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Found Feminism: Agent Provocateur, The Chase

2012 December 19

I was reading about the rivalry between Victoria’s Secret and Agent Provocateur the other day (as is my wont of a Thursday evening) and in the course of doing so I discovered this classic Agent Provocateur advert:

I quite like Agent Provocateur in general – while it’s a bit ridiculous in places (this may be many things, but it is not a ‘playsuit’), I do feel like it’s positively targeted at strong, empowered women who like luxury lingerie, and their partners (the Gentleman’s Guide for boyfriends on their website is quite amusing).

This may be because their creative director is herself a female force to be reckoned with: Sarah Shotton, who worked her way up the company from an ‘apprenticeship’ when it had just started up. Now at the top, Shotton states that she tries every design she looks at on a size 8 model and a size 16, to ensure that it works on a range of shapes. No more than she should do, perhaps, but probably still more than many other lingerie designers. So I’m on side from the get-go, really.

But to the ad!

H&M's Winter 2012 lingerie campaign

H&M’s Winter 2012 campaign

First things first, this has got to be in the minority among lingerie campaigns in that the female protagonist is active and capable. She’s not in a boudoir and she’s not being sexy for an imagined (male) viewer. I present this from La Senza and this from the M&S ‘Autograph’ lingerie range for comparison.

For a more current spin, to my right is H&M’s Winter 2012 print campaign. Oh look, it’s another woman in lingerie on a bed (/ weird sheepskin shebang), lit so you can’t actually see her face. For a more avant garde take on these same ideas, check out this bizarre mini-film masterwork from Damaris. Damaris, I love you dearly, but seriously, what is this?

Conversely, in the Agent Provocateur advert our heroine is out and about, and about to get on a bus. She’s wearing a wrap dress and plimsoles – well-dressed, but clearly not on any kind of Special Sexy Trip – and she also just happens to be wearing matching Agent Provocateur lingerie.

One effect of this decision is to make the underwear look practical. This is not true of most of Agent Provocateur’s range (or price tag). They’ve always been really into the idea of lingerie as a ‘special secret’ (not Victoria’s).

The photography on their website is lit as if by searchlight to reinforce this, and this advert refines that a little, pushing lingerie as a secret just for you, the wearer. But, they’re arguing here, it’s also something viable for every day. Our protagonist is just hangin’ out in her designer lingerie, because she wants to wear it – for herself.

Personally, I commend her: good underwear is the skeleton of an outfit, and I don’t see why, if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy luxury lingerie, it should have to languish at the bottom of a drawer until some performative Special Occasion.

But I think this ad – and its slogan, ‘sexy never takes a day off’ – is also saying that there’s something almost intrinsic about ‘sexy’. In this advert, the Agent Provocateur underwear, and the choice to wear it out and about, is just an extension of the heroine’s natural confidence and, well, sexiness.

It’s this confidence that makes her actually embark on the chase in the first place. The underwear’s not making her sexy; she’s chosen the underwear because she already is sexy. Typical advertising, of course, but isn’t it better to see someone being sexy in their day to day life than backlit in a studio, lounging on a bed?

6 Responses leave one →
  1. December 19, 2012

    I’m rather impressed with that Agent Provocateur advert. It’s a far cry from their AW12 collection’s brochure though, where the models just stare lifelessly at the camera. I wrote an essay recently on how the representation of the Agent Provocateur woman has changed in the last few years. She used to be so bold and brazen – active, not passive – but now that seems to only happen in the videos and not the print ads/brochures.

    I noticed that awful H&M one on the Tube lately too. I know they’re advertising lingerie so we’re going to have to see tits, but they don’t show any of the models in their other ads without faces. David Beckham wouldn’t be shown like this in his H&M pants. So many women in lingerie ads these days look so shy and coy. I miss the 90s bra ads with their “I have tits – deal with it!” attitude.

    • Miranda permalink*
      December 19, 2012

      Ooh, is your essay available to read anywhere? It sounds really interesting!

      • Hodge permalink
        December 19, 2012


        • December 19, 2012

          I’ve put a pdf on Google Docs. This link should get you to it…

          Let me know what you think! :-)

          • Miranda permalink*
            December 20, 2012

            Fascinating, thank you!

            Interested that they picked “Wilhelmina” – Stoker’s gothic heroine, but in keeping with what you point out, she’s not the most ‘active’ of heroines… I always had AP down as more Lady Chatterley ;)

          • December 20, 2012

            Yes, I thought the Agent Provocateur woman was always more determined and decisive in her sexuality than someone like Wilhelmina. I do hope they get back on track and come up with more videos like The Chase.

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