Lumps, bumps and Agent Provocateur

Agent Provocateur's AW16 collection

As someone who has squishy bits, I can’t help but look at the models when I’m looking at photographs of clothing. When they are roughly the same shape as you, there’s no real need to look at anything other the garments, as the way it fits them is probably going to be the way it fits you. However, if you’re taller/shorter/fatter/thinner then you’ll need to assess where the differences lie in order to work out if a garment will suit your body. If I see a pencil skirt on a model with a very low hip to waist ratio, I know it probably won’t fit me. If I see cropped trousers on a tall model, I know they’ll most likely be ankle length on my short legs. When it comes to underwear though, the process is the same but my questions will be different. How will that suspender belt look on someone without a flat stomach? How will that strappy bra look on someone who is… soft? How can I tell if the underwear is only photographed on toned flawless models?

Agent Provocateur's AW16 collectionIn an interview with the London Evening Standard’s ES Magazine (published on 22nd September), Agent Provocateur’s creative director, Sarah Shotton, speaks about her first bra buying experience as an F-cup teenager being soul destroying. She goes on to say that her aim with the brand is to make women feel good about themselves, and that she wants to reach out to more women with the current collection. According to the article, AP’s bras are currently available in sizes from 32A to 36F and knickers range from UK 6-8 to UK 14-16, but Shotton would like to move into larger sizes. This is wonderful news, as women with a love of lingerie and enough money to buy from a luxury brand come in all shapes and sizes. Just look at the wonderful UK independent brand Harlow & Fox for an example of deliciously luxurious full bust lingerie that is very much in demand.

Apparently every prototype garment at Agent Provocateur is fitted on Shotton, as well as the fit models that all brands use in this part of the process. This tells me that all the styles they sell should flatter a larger bust but, confusingly, not all their styles are available in the larger sizes. For example, there are only two styles available in my size (32F) but there are 42 styles available in the UK’s average bra size (36D). The ES Magazine profile piece goes on to say that:

Shotton credits Corré with the lesson in understanding that ‘lumps and bumps’ can be sexy. In contrast, she says she finds the honed, hairless aesthetic that often prevails (notably on the Victoria’s Secret catwalk) quite scary. ‘I know, from being a young girl, looking at magazines and going: “I want to be like that”… I don’t think that is sexy and I don’t think it’s real and I actually think that curves are much sexier and wholesome is much sexier. I think it’s much more attractive when women eat properly and look after themselves.’

Aside from the massive amount of judgement on which types of bodies are attractive, and the assumption that curvy is automatically more healthy – I could write an entire blog post on that alone! – the thing that strikes me most about Shotton’s comments is that what she says and what her brand does are two entirely different things. I’m the first to admit that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Agent Provocateur. I adored their cheeky provocative brand persona in the 1990s and early 2000s but, for me, I felt that they lost their sexiness in 2010 and blogged about it rather angrily. But I try to approach each new season with fresh eyes and a hope that, one day AP will realise that diversity is sexy and also good for business.

Agent Provocateur's AW16 collectionTake a look at their AW16 lookbook. The lingerie is gorgeous. Lace, embroidery, sheer fabrics, fishnet and leopard print all look luxurious but work well styled with a classic rock ‘n’ roll edge. However, the models are definitely not what I would have expected, given Shotton’s recent interview. They are all extremely tall, slender and lean with exactly the same ‘honed, hairless aesthetic’ that she said she dislikes. I wasn’t expecting armpit hair, but the blatant crotch shots in the images released in July and August clearly show that the models have little or no pubic hair. There are a number of models involved in this shoot, so why wasn’t one of them curvier? Why didn’t one of them have an athletic build? Why do they all look like they’re just back from Coachella and utterly bored at the sheer number of their Instagram followers who requested a selfie?

I’m very pleased that not all the models in the lookbook shoot are white (although using a single model of colour and more shots of the white blonde model than anyone else is arguably less diverse than Victoria’s Secret), but they do all still look like they’ve come out of the same mould. Shotton raised the same issues regarding body image and her desire to appeal to a wider audience back in April when I saw her ‘in conversation’ at the V&A as part of the opening weekend of the Undressed exhibition, of which Agent Provocateur is sponsor. In the Q&A after the talk, a woman of colour and an AP fan in a wheelchair both asked Shotton about diversity in the models used by the brand, and she seemed very keen to take their comments on board.

It’s not just the lookbook that isn’t yet showing the results of the creative director’s desire to appeal to more women. I’ve scrolled through all the product shots in the lingerie and nightwear sections of the website and the models, although beautiful, are rather ‘samey’ in their look. Compare them to independent brands like Playful Promises, Dottie’s Delights, and What Katie Did and you can instantly see that they are massively out of touch, and also very wrong if they think that venturing away from the fashion-norm will be bad for business. Deeds not words, Ms Shotton. Make this happen and I bet you’ll increase your customer base.

All images via Agent Provocateur.