Easy as APC: The 'French Gap'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's been described as the 'French Gap' and is the style insider's little secret. As APC launches a store on these shores, Cath Clarke meets its founder

There was no glitzy fanfare, no celebrity opening with Peaches Geldof and champagne. That would be much too vulgar. Instead APC's new shop has just slipped on to Dover Street in Mayfair with the same minimal fuss that gives its clothes a cult following.

The influential French label's appeal has always defied neat description. When it opened in 1988 it was dubbed "the French Gap" for its clean-cut twists on classics. It sometimes looks a bit unisex, uniform-like, with coats and knitwear that do for boys and girls. But that's not the whole story. Women say they feel cute without being cutesy in its shifts and shirt-dresses (Sofia Coppola and Alexa Chung are fans), while men never look too fashionable or like they tried too hard (Jarvis Cocker wears it).

Unlike the clothes he designs, you wouldn't call Jean Touitou, APC's founder, understated. He's known for being outspoken and doesn't disappoint on the phone from his holiday. Here he is on Italians: "Basically they have terrible taste." Or designer handbags: "You make more money with a 'hit-bag' than if you were a international cocaine dealer." He was a teenager in 1960s Paris and his anti-authoritarian my-way-or-the-highway attitude makes him a refreshing figure in the fashion world (a little of that Left Bank cool always has a place in APC's collections too).

If Touitou comes over a bit, well, arrogant at times, you've got to admire his integrity. Over the years he has turned down numerous offers from the big boys to expand (there are around 35 APC outlets worldwide): "I prefer to be very precise in what I do." He wouldn't dream of name-checking his famous customers and is often quoted saying there are already too many shops in the world.

Too many or not, on a Saturday morning late in August, his new shop on Dover Street was five minutes late opening. Already a small gaggle had formed by the door: a French woman and her daughter, a cool-looking Japanese lady in her 50s with a pixie hair-cut and a young London trendy. Apart from their general chic-ness they didn't seem to have much in common, which says something about the label's draw across size, age and fashion tribes.

Jacqui Edenbrow is a film producer and APC convert: "There's always something I want every season, and whatever I buy I know I'll wear it year after year," she explains. When she was looking for a cape a couple of seasons ago everyone else's looked "trashy and over-detailed". She adds that APC know how to use pockets: "They understand that women need pockets. For your Oyster card and whatever, but also to feel safe. Somewhere to put your hand if you're nervous."

You don't get earth-shattering changes from season to season with APC. Its autumn/winter collection features beautifully textured knitwear, some of it with a nautical anchor motif. As ever, the coats are impeccable: a herringbone women's wool trench and, for men, a stylish parka with a removable shearling lining. Plaid is an APC staple and there's a great shirt, which for boys comes in a pyjama cut with rounded collars. For girls it's ruffled on the front (paired in the catalogue with a tight leather zip-up skirt for a bit of vroom).

Touitou dismisses criticism that APC can be a bit same-ish. He compares what he does to a tailor's approach: "They would do the same thing all the time but change it slightly. Things evolve."

One constant, however, is the jeans. Denim fanatics go crazy for APC raw jeans: cardboard-stiff till you get some wear into them, they fit like a dream thereafter. Fashion designer Hussein Chalayan recently told style.com he wears APC slim fits until "they can walk off on their own".

There used to be an APC shop in west London, on Ledbury Road, which shut says Touitou when the landlord put the rent up by 500 per cent. "I was stupid enough to close it," he explains. "Maybe I should have been more of a cynical person, and think, 'OK, I will make the client pay.' But I never want prices to be too high." That said, APC isn't cheap; priced slightly below secondary lines such as Marc by Jacobs, and See by Chloé.

Touitou also works with the designer Jessica Ogden on a range called Madras, which incorporates her colourful prints. "He gives me a lot of room to have my signature, which I think is very unusual with a company," says Ogden, and adds that the intensity of research that goes into the choice of cloths at APC is impressive: "It's not just fashion for fashion's sake."

The credit crunch, says Jean Touitou, has made the process of leasing a shop much less painful this time around. "Real estate agents started to be human beings again," he says. "They used to be so snotty. Now it's more human. They talk to you." The new shop is elegant and perfectly APC (its architect Laurent Deroo's style has been described as "enthusiastic minimalism"). Touitou himself will be coming to London in a couple of weeks for a belated party to mark its opening. The return to London will delight the APC faithful. As well as finding an edited selection in a larger store such as Liberty or Aimé in Notting Hill, or browsing the company's website (Touitou pioneered selling online back in 1995), they will be able to try on the label's full range in a chic new shop.

Jean Touitou might be critical of parts of the industry he works in – its fuss and pageantry – but he clearly loves fashion and style. "I love elegance in general. But there is something that comes and goes too quickly in fashion for me. Like when people say, 'This is so 2008'." He shudders. He doesn't bother with catwalk shows anymore. When he did, he was typically provocative, doing away with the usual hierarchical seating arrangement whereby VIPs and editors always sit on the front row.

A few years ago American GQ called Touitou "the coolest man in France". They probably had his sidelines in mind as much as the clothes, which run from book publishing to a record company (he installed a recording studio in his Paris HQ).

Not that his latest project is what you'd call rock'n'roll. Last year Touitou opened a pre-school, APE (Atelier pour les Petit Enfants) with mini-chairs by Alvar Aalto and a logo designed by Jessica Ogden, who steps in from time to time to teach art. When the manager of his daughter's then daycare centre first suggested he put money into a school, Touitou had been thinking about investing in a friend's furniture company. "But I said to myself I'd rather know I've done something in my day, than do another chic thing. Because chic comes and goes." He has a point there. Chic in 1988, when he opened APC's first shop, was all shoulder pads and sequins. Here we are 20 years later, and that look has gone out and come back in – but it's reassuring to know that APC style is not going anywhere.

APC, 35 Dover Street, London W1, 020 7409 0121; Buy online at Apc.fr

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

    £27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

    £27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?