Agent Provocateur sold to private equity firm 3i for £60m

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The Independent Online

The luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has been snapped up by the private equity house 3i for £60m.

The company's founder Joseph Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, is to remain as creative director while his wife and co-founder Serena Rees will leave the business. The couple will retain a minority stake in the company which helped bring sexy underwear on to the catwalk and into the mainstream.

Mr Corré said this was "exciting time for the business". "It is a new chapter, or even a new book, for us," he said.

Agent Provocateur operates from more than 30 stores in 14 countries but has ambitious plans for developing further internationally. "We are not in Japan at the moment but that is going to be a big focus for us," Mr Corré said, adding that the company also plans to develop further sites for the US.

The first Agent Provocateur store opened in Soho in 1994 with the aim of "stimulating, enchanting and arousing" wearers, and immediate whipped up a media frenzy in a Britain still prudish about sex.

Ms Rees said the first shop "provoked thought and reaction, brought lingerie to the forefront of fashion, brought sexuality into the open and gave sex a sense of luxury". Along with lingerie, the company has developed footwear and perfume ranges and operates a fast-growing e-commerce division.

3i has appointed Stuart Rose, former managing director of The Body Shop, as chairman, while Jennifer Dunstan, a partner at 3i, will become a non-executive director at the lingerie brand. "We believe there is enormous potential for the business to grow and look forward to using both our retail experience and our global network to help Agent Provocateur achieve this ambition," she said.

This month, the singer Lily Allen was signed up as the new face and body of the brand, following in the footsteps of supermodel Kate Moss, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and burlesque perfomer Dita Von Teese. Mr Corré and Ms Rees were both awarded MBEs for their services to the fashion industry in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours list.

But Mr Corré rejected the title. "My reason for turning down the MBE can be summed up in two words: Tony Blair," he wrote in The Independent, and accused the then-prime minister of being "morally corrupt" after taking the country to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.