry Hogarth, chief executive of the "bra and knickers" company, who enthusiastically expounded on how women's views on underwear have evolved from practicality to indulgence.

"Nowadays, women wear lingerie as outerwear," Hogarth said, gesturing toward a black lace corset dangling from a hanger. "They put on a beautiful corset with a skirt and a jacket, and go to a dinner party."

Such loosening attitudes have been a big boost for the privately held company, which saw total sales jump 17% and same-store sales rise 10% in the last fiscal year, Hogarth said. The retailer, which sells only online and through its own branded stores, operates 60 shops around the world. The U.S. has 12 stores, with a dozen more to open in the next few years.

The London company gets its biggest business from American women with a passion for lacy undergarments, Hogarth said. He said the company has found a sweet spot between the affordable mass appeal of Victoria's Secret and the luxe conservatism of La Perla, a famed Italian lingerie company.

Prices range from $100 for a thong to $15,000 for a handmade, fringed bodysuit from the brand's even more upscale Soiree collection.

Agent Provocateur is "lingerie with a twist," Hogarth said. "It's about the whole experience, not just about buying a bra and a pair of knickers."

To demonstrate, he gestured toward a leather riding crop with a handle encrusted with white Swarovski crystals. Retail price: $290.

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