Surprise and wonderment. Brilliant and iconic work is usually stuck within your head for future references and comparisons, and it’s only when you stumble upon them in conversation that you realise you don’t actually know who or what was behind it. In the current day and age we live in where an overload of information is imperative, the obsession we have with everything “behind the scenes” means we have to know who created something and what they were thinking when they did, but when we find out it can still remain a pleasant surprise. When I was told that Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction’s shake-a-leg dance scene was wearing Agnès B. (by Agnès B herself), I immediately replied “holy shit”.
Agnès B is the eponymous founder of the Parisian brand Agnès B., first opening its rue du Jour doors in 1975. Since then, the brand has developed an association with Parisian elegance, including stripy tees and chore jackets within its often classic repertoire. Really though, the brand and Agnès herself have created fantastic tailoring, represented through iconic pieces such as the aforementioned Uma Thurman white shirt, or Harvey Keitel’s suit in Reservoir Dogs.
As I walk up to their newly refurbished store on Floral Street, Covent Garden, the sun is shining on the somewhat charming street which is carefully hidden away from the tourist-driven piazza. There’s a hubbub of people coming in and out of the store to proudly admire the new store front, and murmurs of French from typically chic Frenchmen puffing away – no doubt on filterless Gitanes. I decide to light up myself and do a little observing, because it’s rare you get the feeling of Paris in well, London. Out strolls Agnès herself, who casually perches next to me on the wall opposite with her own cigarette in hand. It was there and then our surreal chat began, and continued on the balcony just outside the womenswear floor.
Agnès is particularly charming and everything you would expect from someone who has been designing under the brand for over 30 years. She’s as multifaceted as the Citrine gemstone, and just as warming. Her talents extend beyond that of designing, having produced films (such as “look at my shit” Spring Breakers) and directed her own as well, all of which have likely derived from her love for cinema. She’s been all around the world, telling me stories in Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, and all the situations that’s happened within, comparing camels to sailboats.
Her personality is certainly embodied within the four-floored building. Modelled around a New York loft, the homely store is littered with movie posters and well-dressed staff. It’s full of natural light which blends well with the chilled environment it’s trying to purvey, and the whiteness mixed in with the occasional brick wall reminds you of a place where good ideas might happen. All it’s missing is an independent cafe and a bit of vino. If you manage to pop by, the menswear can be found on the basement, with current stock including personal favourites such as the denim boilersuit, and some damn good jackets.
– 17th May, 2015
“I think of moments of life when I design. When you’re a child and you imagine things and situations. I work the same way.“
Time jump to almost a year later, Agnès B has – to no surprise – continued to make strides. After forty years of her brand she remains a particularly hard working individual, and she herself overseas each piece of clothing before it graces the catwalk during show season. Her London stores retain her contemporary touch – something that is classic and quaint; clean and cool. Her choice of collaborations highlight various art forms, interpreting different worlds and individuals through joint efforts, fuelled by her own love of people and stories. Her latest collaboration, minus the tarte au citron recipe she’s just handed NYC bakery Maman, is with the self-proclaimed “nobody” Jerome Pierre.
The Jerome PIERRE chez Agnès B capsule collection consists of minimalist smart tailoring, using French fabrics to create clothing with a contemporary flair expected of anything Agnès B . It is very much predominantly black and white, and if you scrolled down the shopping page too fast or overlooked the rails, you wouldn’t have noticed its beaming red belt. It is the only piece of colour in the collection, minus the blue trim on one of the scarves (reminiscent of Jerome’s own Steilheit collection), yet is probably my favourite piece of the lot. Why? It sounds a little mad, but I think such a small statement says a lot about the individual piecing the collection together. You’re putting together a “ultra modern, minimalist” collection, but the red was too tempting. You just think “fuck it. Something is missing and it’s definitely this, but probably no one is going to notice it”. I think it shows consideration, and a little fun, which leads me to Jerome himself.
