17/12/2012 06:05 GMT

Agent Provocateur Lingerie Sales Rocket As Rumours Of A Cheaper Range Are Confirmed

Naughty knickers are still on our shopping lists despite the recession, if sales figures from Agent Provocateur are anything to go by.

The high-end lingerie specialist has reported sharply higher sales and profits for the year to March 26, according to a report in The Times.

Agent Provocateur reported its underlying profits rose by 24% to £4.1 million in the year to March 26, after sales rose by 18% to £31.4 million.

The company said its performance had continued in the first eight months of this year. Sales were up 21% in total, with like-for-like sales up 6%. Online sales are up 35%.

Some of the good news was a result of the opening of a number of boutiques in Madrid, Rome and Amsterdam.

Garry Hogarth, the chief executive of the 3i-owned retailer, told the The Times Agent Provocateur would open new stores in Melbourne and Sydney next year after finding strong online demand from Australia.

A new diffusion range, produced in collaboration with the Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and her sister Monica, will eventually sell more bras, knickers and suspenders, was also predicted to sell more than the rest of the business.

The less-expensive range, which will be sold through Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in the UK, was proposed by Monica Cruz, who was the face of the autumn-winter marketing campaign this year. Averaging £40 per purchase - half the price of the original Agent Provocateur goods - the L'Agent range will go on sale next August.

Agent Provocateur was originally founded by Joe Corre, son of Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood. He left the company in 2007 after a deal was brokered for it to be handed to private equity backed owners.

Nick Hood, Company Watch's business analyst, told the Huffington Post UK there could be concerns on the horizon for Agent Provocateur's parent company.

“Agent Provocateur's results prove that sex can be added to food and drink as staple elements of life in recession-hit Britain. The growth in sales and operating profits are underpinning a number of exciting developments, with the launch of a mid-market brand and the move to exploit the strong online interest from Australia," he said.

"But dig a little deeper and a more worrying financial picture emerges. There is nothing wrong with the financial profile of the brand's main operating company, but the position of Agent Provocateur's parent company is much more stressed.

"This company (SPV – Pearl (AP) Group Limited - which was used by 3i to buy the brand) scores a rock bottom health rating of zero out of 100, reflecting a negative net asset position, debts of £105m, an interest bill of some £13m a year and an annual loss of £15m.

"This is a typical private equity structure, which will pose no threat provided trading remains healthy and on an upward curve. But unfortunately, the retail sector is littered with the casualties from similar ownership models which ran into difficulties."

La Senza failed at the end of 2011 after it ran into troubles with its private-equity backed owner. Businessman Theo Paphitis bought the United Kingdom and Ireland arm of the Canadian business, and began expanding it, eventually with sub-franchises in parts of the European Union.

Then in July 2006 Paphitis sold the company to private equity company Lion Capital, for a reported £100m. On 23 December 2011, La Senza UK filed for administration citing "trading conditions" as one of the conditions for closure.

Happily, 9 January 2012, Kuwait-based international retail franchise operator Alshaya announced it had reached agreement to take control of much of the ongoing La Senza business in the UK.

Under an agreement La Senza UK's administrators KPMG, Alshaya UK acquired exclusive franchise rights for the La Senza brand in the UK for an undisclosed sum, retaining 60 stores, securing around 1,100 jobs.