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Fashion Designer's Exciting New Venture

Aired May 31, 2014 - 07:30:00   ET



MONITA RAJPAL, CNN HOST (voice-over): It's a film about a young girl running away from an abusive father, who finds solace in the unusual company of a foreign truck driver, written by Agnes Trouble more than a decade ago and released this year as her international directorial debut.

But you may know her better as fashion tycoon Agnes B., one of France's most well known entrepreneurs and among the country's wealthiest self-made women.


RAJPAL (voice-over): Beginning her empire in this small Parisian store in 1976, her cutting-edge-meets-contemporary-chic style appealed to the French youth of the '70s and reflected her life, too, a liberal, carefree, bohemian artist with the practically of having children in tow.

Ten years later, Agnes and her iconic snap cardigan arrived in New York. And now the clothes can be found in 400 outlets around the world with 64 percent of her stores in Asia alone.

Hollywood A-listers are mere strangers to her designs, either, with Agnes having dressed Uma Thurman and John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction" and Harvey Keitel in "Reservoir Dogs."

Her passion for fashion, though, hasn't defined her but rather seen her intrepidly expand her brand to include accessories, flowers, chocolates, coffee, music, literature, artwork and now film.

This month on TALK ASIA, we meet the indefinable Agnes B. in Hong Kong.


RAJPAL: Agnes B., welcome to TALK ASIA.

You've had a very busy little while here, especially in Asia, promoting your film, "Je M'appelle Hmmm." This was a film that you wrote in two days, I understand. It took 12 years.

TROUBLE: Handwriting --

RAJPAL: Handwritten.

TROUBLE: -- on a paper pad. But then I took my time, because I have been working all the time, you know? So I decided two years ago to do it finally, to put things together, to produce a film, to film myself, because I've been taking pictures for a long time.

And I've been doing a video journal, too, in a way; when I meet people, when it's interesting, when I go to concerts, when I go to, I don't know, to seashores. I like to film when it's good, when it's interesting. So I have got a great memory from the last 10 years.


RAJPAL: You've got a video memory of --

TROUBLE: Of things which -- I don't film all my life. I film some moments which I think are interesting.

So there's a way I happen to film. I happen to know how to film and I love to frame. And when I was small, I was -- when I was (INAUDIBLE) teenager, I was drawing people, having the sight like nine hours a week every week. So I've been drawing a lot and taking pictures and then small films and then the film.

RAJPAL: It's like you always have loved capturing moments.

TROUBLE: Yes. I learn myself. I like to find myself a way to do the --

RAJPAL: Self-taught.

TROUBLE: -- yes. That's what I was a designer. I didn't do school or design or nothing.

Yes, I like practicing things.

RAJPAL: You like to just use your hands.


RAJPAL: One of your films that your production company, Love Streams, produced in 1999, "Peau neuve," the universal theme of that film was a desire for change. And in that time, you were quoted as saying that where you put your energy life is where you will see the greatest change.

Where do you think you've put most of your energy in your life?

TROUBLE: All the time.

RAJPAL: Yes? Everywhere?

TROUBLE: I must say I'm a greedy person. So I.

RAJPAL: You have so many things that has the Agnes B. label to it, the touch to it.

What was it about doing so many different things and not sticking to one?

TROUBLE: Well, because I'm -- I did my work. I did it as a stylist. I'm a stylist, which is what's on my passport, you know. I'm a stylist. And you can style so many things.

And I wanted to be a museum curator at the beginning. But I married; I was 17. I didn't do this ecology move that I wanted to do, to be a museum curator. So I did the work by accident, in a way.

So after I had the gallery in '83 to be able to show things to people, which is a privilege, I think, so I love to find people, like Rayon Magilla (ph), who is now a star in the United States. I discovered him 10 years ago in a party downtown New York. We were drinking vodka and we were -- and he showed me some pictures from his pocket, some like 10 pictures that size. And I thought he would be great. And he became really a star for photography now.

So --

RAJPAL: What do you look for in people that you want to --

TROUBLE: I look for talent. Talent.

RAJPAL: But what does talent -- how do you --

TROUBLE: Talent.

I don't know. It's --

RAJPAL: Is it you know it when you see it?

TROUBLE: It's -- I am finally -- I started to be confident in my choice because I I've never been (INAUDIBLE) by the artist. I've been showing; I've been discovering and I still discover.


RAJPAL: -- the joy that is -- that comes from your face, just talking about these young artists and photographers and talent that you spot and find and support, what does it bring you? What does -- what do you feel when you see them flourish and --

TROUBLE: Yes. I love it. And it gives me confidence in my choice because now I think more and more I understand that I can -- anyway, I look. You have to open your eyes and look for what's happening. And then more and more confidence in my eye, because it's my job. It's my work.

RAJPAL: You have a multimillion-dollar business and you still feel that you need the confidence?

TROUBLE: I (INAUDIBLE). I didn't change. I don't change.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: Yes. I feel -- I think I'm the same inside myself. I didn't change.

RAJPAL: How did you cope with not having anything at the time?

