Why does the Agent Provocateur AW12 Collection Look So Familiar? You’ve Seen it All Before

The primary feeling I had when first viewing the Agent Provocateur collection was disappointment, then deja vu. And then I felt bad about feeling that way, attributing it to being jaded or having impossibly high standards and expectations for my lingerie.

But then I looked again. And the feeling of deja vu grew stronger, into a conviction that I had seen extremely similar designs before.

Agent Provocateur AW12 (left) and Nichole de Carle SS12 (right)

If you look at these two pieces side by side, the similarities are obvious. The one on the left is the Whitney bra and panties from the Agent Provocateur AW12 collection. On the right is the Nichole de Carle Last Testament underwired bra and knickers from Spring/Summer 2012. You can see that the bras are not exactly identical, but the resemblance is uncanny.

What  upset me the most about this discovery is that I have very much admired Agent Provocateur. And they have been interesting and original in all of the seasons I have seen up to now. They were only founded in 1994, which means they’re younger than I am and yet have become one of the premiere luxury lingerie brands around the world. Compare that to La Perla (founded 1957) or Wolford (founded 1949), two of the other most well known designers of luxury intimates– Agent Provocateur is basically a baby! I also think that their marketing and PR teams are geniuses, hitting just the right note of risqué and upscale. And of course, they do have some killer designs.

Agent Provocateur AW12 (left) and Myla London (right)

But if you look at these comparative photos, you can see how derivative Agent Provocateur has been. Although I generally shy away from the word “copy,” these designs definitely fail the squint test. And if I were the designer of the original pieces, I might feel miffed or even cheated by the evident “inspiration” taken from their designs.

That’s why I’m feeling a bit… disappointed by this season’s collection. I feel like it’s kind of unpopular to criticize brands in the fashion (and specifically lingerie) blogosphere. And, as someone who absolutely adores lingerie, it’s hard to go out there and say that there is stuff that doesn’t live up to my expectations– or that their designs are not original. But I feel like I owe you guys the unvarnished truth. And if people who care and write about it won’t offer critique, who will? If we were all self-congratulatory and let these things pass it might get a bit dull. A member of the general public with a lesser lingerie obsession would simply think that Agent Provocateur was being entirely original.

Agent Provocateur AW 12 (left) and Coco de Mer (right)

It’s actually a bit ironic that a collection whose tagline was “Show Your True Self” is so unoriginal. I think the line “show your true self” is really rather a good one– very much in the vein of my own piece about why I love lingerie. But really, how is Agent Provocateur showing its “true self” if it’s so similar to that of other (lesser-known) designers?

I’m willing to overlook this as a momentary lapse on one condition: that they really impress me in the next collection and show that creative side that I’ve enjoyed so much in the past.

14 Comments
  1. I’m really glad you wrote this post, because I wanted to be dazzled by the new season styles, and I wasn’t. They’re super hot, and the campaign video is fun, but I coudn’t figure out why I felt lukewarm. You’re so right: what’s new here? Some of my “eh” reaction probably comes from my increased awareness of trends and what different brands are doing, some of it is increased competition, style and color-wise, from mid-price brands popping up all over the place with fun and interesting designs, but when I look at the comparison pieces you feature, I definitely feel disappointment. Come on, AP, you’re supposed to wow and dazzle us! :)

  2. I noticed the same similarity, bringing in Nichole de Carle London we were instantly drawn to the AP version above. I couldn’t help wandering how Nichole herself feels about it. Recently noticed a Marlies Dekkers lookalike elsewhere…
    PS Great Blog x
    Sue @ Red Box Lingerie

  3. Once upon a lifetime I had a lingerie firm called Poirette. We were ripped off as soon as we went public with anything original. The fashion business is scurrilous and no holds barred. So what’s new here? Nothing. Only discerning women who follow fashion trends will know what to do. Not buy a rip off. Krissy Chrissy36@me.com

  4. This is a great post, and I’m truly appreciative you managed to expose some designing shenanigans. On the other hand though, how is the art of lingerie (as I’m sure you and I and most-if-not-all readers of this fine blog view it) is different than any other industry/retail trend in this fast-paced-moving world?

    It’s really great being innovative and successful out there, but how do you deal with all those “others” figuring it all out and doing just the same? Can a lingerie design of some sort become a “copyright” or a “patent”?

    I’d really like to know and maybe you can ask a designer to write about all those issues. Thanks!

    • There is no copyright law that applies to clothing– it is possible to trademark fabric patterns, logos and and jewelry-like sculptural pieces such as clasps or buckles.

