Agnès Troublé a.k.a agnès b. is a legend.
Stylist, artist, photographer, entrepreneur, activist, philanthropist, film director, art collector, curator, creative genius, pioneer, publisher, feminist…? The list could go on and on and on. Like her friend, the late David Bowie, agnès b. has always refused to be labelled. “Rock’n’roller” might simply do for an inspiring woman who has been designing collections based on elegant simplicity, and working with artists for more than forty years through creative collaborations and exhibitions.
Ever since agnès b. opened her first store in 1975 in Paris, she has kept a genuine approach to designing clothes, protecting artists and making movies. The incarnation of the avant-garde, agnès b. is a polymath who remains a gracious force in both the art and fashion worlds. In 2009, she founded the Endowment Fund, which supports humanitarian initiatives related to water, health and education needs.
Today, she continues to champion contemporary art more than ever and will forever remain one of the first to introduce the work of artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George, Jonas Mekas, Chéri Samba, Kenneth Anger and many more luminaries to the public, displaying their pieces on her garments and in galleries worldwide before anyone else.
It’s an honour to talk to agnès b. about Patti Smith, her upcoming new exhibition space, Francis Bacon, her brilliant publication Le Point d’Ironie and Arthur Rimbaud.
Tell us about your current projects.
I always have a lot of projects at the same time! However, my biggest project at the moment is the opening of a space dedicated to arts and culture, humanitarian aid and the environment. Its aim is to continue the work which began in 2009 by the agnès b. endowment fund. It will open end of this year in a popular neighbourhood in Paris. 2018 is a great year, it’s the 18th birthday of this century, which I find very symbolic, the age of adulthood in France.
You made your directing debut in 2013 with My Name Is Hmmm (Je m’appelle Hmmm). Are you planning another film?
Yes! It’s already all written in my head. I prefer to keep it as a secret for the time being. I only need time to shoot it now!
When you look at your career, at your younger self, what comes to mind?
I never look back! I look towards the future, always.
Have you achieved everything you wanted to achieve?
I live for today. I work everyday and I love it. My job as a stylist is all about anticipation and designing clothes that will reach the stores months later, so I don’t have time to have regrets.
Contemporary visual artists you recently “fell in love” with?
I really love Selma Selman, a Bosnian-born artist whose work I showed last year at my Galerie boutique in SoHo, New York. I also think of Pablo Jomaron who was awarded the agnès b. Prix des Amis des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2015, an organisation I am happy to be the president of. I also love Jim Joe whom I discovered in the streets of New York…
On a different note, I enjoyed rediscovering the work of Jacques-Henri Lartigue and showing it in my gallery in Paris. That was just before we moved out.
The best exhibition you’ve recently seen and why?
I was part of a film jury at The Eye Museum in Amsterdam a few weeks ago and I managed to escape to go and see Christian Boltanski’s site-specific exhibition at the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam. Boltanski has a unique way of recreating the presence of the dead. At Oude Kerk, thanks to black clothes on the floor, he turned tombs into beacons for the hereafter, as he called them. The installation was magnified by the subtle sound of the Japanese bells he had set and recorded in the Atacama Desert. I found it overwhelming…
Also, if you go to Amsterdam, of course don’t miss the Rembrandt House Museum, which I absolutely love… I visit it every time.
Tell us more about your future foundation, how different will it be from galerie du jour?
It’s a new space where I will show works from my art collection (3,500 works). As for the galerie du jour, it is moving from rue Quincampoix to this new location and will continue showing works from artists I represent and support. More soon!
How would you describe the agnès b. style? I love your quote: “I’m not interested in fashion, I’m interested in style”.
Check out the book “agnès b. styliste” published by Abrams Books last year! Or visit one of my stores, I have three in London: Covent Garden, Marylebone and Fenwick. There you can feel the agnès b. style, not only in clothes, but also in the display, the photographs, the artworks, the books and films…
On collaborating with David Bowie: when did you meet him and how did your friendship form? Tell us an interesting anecdote about you and him.
I met David after one of his concerts in Bercy, Paris, in 1996. I had the opportunity to go backstage to meet him. I remember he was wearing a brown suit. A few weeks later, I sent him leather jeans with a handwritten note in the pocket “You should stick to rock n’ roll style”. And we kept in touch from then on.
He often wore my T-shirt with a black star in the middle and people wonder if that’s why he called his last album “Blackstar”.
Would you live somewhere else than Paris?
Sure! In a hut in Morocco, or in Venice, or in Amsterdam…
Your favourite poets?
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, John Giorno… and The Animals… I love “House of the Rising Sun”. For me, music is poetry.
Your dream projects and who would you dream of collaborating with?
I believe in spontaneous encounters, in chance. That is how I met Harmony Korine for example, in the corridor of a hotel during the Venice Mostra. Then I produced his film “Mister Lonely”.
The best memories of collaborating with Patti Smith?
One of my best memories with Patti is a surprise organised for the 30th anniversary of agnès b. She was waiting for me in my office, she sang for me and we celebrated!
Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon?
Francis Bacon. I was overwhelmed by the film “Love Is the Devil – Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon” (1998). The character looks so much like his paintings, and there is this scene in which you see him step backwards as if he was trying to escape from the camera… it’s beautiful.
Is London still a city you like and what’s your favourite area, museum, shop?
I love London! There are so many museums and art galleries. I always make a point of spending time at Fortnum & Mason which is the finest store in the world for me. But what I prefer is the pubs! I read that 30 pubs close every week in the UK. British people need to fight to keep them open!!
Can you pick out three works in your collection and tell us why you cherish them?
It’s too hard to choose, I love them all!
The city you’re curious to explore in the future?
Dakar. I’m really looking forward to going to the Dakar Biennale in May.
The garment you wish you had invented?
By now, I think you already know the answer! No regrets!
To finish with, please tell us about Le Point d’Ironie?
It all started in 1997. We were having dinner at brasserie Lipp with Christian Boltanski and Hans Ulrich Obrist when we had the idea to produce a newspaper poster which would each time be a carte blanche given to a different artist. 20 years later, more than 60 issues have been released! It’s an 8-page tabloid format, identical for each artist. Repetition and difference… Each issue is created by an artist, architect, filmmaker, musician, photographer, writer… 100,000 copies are available free of charge around the world in bookshops, museums, galleries, schools, cafés, as well as in all of the agnès b. locations (France, Europe, USA, Asia). Dispersion matters a lot to me. It’s a great way to share art with everyone. It has been a fascinating adventure, with the collaboration of so many artists and many different outcomes, each one more fascinating than the others. The latest issue was created by Roman Signer (n°61) and shows one of his amazing explosive performances. Don’t miss it!