Joseph Corr: How to change the world with lingerie
A Day in the Life: Agent Provocateur's founder believes he can expand his brand around the globe.
Saturday 08 December 2007
Joseph Corr is not an early riser. Rather than spending a lot of time at home at the start of the day, the founder of the luxury lingerie label Agent Provocateur prefers to get up and head straight into work. He will nip out to grab a bacon sandwich before making a few telephone calls at his central London office.
This year has been one of change for the company Mr Corr set up with his wife, Serena Rees, in 1994. The couple have separated, and as a consequence Ms Rees left the business, prompting its sale last month to the private equity house 3i for 60m.
The investment is allowing Mr Corr, who remains as creative director, to ramp up the knicker brand's international expansion plans. He is keen to break into the Japanese market with a flagship store and a further seven sites, and also wants to open more stores in the US. The latest launch has just taken place in Miami's fashionable Bal Harbour shopping mall, and Mr Corr is hungry for more: "I certainly think we should be opening two to four stores a year in the States over the next couple of years," he says.
Agent Provocateur currently operates from 14 standalone sites, 12 department stores and nine franchises, but Mr Corr wants to get that to 40 to 60 stores over the next couple of years.
Mr Corr takes a call from the photographer Tim Bret-Day, who shot AP's Maitresse perfume ad. The pair are working on ideas for the next campaign, but it is unlikely to feature any celebrities. The singer Lily Allen has been widely reported as being the new face of AP, but the company hotly denies this. Though AP is credited for creating "viral marketing" through its raunchy advert featuring Kylie Minogue writhing around on a mechanical bull, celebrities are currently strictly out of favour with Mr Corr. "I am totally bored with celebrity television shows," he says. "They have no credibility. I don't want to use any celebrities ever again, unless they are a friend."
Mr Corr is glad that his father, the former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, pulled out of the latest I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here, claiming the show was a "fake".
The collaboration with Kylie came about as she was a regular customer. Originally meant to be seen in cinemas and on the AP site, a copy somehow found its way out and on to the web.
Mr Corr admits that having such famous parents (his mother is the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood) was certainly an advantage when the first store opened in Soho. "It was an immediate story for the media, they were able to pigeon-hole me," he says. "But on the other hand, it would be a terrible shame if people only took notice because of who your parents were."
He learnt two invaluable lessons from his parents, who revolutionised the fashion world from their store on the King's Road, first known as Let It Rock, then later Sex, Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, and now World's End. "I realised what the potential was for having a fixed address, and the ripple effect of what one small store could be," he says. "It is crazy to think that you can open one small store and completely change the face of the fashion industry. I also realised what you can achieve if you have confidence and believe in your own ideas and see them through and are not worried about offending anybody."
However, it was far from plain sailing. His parents split up, the business went bankrupt, which led to Mr Corr joining forces with his mother to get World's End up and running again. "At the end of 10 years I felt I had reached the end of my usefulness for her," he says. He spent a year researching the market before setting up Agent Provocateur.
There's time to grab a quick sandwich lunch before an afternoon meeting with the design department, where Mr Corr will go over ideas for products, look at fabrics and new designs. The team are currently working on a collection to be launched next September.
Mr Corr has always been intimately involved in all aspects of the business at the outset he used to make patterns and sew products himself. "I am the guy who knows everything about the business and can give people a clear direction," he says, adding that he was always confident the business would be a success.
"I had a vision it was going to be a global brand, but I never wanted it to be like a Sock Shop on every street corner. I felt it should have a presence in every major fashion city in the world, but I wanted to keep it special. People appreciate things more when they have to make an effort to discover them."
When AP first opened its doors it caused a frenzy as nobody had done anything like it before. Since then luxury lingerie has gone mainstream.
"We have changed the face of the lingerie industry and how people look at it," Mr Corr says. "People now have much higher expectations of what a lingerie department should look like. But although everyone now seems to be producing as much as possible, it is all crap, there is no real quality, no attention to detail."
He says AP sets itself apart from its rivals due to this attention to detail combined with the whole in-store experience, with staff taking care to ensure the underwear fits. "We may be the most fashionable lingerie company, but if the bras don't fit properly then people will not buy them," Mr Corr says.
It is time to clock off from the day job. Mr Corr, who rejected an MBE last year on the ground that the former prime minister Tony Blair "was morally corrupt" in taking the country to war in Iraq, has half an hour to make a couple of calls about a new human rights charity, Humanade, he is setting up, due to launch in February.
"The idea is to get businesses interested in supporting human rights," he says. "Consumers have a lot more power than they imagine. People are so disillusioned with politicians and democracy and feel they don't have a voice their only real power is in the wallet. If they stop spending, companies will listen."
Unsurprisingly, music is Mr Corr's other passion, and tonight he will heading to the studio to work on a second album he is putting together for Agent Provocateur. As a kind of soundtrack to the label, it will be a collaboration with a number of guest artists, but he will sing on three or four of them. It promises to be a heavy night.
Name: Joseph Corr
Job: Co-founder, Agent Provocateur
Education: St Christopher School, Letchworth.
Personal: Lives in London, separated from his wife, Serena Rees, with whom he has a daughter.
Career: 1984: Worked with his mother, Vivienne Westwood, in re-establishing her shop World's End, King's Road. 1994: Founded Agent Provocateur with its first store in Broadwick Street, Soho. 1997:Second UK location opens at Pont Street, London. 1999: www.agentprovocateur.com launched. 2000: First US store opens on Melrose Avenue, LA.
2007: 3i buys majority stake in Agent Provocateur for 60m.
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