Sarah Shotton is precisely the sort of woman that you would hope to creatively direct a lingerie brand like Agent Provocateur: she's fabulous, and sexy, and wonderfully, remarkably open about sex and women's bodies in a world where that is not always the case. She started her career at the brand back in 1999 (working for founders Joe Corré and Serena Rees), was appointed creative director in 2010, and has defined her working life through her lascivious celebration of women and empowering them through their lingerie (she's the sort of person who you really believe is wearing fancy knickers for her own satisfaction, rather than anyone else's). Here, she reflects on some of the books that have defined both her life and her creativity; from Jilly Cooper to Helmut Newton.
Riders by Jilly Cooper
“I read this a long time ago when I was at boarding school; they'd had a book club where there was loads of highbrow stuff, but I’d always choose Jilly Cooper or Jackie Collins. For me it’s an important book because I went to an all girl’s boarding school and, well, it was pretty wild – we were always up to no good and we’d sneak out in the middle of the night and go crazy at discos with the local boys – but also because I come from an equestrian family and I learnt to ride when I was really young. So Riders made sense to me because of that, but it was also one of the first books that I read and just thought ‘wow, this is super sexy.’ Plus, I loved that the men were always hot but the women were always glamorous – and up for it! I probably learnt a lot of sexy things from that book.”
Monroe: her life in pictures by James Spada and George Zeno
“I was given this Marilyn Monroe book when I was about eight or nine years old, because I’d watched a documentary about her on the telly one Sunday afternoon while my mum was cooking dinner and I just became fascinated by her. It was just a film of her life, but I learned all these things like how she’d cut off a bit of the heels on her shoes to give her a sexy wiggle, and how she had transformed herself from Norma Jean into Marilyn. I was fascinated by her clothes, by how she was, by how her curves, by how men went all gooey over her – and how she was a redhead, like I was. I told my mum, 'Mum I want a book on Marilyn Monroe', and I think this must've been what was in Newcastle Waterstones so, that Christmas, Santa brought it for me.”
Skin Two, Retro 1: The First Sex Issues
“So I got this book before I went to Saint Martin's, when I was still living in the North East, just because I loved the pair of heels on the cover rather than because I knew about who or what Skin Two was. It was this collective that used to produce magazines, but they also used to run club nights a bit like how Torture Garden do now and I was fascinated by all the rubber and the people in it. It’s very stylish for sure – and of course there’s the whole fetish thing, but that’s not why I picked it up; I was just really into the pictures. I think that what I found quite strange about selecting these five books is that it all totally comes together and makes sense with what I’m doing now...”
‘Mr Sunset’: The Jeff Hakman Story by Phil Jarratt
“When I graduated from Saint Martin’s I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was a bit sick of designing, and there was this job going at Quicksilver as a travelling representative selling surfboards and snowboarding equipment. I thought, 'do you know what, that sounds like a laugh,' and I quite fancied travelling around the country and living in a camper van so I went for an interview – I ended up sitting next to Kelly Slater in the waiting room! – and they offered me a job at their head office in Biarritz designing bikinis! I’d just gone for an interview with Joe and Serena at Agent Provocateur so they gave me this book and told me to go away and think about it – it’s the life story of the man who created Quicksilver... Anyway, obviously I took the job at AP but I was pretty outdoorsy and so I could have gone this route… my life would've been so different…”
Pola Women by Helmut Newton
"Helmut Newton has been a huge influence for me ever since I started at Agent Provocateur, and this is my favourite book of his: the women are so glamourous and I just really like the colour of the polaroids, the way the women are dressed, the section with the redheads with ginger muffs out. I’ve referenced it so many times; for hair, for makeup, for lingerie, for attitude – just for how womanly these women are, and how they look like they’re having a good time. There’s nothing better than being photographed naked, it really removes all of your inhibitions. Actually, I’ve been naked for AP before – on one of our shoots we needed an extra naked person and Joe [Corre] got me to do it, and I got spanked. At the beginning, I wasn’t really up for it but actually it was so liberating that I did the Double D campaign! Then, whenever I had a boyfriend over to mine, I’d just be walking around naked. The whole company – the whole world! – had seen me naked, so I just wasn’t bothered anymore."