From the moment they first sashayed onto the lingerie scene, our underwear drawers have never been the same. Agent Provocateur, founded by Joe Corré (son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood) and Serena Rees, debuted with a Soho boutique on Broadwick Street in 1994.
They’ve since conquered the global undie-world: an iconic brand, fashioning sensual lingerie from exquisite fabrics, through great craftsmanship – yet always leaving something to the imagination. (All of which goes some way to explaining why their award-winning website gets an amazing 20,000 hits a day.) And it’s not just about good looks: fit is important, too. Ask for help, and you’ll be served by an Agent Provocateur lingerie expert, dressed in a pink housecoat which just happens to have been designed by Vivienne Westwood.
Agent Provocateur put underclothes out there – loud, proud (and often in show-stopping colours). It’s hard to underestimate their influence on the whole lingerie category, actually. Pre-Agent Provocateur: lingerie was (mostly) utilitarian, in flesh/white/sometimes saucy black. Post-Agent Provocateur: our choice of ‘smalls’ has definitely been spiced up. And then there was the whole underwear-as-outerwear trend, in which Agent Provocateur played a key role: with lingerie this beautiful, why would you want to keep it covered up…?
Today, there are Agent Provocateur boutiques in Mayfair, Notting Hill, Knightsbridge – not to mention Rue Cambon and Rue de Grenelle and Madison Avenue; you can find their designs from Moscow to Melbourne, via Miami. But wherever Agent Provocateur is sold, the interiors feature boudoir-inspired furnishings, creating an ambience of playful luxury which invite indulgence.
Models who’ve featured in Agent Provocateur’s (yes) provocative campaigns and videos, meanwhile, include Kate Moss, Maggie Gyllenhall and Kylie Minogue, who caused controversy by riding a bucking bronco wearing the company’s underwear, back in 2001. (‘Proof’, the AP video she appeared in, has been named the No. 1 cinema advert of all tiem, in a Digital Cinema Media poll.)
For sure, Agent Provocateur designs show plenty of skin. But from fairly early on, it was important that for that skin to smell fabulous, too. What better to enrobe a semi-naked body than a few drops of fabulous fragrance…? So in 2001, Agent Provocateur launched their signature scent (above), a floral chypre which instantly established them as a major player in the fragrance world.
As sensual as their lingerie, it pulses with notes of Moroccan rose oil, Egyptian jasmine, French magnolia, ylang ylang and white gardenia. As you’d imagine, the base notes also deliver va-va-voom: animalic musk, Virginian cedarwood, Haitian vetiver and amber. Its opaque, egg-shaped, lingerie-pink bottle was unlike any other fragrance flacon, teasingly tasseled around the neck, remains unlike anything else in the perfume bottle universe.
Then came Agent Provocateur Maitresse: as seductive on the outside of this gilded bottle as the fragrance it contains, with its provocative sketch of a woman in stockings: a bold mélange of aldehydic, fruity and floral notes, at once nostalgic and modern, with fresh white lotus, creamy ylang ylang, decadent jasmine and osmanthus. As the Perfume Smellin’ Things blog put it, ‘It is decadent, luxurious, it smells expensive. But not vulgar…’
Pétale Noir set out to capture the essence of passion: a beautiful flower, entwined with prickly thorns, which sets the scene with mandarin, water lily, violet, bergamot, hyacinth and magnolia – at that point, an illusion of innocence and allure. But then the white flowers swoop in, carrying you off in an erotic cloud of rose otto and rose absolute, ylang ylang, muguet, neroli, ylang ylang and heliotrope, orris (iris) and osmanthus. There’s nothing innocent, certainly, about its purring, passionate base: ginger, cedar wood, sandalwood and oak moss, benzoin, patchouli, amber – and (why are we not surprised…?) a caress of leather…
Summer 2014 sees the launch of perhaps Agent Provocateur‘s most daring fragrance yet: Fatale, with the sultry Monica Cruz as its ‘face’ (or rather, body…) Inspired by the Hollywood femme fatale, the fragrance mysterious and seductive, with ‘charms that entangle her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire… A night vixen, revealing a secret side of herself that comes out once the sun sets.’
The Cruz family have become closely linked with Agent Provocateur: Monica and her sister Penelope are not only involved with the new scent, but with designing Agent Provocateur’s diffusion range; Penelope Cruz directed the most recent campaign videos – and their brother has composed the music for it…
Voluptuous and sexy, this ‘addictive’ floriental – created by Jean-Marc Chaillan of IFF – entices with top notes of spicy Madagascan pink pepper, contrasted with juicy mango and blackcurrant. At its heart, be seduced by gardenia, violet-scented orris absolute, and dark, smoky touches of Indonesian patchouli, blended with skin musks, vanilla orchid, chocolate gourmand and leathery Spanish labdanum, which unfold on the skin, as it warms.
Since its inception, women have played key roles at Agent Provocateur. Creative Director Sarah Shottonb began at the company apprenticed to the founders, and has been the creative force behind not only AP’s underwear collections, but many of the almost traffic-stopping window displays, too. Sarah works alongside Garry Hogarth, who first bought shares in the company in 2006, and has not only reinjected this iconic lingerie label with luxury but ensured it retains the edgy attitude which has been a signature from Day One.
They’ve revolutionised our underwear drawers. They’ve brought us fragrances which flagrantly do what other scents whisper at: entice, with their sensuality and sometimes downright sexiness. And you know what? Long may Agent Provocateur continue to lead us into temptation…
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