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Eternity by Agnès b.
We look at the designer who has been all too quickly sidelined, despite having invented it all: key pieces, the links between art and clothing, and fashion with a cause. Today, customers are rediscovering her work. The winds are changing…to her advantage. BY SÉVERINE DE SMET
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Eternity by Agnès b.
We look at the designer who has been all too quickly sidelined, despite having invented it all: key pieces, the links between art and clothing, and fashion with a cause. Today, customers are rediscovering her work. The winds are changing…to her advantage. BY SÉVERINE DE SMET
Last Christmas, many young women were clamouring for a piece their mothers knew all too well. The designer's famous press-stud sweatshirt cardigan: plush and cosy with a round neckline and straight-cut waist. The design was born after Agnès b. took a pair of scissors to a sweatshirt she was wearing in 1979. The men, meanwhile, are holding true to their white poplin shirts, while their wives treat themselves to the ultimate Breton top, featuring perfectly even stripes with protected, patented measurements. You'd have been forgiven for thinking that the brand had disappeared, as Agnès b.'s name seems so much less prominent than others who have been more recently catapulted onto the fashion scene. But the designer never really went away, concentrating instead on her loyal customers, particularly in Japan. And Agnès Troublé enjoys wearing her own work, too. The 'b'. was borrowed from her first husband, publisher Christian Bourgois, who she married at 17 and divorced when she was 20. In fact, her lower-case cursive, ending with a proud, assertive full-stop, is more relevant and contemporary than ever.
Since she first popped up on the scene 40 years ago, she's invented it all: a concept store where art, design and clothing mingle, comfortable and feminist rather than feminine fashion, the Parisian boho look, ties between fashion and music, and so on. The designer wears many hats, as an entrepreneur, mother, gallery owner and artist. “I didn't plan it that way,” she explains. “Things just happened day by day, and Etienne Bourgois, one of my five children, manages the brand as organically as it first began.” Sales and orders sky-rocketed as more stores began to open. “We were astonished by how popular we became in Japan, and then a boutique opened in New York in 1980 almost by chance. We've never advertised once!” enthuses the designer. Shying away from nostalgia, Agnès b. seems as calm and breezy today as she was at the very beginning in the seventies, safe in the knowledge that she knows how to avoid the traps of this vast industry. Her goal is to keep things on a human scale. “What strikes me most is how much our sales staff know about me and my past. They share the anecdotes with our customers. It's like a real love story being passed on.” 
The same blonde curls, the same smiling, soft face, and that same indescribable elegance, free from artifice: at 75, Agnès b. hasn't changed a bit, which explains why her popularity lives on. “I don't do fashion. I do style, clothing you can keep.” Flicking through Agnès b. styliste, written by Florence Ben Sadoun (La Martinière), I’m moved by the sheer grace that characterises this French brand. The designer is as comfortable dressing writer François Weyergans for his début at the Académie Française as she is designing for David Bowie or Brian Molko on the rock scene. But her speciality is customers like you and me, everyday people who first discovered her on Rue du Jour in 1975, in the Halles neighbourhood that, at the time, overflowed with food stalls. It was here in this iconoclastic boutique, where over-dyed Chinese jackets were left to dry on butcher's hooks, that Agnès’s children grew up, drawing pictures on the top floor. A Michelin man and a portrait of Mao adorned the wall. Little cheesecloth skirts, mechanics' overalls and practical dungarees were created. Her friend Fanny Deleuze, wife of the eponymous philosopher, took care of the paperwork. Later, when the AIDS crisis hit, she provided condoms at the till, sitting alongside copies of Point d'Ironie, a free journal designed to make contemporary art accessible to all. “The book's main message is that style never goes out of fashion,” she explains. And the book goes further, telling the story of a rich life lived alongside that of her brand. 
Agnès b. is also about art, graffiti, photography and film... “I've always loved art,” says the Versailles-born designer, who has a passion for her hometown's castle and gardens, the 18th century, and contemporary art. “Through my travels and encounters, I've formed relationships with artists across the board, including Basquiat, Martin Pair, David Lynch and Harmony Korine.” She is as comfortable with Quentin Tarantino or Harvey Keitel as she is with Nan Goldin or Malick Sidibé. A gallery owner, she also boasts several thousand works of art in her personal collection and intends to open a foundation “in northern Paris”. Last autumn, the French National History and Immigration Museum at Porte Dorée in Paris showcased over 70 pieces from her collection in an exhibition entitled Vivre!! The event was a hit, drawing in over 420 visitors every day. Agnès has a strong political streak, too. An ardent leftie who broke free from her family's traditional right-wing tendencies, she nevertheless holds true to her Catholic faith. A few days after hearing that François Hollande would not be running for Socialist leadership, she admits to having felt “a sense of loss, incredibly sad. I've always found him wonderful, and that's why I signed the 'anti-Hollande Bashing' petition. I was appalled by how he was treated,” she exclaims. There is something profoundly human about Agnès b. full stop. -

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