TROUBLE: I was selling my rings and everything. I was selling things to eat.




RAJPAL: You're very popular here in Asia. (INAUDIBLE) have about 145 --


TROUBLE: I can see where I was in fact --


RAJPAL: -- in Japan, in Hong Kong and so many different types of things that have your name attached to it. And it seems as though -- is it something where you have an idea or your -- one of your employees has an idea, they say, how about we do this? And you just say, OK?

TROUBLE: Yes. I'm so -- I work with a very nice team here in Hong Kong, the same in Tokyo and in Paris, too, because we are in (INAUDIBLE). We have a very beautiful place where we work from the '30s. It's very particular place. It's three balconies looking over. It's very nice when people can talk. And then we are three more floors and a terrace where you can see all Paris. So we are very happy to go there every day, I think.


TROUBLE: I am very happy to go there and find my team.

RAJPAL: See, it's interesting you say that because you said that fashion isn't something that really interested you. It was just something that you did. But it was something that you did very well.

What kept you going, even though you were doing something you didn't want to do?

TROUBLE: I always say I do clothes. Fashion is very ephemeral. You know, it's very quickly unfashionable. So I work on good materials, ideas, good prints, everything is exclusive so we work a lot on colors. I have my ideas when I see the stuff coming. I -- right away I can do something with it or I print my photographs. I've been doing that for 10 years on different photographs I take.

So we print them -- my own photographs all the time that I put on the clothes. So.

RAJPAL: It's grown so much, the label began in 1973.


RAJPAL: '76?


RAJPAL: The shop -- opened your shop --



RAJPAL: -- at the urging of your then-husband, Gianni (ph).

TROUBLE: Gianni (ph).

RAJPAL: And you'd said at the time that after you opened your first shop and your own business, that's when you had the confidence to just believe what you wanted to believe --


TROUBLE: I was very shy, very, very shy.

Because my mother was very tough and we couldn't speak when we were at table.

No, doing the meals, (INAUDIBLE). She had a -- yes, that's interesting. She was like that's -- we were still scared to talk. I took time to me -- to start to talk, in fact. Now I can talk.


RAJPAL: You can talk.

You know, one thing I loved about your story is that you want to do something, you just do it.


RAJPAL: Do you ever feel afraid?

TROUBLE: I'm afraid of bad things happening like Front National coming to France, strongly. I hate it.

RAJPAL: Does that take you back to the days of the student revolution in Paris --


TROUBLE: -- Front National at --

RAJPAL: No, but it was a different time of change as well.

TROUBLE: Well, I'm very left side of -- I'm a Catholique de gauche, a left-side Catholic.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: Yes. I still have fear. So faith helps me a lot.

RAJPAL: Really. Good. Speaking of the 1960s, that was a tough time for you.

TROUBLE: I loved it.

RAJPAL: But you were a single mom.

TROUBLE: Yes. Everything, I had no money at all.

RAJPAL: No money.

TROUBLE: So I know where it is, having no money at all.

So that's why I like to help people when there are bad moments, difficulties. I love to share. And we have to share. I say that is a 21st century, we have to share everything, you know, water, energy and everything and money. And I think that rich people have to share. I always say that because I believe it. You die, you have money and what do you do? And people need money to live.

RAJPAL: So you're a good taxpayer, then, for France.

TROUBLE: I pay my taxes.

RAJPAL: (INAUDIBLE) taxes there.

TROUBLE: I pay my taxes in --

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: -- like 70 percent.

RAJPAL: Yes. But how did you cope with not having anything at the time? What got you through?

TROUBLE: I was selling my rings and my -- everything, furniture from 18th century, to get us -- I was selling things to eat because I was very, very little when I started to be a stylist. They were paying only the things that was running well. So I did drawings and independent, you know, it was very hard at the time.

And at the -- but we were not unhappy, no. We are no unhappy. But it was hard.

RAJPAL: It's interesting, because there are some people that would say that those who come who've had experience of having nothing, they're never afraid to take chances because they know what it was like and they've survived it. And they brought -- built themselves up. So they take chances.

Is that what (INAUDIBLE) for you?

TROUBLE: Well, I have the chance to live in a very good education, you know. I was -- and I didn't want to ask my parents anything. I -- because through divorce, you know, when you are 21, with two children, it was very badly seen in the families.

RAJPAL: For Catholics.

TROUBLE: Yes. Yes. So it was. But I had to. So I couldn't explain why to anyone. So I had to manage myself, which gave me freedom, of course.


RAJPAL (voice-over): Coming up, why Agnes has her eyes focused on film.

TROUBLE: I always wanted to do something else. So now it's a new expression for me and I love it. I love it.





RAJPAL (voice-over): When you put your heart and soul into everything that you do, say if it's with film, for example, and the critics say -- they judge it. They may like it; they may not like it.

TROUBLE: Of course.

RAJPAL: Do -- how do you -- do you -- do you separate yourself from what the critics say? Do you take it to heart or.

TROUBLE: You know, the film is -- I don't have bad critics. And the film, it's more I even had an -- in Abu Dhabi, I had an award for the film, for the film was invited for the film festival. And they created a special award for myself, for children protection.

