The importance of being agnes b.

She doesn't care for fashion. The catwalk bores her. Meet the film producer.

At first glance, the cherubic blonde posing for pictures outside Edinburgh's trendy Point Hotel looks like any Festival hopeful, a Fringe producer perhaps, or the singer in a band. Nothing about her suggests she might be an international fashion magnate, certainly not the slinky white hipsters or the clumpy-heeled mules. The curvaceously-cut white shirt does look suspiciously like the Agnes b worn by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction though. Hang on a minute, she is Agnes b.

"I don't care much for fashion, I have always been more interested in art, music and cinema," she shrugs apologetically. Although her company is worth more than pounds 100m with 100 shops worldwide, she appears far happier in the role of fairy godmother to the arts than she does as a rival to Miuccia Prada. She runs an art gallery in Paris which has exhibited Gilbert and George and Martin Parr. Such is her standing in the art world, she presented The Turner Prize last year, and her newly-formed film company Love Streams produced the hugely acclaimed Seul Contre Tous, a gritty tale of one man's life in Northern Paris.

Now Love Streams, named after her favourite John Cassavetes film, has a new project, Peau Neuve, an existential buddy movie which opened at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It concerns a man desperate to change his life but uncertain how to go about it. The film, which takes the hero on a bulldozer-driving course in a remote industrial province, won the International Critics Prize at Cannes.

We retire to her suite to talk about it, but not before she dispatches a handsome young lad off to Virgin Megastore. Her son? "My grandson. He's 17," she laughs gleefully. It comes as a shock to learn that this groovy creature is 57.

"Peau Neuve has a universal theme, everyone can relate to that desire for change," she says. "I decided I wanted to be involved with the film because I totally believed in what it had to say, that where you put your energy in life is where you will see the greatest change."

Agnes b has gone through her fair share of life changes. At the last count she had five children by three different fathers, and takes the "b" in her name from her second husband, French publisher Christian Bourgeois. Born Agnes Trouble , her father was a prominent Versailles lawyer. She went to art college and fell in love with a fellow student. By 19, she was married with twins. "And by 21, I had run away with my babies to Paris. My dream was to be a curator at an art gallery, but suddenly I found I had to earn a living. I never wanted a career in fashion, but that's what came along."

She was hired by Elle as a stylist, and subsequently went to work as a designer with Dorothee, then the French answer to Donna Karan. "Those were hard times for me because I was a single parent and I wasn't earning much. But in May 1968 everything changed. I was living in Montparnasse and I used to join in the demonstrations, it was so exciting. I remember I had just paid for a huge lot of groceries with a cheque that I knew was going to bounce, but all work had stopped so I was OK for weeks."

She didn't start her own label until the mid Seventies, and her first shop was an anarchic affair near Les Halles. Back in 1976, customers would write graffiti on the walls and the designer dyed cotton shirts and hung them on a washing line. People would come in and buy off the peg.

"It was only when I had my own shop that I developed the confidence to speak out. Until then I was very shy, and very wary of men. When I was a teenager, I think I felt very vulnerable, like prey, around men. Probably that's why I married so young, to feel protected from that."

Perhaps this acknowledgement that a lot of women lack confidence is the secret of her success - she creates clothes which are empowering without having sharp edges and shoulder pads. Beautiful fabrics, beautiful colours but nothing too obvious. Many of her original designs are still part of her collection today: cardigans with pearl snaps, striped shirts made from the same hard-wearing cotton that rugby teams use and a leather jacket inspired by a Manet portrait.

"I think clothes should give you the confidence to go out and think about other things," she says. "Take my skirts. They come in four different lengths, that way at least one is always `in' and I don't need to worry about which it is. I'm more influenced by culture than by other fashion designers." A quick glance round any of her shops will confirm this - there are film posters celebrating her favourite style icons: Anna Karina, Jean-Luc Godard's muse, Natalie Wood and Ingrid Bergman (she says her famous white shirt was an attempt to recreate the shirt Bergman wore in Notorious).

"Fashion at the moment is particularly boring. I was in New York last week and I wanted to scream. Whatever happened to bad taste? We need more of it." She skips off to her room and emerges with a mauve and fluorescent pink dress. "Look at this, one of mine. It's totally bad taste but I love it." She deplores how everyone in fashion wants to look like everyone else. "It's boring. And it's getting worse. That's why I love women like PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. They have the courage to be different."

She herself doesn't seem to lack boldness. But the French middle classes, for all their pronouncements of free love in films, don't tolerate rebellion.

"My life has not been easy," she says, chain smoking. "I won't put up with compromise, and I won't stay in a situation just for the sake of it. Many women put up with bad things because they don't have confidence to make a choice."

Unlike many designers, Agnes b puts beliefs before profits. The company does not advertise because she thinks advertising is immoral. Her clothes are all made in France to avoid using exploited labour. And each shop, from Tokyo to Notting Hill, has a basket of free condoms on the counter.

When you talk to her about the future though, she starts to look hazy. She talks about the next film, Innocent, which has been directed by a taxi driver whom she befriended 20 years ago, and her new art magazine, Le Point d'Ironie, which she produces with her friend Hans Ulrich-Obrist. "Every month a different artist does an issue, Louise Bourgeois is doing one next!" she exclaims.

That however is as much as she will project ahead. "My company symbol is the lizard - because it's quick and lazy, the way I work." But surely you must have a business plan? A flicker of sadness flits across her face. "I don't try to plan the future, because I happen to know that you can't. I have seen members of my family try this, I have seen people become seriously ill. And, when you go through that, you realise you just have to wake up each day and say to yourself, `today is a present, let's make the most of it'."

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game