Jerome is a nice guy. You instantaenously get the vibe he seems somewhat genuine and grounded. He talks about subjects with interest, and though knowledgable about his own intentions and direction, he’s also humble, enjoying the ride of working, living and discovering between Paris and Berlin. Talking with Jerome felt very much like talking with a friend over a wine and a cigarette, something appreciated within those two cities and not so much with the rush and A-to-B stress London embodies. There was a discussion of interests and curiousity about one’s surroundings, the freedom of being somewhere new and the confinement of being somewhere well-familiar, and Jerome spoke of all as though he was in that limbo state of reflection, acknowledging the change but taking it as it comes. There was the same charm that I noticed when speaking to Agnès months before, which only fuels the reasoning behind the collaboration.
(The Floral Street store, not from Jerome’s collection!)
Tell me about yourself
I was originally just a menswear designer, but now I’m moving towards accessories for my own personal brand. I’m currently living between Paris and Berlin.
Was there a moment you knew when you wanted to work in the industry?
No, I wanted to do fashion ever since I was ten years old. I went to business school first – it was more of a ‘parent thing’. “Go to business school and you can do whatever you want”. They’ve been super supportive. Afterwards I started working – most of my internships were in luxury houses and then I started working for high street brands, before becoming freelance. I’ve worked for years with the same clients, but left one of them a year ago to start my own brand, Steilheit. The website is online [at the time of this it was three weeks old]. It was important to have a bit of Berlin, a bit of France – a bit of Paris. It’s leather goods, home fragrances and scarves.
Is there a different approach to fragrances and accessories?
Hmm.. with fragrances it isn’t like designing a bag. A bag has architecture – you design a shape. When you design a perfume – you design an emotion. I didn’t learn to design perfumes so it was new. I wanted to look at fragrances that you associate with certain states of mind through meditation. One of them for example – has a citrusy jolt which has the idea to pull you away from your thoughts, another one was the idea abo- you’re laughing!
No no it’s great-
It’s a completely different process, and a different intention. When I design clothes I want someone to wear it every day. With Agnès we did statement pieces, but I want every piece of clothing to be worn and integrated into people’s lives. I want people to pick them up and think “oh yeah, I’m gonna use that. This one I trust.” This is my first instinct – what I always relate to when I design. The perfume – that was something completely different. I wanted to share something like a vibe, or a thought. It’s just starting…
Well it’s been weeks..!
I really wanted to do it. I wanted the brand to have that emotional message – that feel good factor (an expression I hate but that’s what it was!).
I understand you’re very into architecture – do you think a building can connect you to an emotion?
Of course. When the architecture really speaks to you – it infuses you with a feeling. I’ve been asked what my favourite building was, and I always blank when someone asks you whatever your favourite thing is, but there is this church in Munich that is this über, modern thing. You don’t even see it as a church, but a really peaceful place. The wood panel structure, you can close/open it and feel protected, then there’s the glass structure, the benches…even the bible has been designed. I also enjoy buildings by this architect called Stephan Braunfels, who designed the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. They’re very majestic, but very minimal. Nature kind of crawls its way back onto the concrete.
Do you feel you learn more in Berlin or Paris?
I’ve never worked in Berlin – well I live there, but it’s not about work. The thing about Berlin is, it’s kind of a clean state for me. There, I’m nobody – but then I’m nobody in France as well, let me be clear of that! In Paris, you’re surrounded by so many things that are familiar, you feel like you’re on something automatic, but in Berlin there’s no references. I can see things completely differently. It really is a blank page.
A friend who is French, as I am, but has also lived in Berlin, said a very interesting thought. He noticed that he liked being a stranger in a different country and that is something I can very much relate to. In Berlin I’m a stranger to the people, the culture, the language. It makes me question everything but also my creative process. I take things from both but Paris is where I learnt everything. In an interview a few weeks ago, I wrote that Paris was a great city to look at, and Berlin isn’t. You have to live and feel it – but I need both. At home you’re very defined, but when you’re in a blank space you’re not anyone, and you have this great freedom to take on things one at a time.
Tell me how you met Agnès and how this worked out?
It went very quickly. Agnès and I have a few friends in common so we just decided we should meet. We just contacted each other and she invited me to come to her office. We had a talk about anything and everything and menswear and fashion and how it’s important for her and what was important for me. We have very different worlds but we have a lot in common. Just a few weeks later she came to me with the idea to do something together, and we did.