RAJPAL: Do you worry about what people say?

TROUBLE: Anyway, I did the film for myself, so it's exactly -- I assume exactly what I did because it is exactly what I wanted to do.

RAJPAL: You were born in 1941 and I read that for you, some of the earliest memories was of the war, bombs.


But my parents didn't kept me in my bed. I was -- I remember very well; I was 2.5. I was in the corridor and the darkness, complete darkness, and the sound and I had to go to my parents' room and I don't feel I've been protected enough. So I always try to protect my children.

RAJPAL: And it seems you try to protect and help others grow.

Does that come from that as well?

TROUBLE: Maybe. I don't know. Maybe.

I think -- and the film -- and TV test is saying I shall always protect you. That's the last word of the film.

To a little baby, she has after.

RAJPAL: When you look at your kids, right, what do you see of you in them?

TROUBLE: I have a big family, you know. I have five children.

RAJPAL: Five children.

TROUBLE: And I have 16 grandchildren. And it's great, because everyone is different. I have to know them; this one hates beet roots and this one likes pasta always. And I have to nail this. This, their attitudes, I let them do what they want.

And a genuine love between is the directive and it's very -- and I've some nephews and girls and boys working in the company, too. So we are -- when we have many people from my family working.

RAJPAL: What kind of a boss are you?

TROUBLE: I'm not a boss, I think.


TROUBLE: No. Etienne (ph) is more a boss, maybe. But I'm very personal. So they know that I have to have a look to things and give my own touch because we have to have this croyance (ph) between everything. So I think I keep the croyance (ph) between the things. It's my job, too.

RAJPAL: I just -- I love your confidence and your fearlessness.

TROUBLE: That I doubt a lot, you know.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: Oh, yes, of course.

RAJPAL: What makes you -- ?

TROUBLE: No doubt is a -- is no good.

RAJPAL: One of the interesting things I've read about you is that you don't like to plan for the future. You like to live in the moment.

TROUBLE: I love the future because it's a mystery.

RAJPAL: It's a mystery.

TROUBLE: I like every day coming and I hate plans. I never look to the -- I have the fortune, the luck to have people to look at my planning. I like to imagine every day like open; everything can happen and I'm like that. I'm often late. I love to go to bed late in the night because I love evenings. I love to go to bars. I love to talk with my friends in Paris. You can go. It's very nice in the evenings in Paris.

RAJPAL: Is there anything you want to do that you haven't done/

TROUBLE: Maybe, I don't know. I don't think of that.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: No. Sometimes when it happens. But I've been doing, you know, because of Tarantino, he loved the shop and we had in L.A. So we did the "Reservoir Dogs," which my shoots on the --

RAJPAL: Harvey Keitel.

TROUBLE: -- yes, Harvey Keitel --


TROUBLE: -- he has a jacket full of onions, big jacket full of bullet holes. He has it still.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: Yes. He wants me to show it sometimes.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: (INAUDIBLE), yes. In Paris, du jour where we are the man's shop, which is the formula onions-based sauce shot. It's where I start everything started, in fact.

RAJPAL: So that place has a --

TROUBLE: Yes. It's a very nice --

RAJPAL: -- place for you.

TROUBLE: -- it was early, you know, when we started there. It was a mess. It was -- Lyons (ph) was well destroyed for food, you know, and they were reconstructing. So it was a no man's land there. But very quickly press was interested. I didn't (INAUDIBLE). I never advertised, you know.

RAJPAL: Well, this is it. You don't believe in --


TROUBLE: -- never -- I have never advertised.


TROUBLE: Because I think it's manipulation of people. It's not my vision. Maybe I'm 68 years in Paris, child from that time, you know. And we had had advertising at that time.

RAJPAL: What do you want to be known for more?


TROUBLE: Maybe I wanted to -- because I always wanted to do something else. But applause, so now it's a new expression for me. And I love it. I love it, really.

I think you realize what you have in your mind. Even everything the maker has a vision and he has to give his own vision because it's magic before it was painting. You know, in the former centuries, you could paint. After you could take photographs and now we can film. So it's a good privilege to be at the time of movies and to be able to show what you have in your mind.

RAJPAL: When did you feel that you could just do that and not worry about, you know, the -- raising children, the bills and all those things? When did you feel that you didn't have to make clothes if you didn't want to? You could make --


TROUBLE: -- always had fights. Now my fights is to make it France because I've fight a lot to manufacturer my clothes in France. They are more than 3 millions of (INAUDIBLE) people (INAUDIBLE). So I manufacture in France as much as I can. So I have some fights because my country is not in a very good moment. We need to -- we need to have work in France. So I fight for that.

RAJPAL: Gosh, Francois Hollande should be having you in his cabinet.

TROUBLE: He took me to Japan in his own plane last time.

RAJPAL: Really?

TROUBLE: Last time, yes, because -- but I know my fight. And I do what I -- what I can.

Yes. There is much to do. I love my country. I love it.

RAJPAL: Thank you.


RAJPAL: Merci beaucoup.