Born: Born Agnés Troublé in Versailles, France, 26 November 1942. Family: Married Christian Bourgois, 1958 (divorced); two additional marriages and divorces; five children. Career: Junior fashion editor, Elle magazine, Paris, 1964; designer, press attaché, and buyer for Dorothée Bis, Paris, 1965-66; freelance designer for Limitex, Pierre d'Alby, V de V, and Eversbin, Paris, 1966-75; set up CMC (Comptoir Mondial de Création) holding company for Agnés B., 1975; established first Agnés B. boutique in Les Halles, Paris, April 1975; opened second-hand shop in same street as boutique, 1977; created American subsidiary of CMC and first American boutique in Soho, New York, 1980; opened men's and children's boutique Agnés B. Enfant, Paris, 1981; license with Les Trois Suisses for mail order of selected items, 1982; opened Agnés B. Lolita boutique for teenagers, also opened La Galerie du Jour art gallery/bookshop, Paris, with exhusband, 1984; launched Le B perfume, skincare and cosmetics products, and a maternity collection, 1987; launched ranges of sunglasses and watches, 1989; launched Le petit b.b. perfume for children, 1990; launched Courant d'air perfume, 1992; established many shops in France and worldwide, including Japan, London, and the United States. Collections: Musée des Arts de la Mode, Paris; Musée du Louvre, Paris. Awards: Order of Merit for Export, Paris. Address: 17 rue Dieu, 75010 Paris, France.
On AGNÉS B.:
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Voight, R., "Success Par Excellence," in Passion (Paris), March 1983.
Jonah, Kathleen, "How to Live Straight from the Heart," in Self, October 1983.
Petkanas, Christopher, "Agnés B. from A to Z," in Women's Wear Daily, 22 April 1985.
Bleichroeder, Ingrid, "A Certain Style: Agnés B," in Vogue (London), January 1986.
"Agnés B.," in Cosmopolitan (London), September 1987.
Tretlack, Philippe, "Agnés B: Chez les Soviets," in Elle (Paris), 26October 1987.
"Agnés B. Good," in the Daily News Record (New York), 2 May 1988.
Bucket, Debbie, "French Dressers," in Clothes Show (London), March 1989.
Tredre, Roger, "A Design Plan for No Seasons," in The Independent (London), 16 November 1989.
Weisman, Katherine, "Success Is the Key of Agnés B.," in Women's Wear Daily, 15 December 1994.
Socha, Miles, "French Fashion Retailer Agnés B. Plans to Open Its Eighth U.S. Store," in the Daily News Record, 13 November 1996.
Edelson, Sharon, "Agnés B.: Will She Play the Midwest?" in Women's Wear Daily, 14 November 1996.
Larson, Soren, "Agnés B.'s Stealth Launch," in Women's Wear Daily, 7 February 1997.
Levine, Lisbeth, "French Connection: Parisian Designer's Trend-Defying Fashions Put the Accent on Personal Style," in Chicago Tribune, 30 March 1997
Attias, Laurie, "B.-Watch," in ARTnews, Summer, 2000.***
Agnés B. (the B stands for Bourgois, from her first marriage) is a French sportswear designer who has catapulted herself to fame by challenging the need for fashion in clothing design. She denies that clothes must be stylized, highly detailed, and ephemeral in order to catch the public imagination. Her ascent began in the mid-1970s when, after only a few years in the fashion business, first as junior editor at Elle magazine and then briefly as an assistant to Dorothée Bis, she opened her own boutique in a converted butcher shop in Les Halles, Paris, to sell recut and redyed French workers' uniforms, black leather blazers, and t-shirts in striped rugby fabric. Her reputation grew as one of the first young French clothing designers to sell fashion to those who did not want to look too fashionable. In fact, her clothes, while identifiably French in their no-nonsense cut, simple subdued colors (often black), and casual mood, have a timeless quality that keeps them current. The wrinkling common to natural materials and the already-worn look that characterized the hippie ethos were translated by Agnés B. into a timeless chic, combining common sense with flair.
In the age of name identification and personal marketing, Agnés B. is as respected for her business sense as for her relaxed fashion designs. The spontaneous, childlike hand with which she quickly fashioned the logo for her stores belies a sophisticated business sense. Retaining her own independent boutique rather than being swallowed up in larger department stores, she astutely perceived that the nondesign of her clothes was too inconspicuous, and that they would blend in with other, trendier lines, and be lost. She opened over a dozen shops in France, of which seven are in Paris, with branches in Amsterdam, London, Tokyo, and the United States (including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York).
Her understated approach to design for real people (men and children, as well as women) extends to her shows, which she has called working sessions, where professional models are rarely used, and her stores, in which casual and friendly salespeople mix their own antique or mod clothes with her separates. All the stores exude the same comfortable look, with pale wooden floors, white walls, and the occasional decorative tile. The flimsy curtain that separates the display area from the communal dressing rooms is an implication of the marginal distinction between Agnés B. clothes and what everyone else is wearing.
Agnés B. has managed to keep her family-run business a success for several reasons. Her designs reflect the lives of her customers, speaking more to purpose than to style. She generally produces two collections per year but adds regularly to the collections throughout the year. She keeps the business organized by using a computerized management method of production, delivery, and inventory and keeps the boutiques and stores happy by delivering frequently and consistently. Her customers remain content because the quality of the clothing is consistent. Interestingly, unlike most designers, she keeps some items in her collection for several seasons; "You can't destabilize the client…. Customers want to see some constant pieces." Her clientéle includes women, men, and children and have been described as "cultish."
Her designs have been popular in Europe, the Far East, and in several cities in the United States. In the early 1990s, she expanded her American market, and by 1996, she had a total of eight stores in the U.S., with plans to open several more. By 1997 there were 93 worldwide stores, generating some $260 million annually. Next came the opening of a new store in Chicago, Illinois, and the launch of a beauty products line of skin care, makeup, and four fragrances to the U.S. market. Agnés B. is known for her display windows, which are characteristically devoid of mannequins—where she merely hangs the clothes on hangers and the accessories are strewn about. She also includes movie posters in the display, which have become one of her trademarks.
Agnés B. strikes a commercial and creative balance—a radical chic. "I have no desire to dress an elite," she states. "It's all a game. I work as if I were still in my grandmother's attic, dressing up. Clothes aren't everything. When they become too important, when they hide the person wearing them, then I don't like them. Clothes should make you feel happy, relaxed, and ready to tackle other problems."
updated by Christine MinerMinderovic