By Fiona Tedds, Editor at Large
If you want to look effortlessly chic, like a beautifully turned-out Parisian who has just thrown on the perfect outfit, you should look no further than the French designer agnès b. For more than forty years, she has produced clothing that feels wonderful to wear, that carries all the hallmarks of excellent French tailoring and good taste, without being stuffy or conservative. Her designs are not trend-driven, however their classic lines make them utterly stylish, and their desirability can easily be measured by her continuing international success.
Born in Versailles, France — a place that had a great influence on her style, taking inspiration from the pure lines of these classic gardens — agnès b. had no formal design education, apart from drawing classes at the Versailles Beaux Arts School as a child. By her late teens, she was a wife and mother, who had gained an appreciation of the arts, first through her father, a lawyer, and then through her first husband, the publisher Christian Bourgois, from whom she takes her designer’s name.
The massive political unrest, a revolution of sorts, during the late 1960s in France undoubtedly impacted the young designer, fostering a desire to be free from traditional social conventions and the belief that anything was possible. With a reinforced sense of self, agnès b.’s personal style caught the eye of an editor and she began her career in fashion as a junior editor at French ELLE, whilst also freelancing as a designer at several small labels.
In 1973 she was ready to start her own label, and opened a store in an old butcher’s shop in Les Halles, an area that had been the main marketplace in Paris and that quickly morphed into becoming the coolest place to shop. It was here that some of the staples of her future collections first appeared; striped t-shirts, work clothes such as dungarees and reefer jackets, but made from soft luxurious fabrics, the snap cardigan (honored with an exhibition at the Pompidou Center in 1996) and suits that with their clean lines oozed sophistication but were easy to wear and quite timeless. These classic garments, conceived in the 1970s, are the backbone of the international brand of agnès b.
With her appreciation of the arts in general, agnès b. has not limited herself to the production of fashion. Heading an independent company, she understands the stresses involved in artistic pursuits and has offered unwavering support to emerging artists. In her stores in Europe and Japan, listening terminals are installed, featuring some of agnès b.’s favourite tracks by independent musicians, allowing her clients to discover agnès b. Spring 2015 what is new on the scene. She has championed bands such as Air and Devendra Banhart, and given exposure to the work of stars such as David Bowie and Patti Smith, both of which have often appeared in outfits by the designer. Her work in the arts extends into film as well. Her stores are famously decorated with classic movie posters and working with Quentin Tarantino, as well as other directors, she has produced costumes for films including “ Reservoir Dogs” – the suits of the main characters — and “Pulp Fiction” – the ensemble worn by Uma Thurman. In 1997, her passion for cinema led her to set up her own audiovisual production company, Love Streams agnès b. Productions, named in honor of the American film director John Cassavetes.
The company agnès b. also consistently exhibits a social conscience. In 2007, a “green committee” was established to monitor and improve the environmental impact of the brand, a very dynamic move in the fashion industry at the time. The agnès b. Fall/Winter 2015 company has also maintained transparency about its origins of production, having to move manufacturing when necessary to other countries due to the decline of the industry in France. However, it remains a quintessential French brand with a large, loyal customer base. Importantly, 2004 saw agnès b. step into the world of environmental research when she partnered with Tara Expeditions, a large sailboat that travels the globe, observing and documenting climate change, with a focus on marine biodiversity. Successful expeditions, including to the Arctic, have highlighted the impact on the planet of these changes and support new policies worldwide that are in motion to tackle this issue. Coupled with the support of numerous charities and humanitarian groups over the years, agnès b. is a beacon when it comes to real care for the planet.
It is notable that all this success for the brand has come without any form of advertising. The beautiful wearability of the clothes, plus their timeless design, has guaranteed continuing demand for the mid-price range label that bears all the hallmarks of the refined and artistic vision of its designer. agnès b. is a woman with strong convictions regarding the importance of living life on this planet with remarkable style and a true sense of purpose.