CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AGENT PROVOCATEUR - Agent Provocateur is proof that the maxim 'sex sells' is true, Jeremy White says

When The Mirror broke the shocking news that a Kylie Minogue ad for

Agent Provocateur had been banned from TV for being too saucy, it would

have done well to check its facts first.



Agent Provocateur knows when to be provocative - such as in the Kylie

ad, which cdp-travissully designed specifically for an 18-plus cinema

run. It also knows when to look for less racy mainstream profits, such

as the cash it rakes in from Marks & Spencer for designing its Salon

Rose line.



The company that is getting tabloid journalists hot under the collar was

set up seven years ago by Joseph Corre, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm

McLaren's son, and his partner Serena Lees, a former secretary from

adland's very own Young & Rubicam.



It's still a small operation with only three outlets; two in London and

one in Los Angeles. But Agent Provocateur does have a thriving

mail-order service operation - both on- and offline supply 40 per cent

of sales.



The company seems healthy, with its bottom line boosted by the tie-up

with M&S. "It is almost 100 per cent growth per year and we are looking

to increase that," Corre says.



"Coming from a fashion background you can get on a treadmill of how you

have to behave and how you run your business. I find this

restrictive.



I want to make products and sell them straight to the customer," he

says.



Agent Provocateur sticks to these core principles by refusing to allow

its main brand to be sold in stores other than its own. It's a strategy

that's worked well. "It's a very salient brand that everyone wants to

get involved with," Justin Cernis, the managing director of Barrett

Cernis, says. He should know - the agency has worked with Agent

Provocateur before on campaigns. The client gets bombarded with scripts

from agencies which view the task like a charity account - one that will

bring in the cachet, if not money.



Cernis, who loves the brand and says that "it legitimises blokes looking

at women in frilly underwear", has only two criticisms of how the

company is marketing itself at the moment. First, he believes that the

punters need to know that the range is affordable.



Cernis also thinks that it is a crime that Agent Provocateur has not

branched out and cashed in on the strength of the brand. Well, it took

nearly six years but a year-and-a-half ago Agent Provocateur had its

first stab at this. It now distributes its perfume and skincare ranges

in department stores.



For now, Corre sees nothing wrong with the marketing strategy. "We have

put ourselves in a very good position now to be able to bring a lot of

credibility and integrity to any table that we happen to sit at," he

says.



In the next year the plan is to build on distribution and open more

outlets.



Corre confides that he is working on more ancillary products such as the

perfume.



"The brand stands for independence," Corre muses. "There's a sense of

humour and, ultimately, it's a celebration of femininity."



But with all the hype around the brand, does Corre feel that Agent

Provocateur needs to advertise? "I'm not sure that we do. The question

to me is whether or not the idea is good. If the idea is good then it's

worth doing."



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