FASHION / Clothes can be as easy as APC

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IT'S A STRANGE thing in the fashion industry for a successful designer to evade the press and consistently to keep a low profile. But this has been the case with Jean Touitou, the Frenchman behind APC (atelier for production and creation), the clothing label you probably haven't heard of, despite the fact that it has already been selling in London, at Liberty in Regent Street and at Joseph in Brompton Cross, for some time.

At Liberty (where you can find a small selection of almost every designer label if you look hard enough) APC has established its position as a constant seller - 'especially the womenswear, which has already built up a loyal following,' says the buyer Lynette White. But from September, APC's profile will be raised considerably in Britain as Joseph is devoting one of his Draycott Avenue boutiques to the womenswear - thus adding Touitou to the long list of designers who owe their success in large part to the diminutive fashion retailer. (And, ironically, meaning that Liberty have decided not to carry the autumn collection.)

Although it is the womenswear that has proved such a hit here, Touitou started off as a designer of menswear. In 1987, after a four-year stint with Agnes B, he left and produced his first collection for men. The simplicity of shape and the richness of his colours owed more to the influence of the Japanese designers and Romeo Gigli respectively than to the power-dressing era in which he launched them. By 1989, he had extended his range to women, using the same construction values as his menswear, and his two collections have continued on much the same strong and simple lines ever since.

His clothes seem to be answering a growing need once more for classic items - beautifully-cut single-breasted jackets, black stretch cigarette pants, crisp white shirts, Egyptian cotton shirts in muted and bright colours, cropped black leather jackets, supple leather waistcoats and reefer jackets (see right) that should immediately go down as a staple for the autumn season.

Touitou has refused to be pitched into the battle for the avant- garde; his clothes are not competitive, in a design sense, with peers such as Jean Colonna and Martin Margiela. 'I am trying to produce clothes that can be worn,' he says emphatically, on the telephone from Paris. 'Lately, a lot of designers have been creating garments which in my opinion are not pieces of clothing but pieces of art - totally impractical. There are no revolutionary statements behind my clothes.'

He was born in Tunisia in 1952 and his family moved to Paris when he was nine. He studied history and linguistics at the Sorbonne and planned to be a history teacher, but a part-time job with a leather company involved him in making bags for Kenzo. 'I fell in love with their energy and was able to work for them full time. Regardless of which business this crazy group of people belonged to, I would have joined them.'

He became head of sales, then left to start up his own music recording company, which folded. So it was back to fashion - this time to Agnes B, which was just starting up its successful shops in America, and then to his own label. Now, with two shops in Paris, four in Japan (three in Tokyo, one in Osaka) and his recent takeover of what used to be the Azzedine Alaa shop in New York's SoHo, an outlet in Britain was the obvious next step.

One of the things that makes the APC shops such fun are the accessories he sells to go with the clothing. In Japan he sells Joseph Beuys video tapes; in New York he stocks novels by Patrick Modiano, and to all three countries, Venetian slippers and spiral-bound APC booklets, which give you a taste of the clothes in black and white, and plenty of room to scribble as well (the current one, for summer 1993, uses as a model Camilla Nickerson, the British fashion editor now working at America Vogue, to epitomise the APC look).

Now that he has got the clothing company up and running, Touitou's past involvement with the music business is about to resurface. This month he is back in the studio in New York to produce an album for a friend, Robert Lloyd, which will come out on the APC music label. The plan, as we go to press, is to put the album inside the new APC catalogue that comes out in September. It will be availableworldwide.

(Photographs omitted)