The creative mind behind Agnès b’s latest capsule collection on theatrical costume design, bourgeois taste and dressing like a ninja

Interview: Clare Finney

How did you and Agnès meet?
I know Agnès because she produced the last short film I made with my company five years ago, Les Condiments Irréguliers, and we have always kept in touch. The film was about a poisoner, set in the 18th century. Agnès knows absolutely everything about 18th century art and architecture, so she was interested from the beginning. It’s been in many film festivals since and has won several awards.

How did you get into costume design?
My mother is a very big fan of the theatre—she goes once or twice a week—and I started going with her when I was very young. I just loved it; the way they shut down the lights and real people tell you a story. I know it is not true for everyone, but I have lived probably the most magical moments of my life in the auditorium. Unforgettable moments. You share things you don’t share in a cinema. And, because I loved sewing from a young age, when I realised I could link my two passions, that was that. I’ve done this ever since and I cross my fingers that it never stops.

Have you designed for the retail sector before?
It is my very first time in fashion. I did this as a one-off, really, for Agnès. We get on very well and she likes what I do, I think. Our sense of aesthetic just clicked.

Why do you think that is?
Agnès saw some of the films I was working on and what I do in the theatre, and I think we have a pretty similar background: both from strict, square, bourgeoisie families, both going out to rediscover and rework the elegance of the bourgeois woman. She is very rock and roll, and I suppose I am too, and maybe there is something that made her think we could be part of the same idea.

What do you mean by bourgeois?
My grandmother was one of the perfect bourgeois women: she was very strict, very strong, but when it came to fashion she had ‘the taste’. She was really cool. I used to take a lot of her garments and wear them in different ways—though never revealing anything at all! I was not allowed to wear things with buttons opened, or show my décolletage, or wear anything transparent, though I would have loved to. Still, I found her fashion very elegant. I think on young and older bodies it looks tremendous. It is a nice way to show a woman’s figure, and it suits daytime and night time. It’s comfortable, sexy and it looks good.

There is a feel of the 1940s about your collection. What is it that inspires you about that decade?
Personally, I need inspiration because that is what I am used to in the theatre. Passion for the old days is very instructive for me. What I like about the 1940s, and the reason I designed this collection, is that for me those women were the most powerful ever. They had to handle absolutely everything, because there were no men—and they did it, and they looked amazing at the same time. I live on my own, I have a child, I am working and have a heavy social life, and I’m not the only one doing that, either. But I still want to be a woman and I am glad that we are women, looking strong and beautiful.

How have you translated that into a contemporary collection?
The main problem with my grandmother’s outfits as they were, was that you couldn’t do anything while wearing them. They are perfectly cut of course, but if I started sewing, writing or cycling, the dress would tear straight away. Having a very classical, straight skirt and jacket but in a jersey fabric that stretches means I can live my life, not just stand there looking pretty. Also, my colours are different—brighter and happier. We are a bunch of happy ladies these days, and I hope that will continue.

Did Agnès give you much guidance?
I have a strong connection with Agnès, but she believes that when she gives an opportunity to someone to design a mini-collection, they should have all the freedom. We spoke many times throughout the process, but I didn’t want her to know too much, really. I am thankful for the freedom she gave me.

How much of a change was it, moving from designing for theatre and film to designing for consumers?
For theatre or cinema I only make one unique piece. I have no idea about mass production. This was the first time people told me, well, if you do this kind of fastening rather than this one, it costs more, and you need to think about that. I also had to make garments that would work with most human shapes. In theatre or film, you create something on the body of a particular actor.

Are designing for film and theatre very different to each other?
The cinema is close up: it is realistic, and they want absolute historical accuracy as a result of that. From the beginning, I have mostly been interested in theatre. I go often and I’m fond of dressing actors there, because you don’t need the same accuracy. You need to create a character. You need to know that when the actor enters on stage, the audience knows who he is even if he pops in and pops out again. Good or bad? Funny or wise? In theatre, you can make people believe whatever you want them to believe, you are building personalities. There is something so much more... characterful about designing for the stage.

Is that what you do when designing collections, build characters?
That is how I dress each morning. I think about what mood I am in, and create a character accordingly. My ninja outfit—black turtleneck with big black trousers and big black shoes—is for days I’ve not had enough sleep or I’ve had too many drinks the night before. Bright blue is for when I feel like making a stand against the director I am working with at the moment. She believes people “shouldn’t wear colour”, so if I’m feeling confident I’ll wear a yellow shirt and a fierce blue outfit that really... piquer les yeux [stings your eyes].

There is a lot of colour in your collection...
I am very proud of that. Black is good, I wear a lot of black, but it is for my ninja days really. I don’t have a single thing that is black in my collection because there is enough black in the world. Besides, Agnès does beautiful black clothes. Her black trousers fit perfectly, and I am happy to wear them when I am a ninja. Strong, bright colours bring life into your day.

Agnès b