out there: Sexual provocation
The original idea was to take on that Conran's ideal, that bourgeois, beige, nice design, good taste crap and do a complete department store based around sex
Saturday 02 December 1995
Sheryl the PR girl hands out gingerbread men and pink press releases telling us that the TV commercial we are about to see was banned by the ITC, but will be shown at selected West End cinemas throughout December. She also gives us each a black biro. On the back of the press release is a space for our comments.
Suddenly, Joe Corrie appears in the doorway holding a placard saying down with puritans. Joe owns Agent Provocateur, a shop one block away which sells all kinds of fluffy, frilly, gartery, girly things, a cornucopia of sibilant sauciness: satin basques, silk knickers, seamed stockings, suspender belts and shiny black bras that lend breasts a conical shape. His clientele, he says, includes "housewives and supermodels, perverts and prostitutes".
Alongside the lingeries are select accessories like stiletto-heeled patent leather platforms, silver chokers, and Italian furniture in labial shades of velvet. The shop decor hovers halfway between Thirties' Shanghai department store and Fifties' Parisian brothel. The violin repair shop opposite installed frosted glass windows after Joe refused to tone down his window displays.
Joe is followed into the foyer by Bryony, Eileen, Amanda and Katie, all carrying similar placards and wearing macs, which they discard to reveal see-through babydoll nighties, black lace underwear, stockings and heels. Amanda's placard reads more s&m, less m&s. So much creamy flesh on such a chill November morning has the male journalists fiddling absent-mindedly with their pens. The girls smile, totter outside and wave their placards for bemused passers-by, raising cheers from the builders across the road.
Downstairs, the TV commercial shows a drunken suit staggering through Soho and stopping at Agent Provocateur to look at a blonde mannequin, who comes to life when he starts licking the window. She moves suggestively. His fantasy reaches a climax with the sound of shattered glass and he looks down to see that he has broken the window with a part of his anatomy. He runs off. That's it. The most disturbing thing, to my mind, was his resemblance to Rowland Rivron, especially when his tongue was hanging out.
Joe Corrie is the only offspring of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, so it is not surprising that he has opened a fashion shop with a provocative theme. "The original idea was to take on that Conran's ideal, that bourgeois, beige, nice design, good taste crap and do a complete department store based around sex." Unfortunately, he could never arrange a coincidence of financial backers and the right site, so instead he opened "a lingerie shop with attitude, a capsule version of the original idea".
The English, he says, are repressed and puritanical, and need healthy doses of pussy power to loosen their rigid, masochistic attitude to life. But, he maintains, Agent Provocateur is not just about titillation. "We're living through the demise of democracy. People, especially young people, just aren't interested in conventional politics anymore. The only thing they're interested in is direct action." Joe thinks that his Agent Provocateur girls can get the masses interested in a wittier form of headline-grabbing protest. "It's about using sexuality to provoke a change in people's attitudes. The only kind of revolution I'm interested in is one that involves glamour."
Back at the shop I chat to Bryony Shearmur, who beat 12 other finalists to become Miss Agent Provocateur earlier this year. Bryony has luxuriant eyelashes, an hour-glass figure, a Home Counties' accent and a father who is a "numbers man in the City". At a lavish ball held at the New Connaught Rooms she won her title with a rendition of Eartha Kitt's "I Wanna Be Evil". Since then she has teamed up with several other finalists "to fight puritanism and repression" wherever and whenever the need arises.
Bryony also intends to use her charms to focus attention on political issues, such as French nuclear testing. I ask if she really expects the media to be interested in anything other than her cleavage? "Well, that's my job, to make sure I can speak authoritatively on the relevant issues, to give a good quote." For the record, she is quite up to speed on Mururoa.
Joe wanders over with champagne for his glamorous figurehead. "OK," he says, "we sell knickers. But that doesn't mean that everything has to be aimed at crotch level. If you add up all the billboards and shop windows in the country that's a lot of space to put ideas across. That's the ultimate in subversive advertising." As they drink a toast to sexuality, Rowland leaves with Sheryl
There is nervous laughter and coughing.
We're a nation of shopkeepers, and shopkeepers should take a stand.
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