      There has been a push from the CFDA to make laws regarding clothing patents/copyright. You should definitely read this article by The Lingerie Addict about why this might hurt rather than help independent designers: http://thelingerieaddict.com/2012/08/is-cacqiue-lingerie-copying-marlies-dekkers-strappy-bras.html

      The truth is, with any type of legal action, who ever has the smaller grand has the most to lose, simply by having less money to throw at lawyers. The only recourse is to point out the ways in which these brands are behaving unethically and are not truly having original or innovative designs.

  5. I felt more lukewarm regaring AP’s new collection regarding a lack of ‘new’ rather than ‘original’. They seem to be riding on the solid success which caused the instigation of the permanent range in addition to the seasonal collections.

    For example, while “Whitney” is a little too similar to “Last Testament”, Last Testament could also be viewed as the laceless “Cendrillon”, from the permanent AP range. The same is said for the Coco de Mer briefs in your example, but multiple designers have the ‘decorated open-brief formula; perfected. The decoration is dependent; a bow seems to be the first port of call.

    As for Novah; I also feel pangs for Pleasure State’s “Aethyr” range which was released in pink last year. The design itself doesn’t seem so relevant here, as is following a colour trend. Come on, at least wait a few seasons between colours.

    Coco de Mer should be doing better than it is.
    I’m not sure who is at more fault here, but the smaller houses suffer. Does anyone have statistics regarding the percentage of Agent Provocateur lingerie vs. Myla that is purchased on the platinum credit card of a man/lover versus that of the wearer?

    • the “open back brief” depicted here is actually NOT A BRIEF, but the BACK VIEW of a full body equestrian playsuit. A photo of the front was literally right next to it in the catalogue. not quite a fair depiction!

      also, YES, the classic Cendrillon set is one of AP’s best sellers – and there is absolutely no crime in making variations on that theme each season! every time, these sets sell out in the blink of an eye. This Whitney range sold out so fast the company didn’t even see it coming. it is certainly similar yet ultimately quite different than Cendrillon, as Cendrillon is a fully open cup bra, with no chest harness at all.

  6. For the past few seasons there have been a number of styles that seem very reminiscent of other brands within the AP collections, but sadly it’s a problem that occurs throughout the lingerie industry, and fashion as a whole. I have several friends who have founded successful lingerie brands in the UK, and as frustrating as it is, without the money behind you there isn’t a lot that can be done – particularly when up against a high street chain that have continued to rip off a number of the contemporary UK brands with poor quality lookalikes.

    But on the other hand, as a design student it is proving more and more difficult to design something completely original. Not a problem that I have come up against myself, but I have had several classmates that have genuinely been unaware that their designs look familiar to that of another brand – in one case in particular, a friend had created a design that looked very similar to a brand’s new collection which had not yet been launched; there was no way that she could have known, yet both had arrived at a similar outcome.

    As for Marlies Dekkers, with such a strong signature they are a prime target for being ripped off. At university last year we worked with them on a project, and at the same time imitations were popping up everywhere – notably Topshop. All that you can do is hope customers will look to invest in quality pieces, and not be swayed by on-trend high street rip-offs that aren’t built to last.

  7. I own a bra that looks extremely similar to the first two, only sheer. I bought it at H&M for $15 two years ago! I use it primarily as a layering piece under an asymmetrical, sheer, pleated tank that I also bought at H&M two years ago. I’m glad to see that those styles are coming back!

    This site is great, but I want to see more leather lingerie!

  8. Pingback: Trend of the Week: Leather Lingerie « The Lingerie Lesbian

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  10. This is pretty inaccurate, although i can see why one would jump to some of these conclusions.
    the AP piece in last photo is actually a full equestrian style playsuit with an ascot, seen from the front, and although the back may resemble coco de mer’s backless panties, AP has been making styles similar to this since the brand’s inception, including the famous Cendrillon briefs, and the prior fall season’s Edith briefs – in fact it may be fair to say coco de mer’s version may be derivative of AP’s signature styles, or Damaris, or countless other brands who make this type of knicker.
    It also seems highly unlikely, being very intimate with AP’s design process, that they would have designed the Whitney set AFTER any S/S 12 ranges were released, as most of AP’s seasons are designed a full year in advance.
    And that second set? how many brands make a red or pink satin molded bra & panty set? AP is certainly not the first, nor will they be the last – however in real life, that set is a beautiful bright orangey-red on fuchsia, which is a pretty unique color palette.
    So many brands constantly blatantly rip off Agent Provocateur that I feel like this is a chicken vs. egg problem. If anything, AP ripped itself off in this campaign – revisit the ’08 “Season of the Witch” campaign and you’ll see that these are themes they have been riffing off of for years.

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