The A-list allure of Agent Provocateur
The White House has got its knickers in a twist over reports that Michelle Obama went on a shopping spree in Agent Provocateur.
According to PR chiefs there is "absolutely no truth" in the widespread media reports that the First Lady spent some $50,000 (€38,000) on racy briefs in the Madison Avenue branch of the up-market lingerie store.
But nevertheless, there are those who will never look at the president's wife in quite the same way again.
Anyone who knows anything about underwear knows that Agent Provocateur isn't just a bra-and-pants brand -- it's a state of mind, a phenomenon.
It's the sort of underwear that makes Kylie ride a bucking bronco and an indie movie chick like Maggie Gyllenhall pose tied to a chair.
Kate Moss won't wear any other undies other than her favourite APs. She says: "I find it's the most sexy lingerie to wear. I love their attention to detail and I'm a particular fan of a knicker bum detail."
Curvy Kelly Brook is fanatical about the brand, confessing. "I've collected Agent Provocateur lingerie since I was 19."
Beyonce frequently squeezes herself into the line's most titillating bustiers and daring corsets, appearing at the 2009 European Music Awards in an eye-popping scarlet number and most recently showcasing the brand's 'Penelope' basque in her video for 'The Best Thing I Never Had'.
Even Queen Elizabeth is a fan (of sorts) presenting the makers of the saucy ensembles with an MBE in 2007 for "services to the fashion industry." -- though the honour was turned down.
The chain was established by Joseph Corre (son of designer Vivienne Westwood) and his then wife Serena Rees 18 years ago, with the ambition of establishing a lingerie range that would "stimulate, enchant and arouse".
And sex, it seems even in a recession, sells. Last year the company saw a 30pc rise in full-year profit delivering "record profits in a challenging retail environment," according to its chief executive Garry Hogarth.
Its 55 boutiques worldwide are performing well and plans are afoot to open new stores in Miami, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid and Lausanne.
But not in Ireland.
Irish shoppers weren't so turned on to the brand, and the country's only AP concession, based in Brown Thomas, closed in 2010.
When it opened in 2004, it was a different world. Glenda was still with Brian, who watched front row while his model girlfriend strutted in a top hat, leather gloves and see-through pants in a 2005 Agent Provocateur fashion show.
In the throes of the Celtic Tiger, women were happy to throw €300 at a matching set of barely-there bra and knickers. Not so now.
"Agent Provocateur didn't last here because all they sold was high-end luxury," says underwear expert Sinead Sanderson.
"Women still want luxury and they'll still pay for luxury, but they want functionality too".
Sinead's own lingerie boutique Peaches and Cream stocks a mix of mid-range and high-quality items.
She says: "We sell as many bras at €80 as we do at €40, so its not like women aren't treating themselves. They've become much more educated about underwear and value comfort. They know the more expensive a fabric is, the more comfortable it is."
Even in the recession, plenty of women won't compromise on quality for the sake of their bank balance.
Sinead explains: "Women feel they need a good bra like they need their colour done every six weeks. There's also much more of an 'I'm worth it attitude'; women won't compromise on what they feel they need."
She adds: "There's also the realisation now that underwear has a psychological shift. If you're wearing something that feels good, you'll feel good. Pay cheap for a crap bra, and you'll feel crap."