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
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls


The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?