Interview with fashion designer AGNÈS B.
Fashion designer AGNÈS b. tells Pierre de Villiers about her late move into film-making
About ten years ago Agnès b. read an article in the newspaper Le Monde that shocked the renowned fashion designer to the core. It concerned a man who had stabbed himself in a judge’s office; a horrendous act that prompted her to reach for a pad and pen.
“I asked myself what could have led him to such a violent gesture and I built a short story around this,” she recalls. “I wrote in one go, on a notepad. Everything was really clear in my mind.”
When Agnès b. put down her pen she not only had a short story, but the blueprint for her first film. My Name is Hmmm… is a bold and visually striking drama about an abused French girl who runs away from home and goes on a road trip with a Scottish truck driver.
“I had been wanting to shoot a movie for a long time,” says the designer, who is in her early 70s. “I have always looked for different ways of expressing myself. Making clothes is one way, making a movie is another. I have always loved to style things.”
A background in fashion meant Agnès b. had many of the tools she needed to craft a film. “Being a stylist means you give your style and vision to what you produce; it’s like having one’s own language. I use this personal language when I direct, to ‘realise’ the images I have in my head. That is why the French word réalisateur [for film director] is so appropriate.”
With Jean-Benoît Dunckel from the French music duo Air creating variations on Vivaldi for the soundtrack and Italian political philosopher Antonio Negri (a close friend of Agnès b.) performing a cameo, My Name is Hmmm… is certainly different.
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It is the same unique creative streak that got Agnès b. (born Agnès Andrée Marguerite Troublé in Versailles) her first big break in fashion. Her distinctive style choices at a Paris flea market caught the eye of Elle magazine, which offering her a job as a junior editor.
“I used to go to the flea market more by necessity than by choice,” she says. “As I didn’t have a lot of means, I was doing vintage ahead of its time, wearing cowboy boots for example.”
Agnès b. soon moved from editor to designer, opening her first boutique on Rue du Jour near Les Halles in Paris in 1975, before branching out in New York five years later. Driven by a desire to “make clothes that can be kept for a lifetime” she has continued to mix classic fashion codes with streetwear style to create timeless pieces such as the snap cardigan. Celebrity customers include Yoko Ono, Helena Bonham Carter and Natalie Portman and she has provided outfits for the movies of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch. “A lot of people wear Agnès b. clothes on the steps in Cannes, even at the top of steps!”
With My Name Is Hmmm, Agnès b. has stepped on to the red carpet herself and it is clear that the move from fashion to film won’t be a one-off.
“I have some ideas in mind,” she says. “I like to catch and observe what is obvious to me, and also what others show: their gestures, habits and attitudes through interesting angles.”