Fraser Cooke x Jean Touitou

August 04, 2010 BY CAPSULESNEWS

Hypebeast tipped us off to this compelling interview conducted by Fraser Cooke with APC's Jean Touitou in Interview:

When thinking of understated, minimal mens and womens clothing with that hard-to-define effortless something, the name Atelier de Production et de Création, or A.P.C., is one that immediately springs to mind. Jean Touitou started the label in 1987 as a reaction to what he saw as the loud, money-focused, gaudy mood of the 80s. An idealist and revolutionary who had fallen somehow unexpectedly into fashion in the late 70s, Touitou, born in Tunisia and raised in Paris, was looking for a movement and couldnt find one, so he decided to create an alternative to what he saw around him. Relying more upon his gut instincts and amalgamating his genuine interests (such as music) and friends into the mix rather than following a more traditional business approach, Jean Touitous A.P.C. has established a somewhat timeless chic that has continued to resonate some 23 years, now with a whole new generation appreciating the brand and new stores opening in New Yorkand Paris this year.

Read the interview after the jump.

FRASER COOKE: So, hi Jean. Lets go all the way back to the beginning. How did you find yourself in this business, and what was going on in your life preceding that?

JEAN TOUITOU: I became involved strictly by accident. I just wanted to join a group of people doing things differently from what I could see around me in Paris back then. So by chance I bump into some people who were working at Kenzo, and that was in 77 or 78. There was a very raw unsophisticated energy there in those days and whatever those people would have done, I would have joined them. It was that simple.

COOKE: So what was it that was so different about this crew that drew you to them at the time?

TOUITOU: Well, lets say I was a bit disappointed because revolution didnt happen, like from 68 to 76, and I was more than annoyed by that. I finished my studies and had wanted to be a history teacher, because I didnt want to be involved with money. I had this complex of all my friends being sons of professors or architects and my father was a merchant. I thought working for money was somehow filthy or something.

COOKE: Not so noble?

TOUITOU: Yeah, all of my friends parents were publishers, lawyers, teachers, and it seemed a cleaner path to be a teacher somehow. But that wasnt an option either because you had to take the train at six in the morning going far into the suburbs, which I didnt fancy . . . So instead I went around South America in a car for one year and then I got back toParis . . . And I wasnt so crazy back then, taking drugs or anything like some were, but all I knew was that I just didnt want to be around boring people. And this bunch were acting crazy but still doing a legitimate business around this Japanese fellow named Kenzo, and I wanted to join that crew whether they were doing yogurt or architecture or shoes. The vibe was attractive. And I said, Let me do anything you want. Ill do it.

COOKE: How old were you then?

TOUITOU: Maybe 26 or something. Grown-up enough as a young man could be. Basically a man at 26 is like a woman at 16 . . . An adolescent. [laughs] And I discovered this mix of business and creativity that is fashion, and Kenzo was my school. I did everything from packing boxes to accounting.

COOKE: I guess that helped round out your skills to set you up on your own eventually?

TOUITOU: Yeah, I got really friendly with the boss, Kenzos partner, and in the end he helped me leave and start a record label called Roadrunner Records . . . [laughs] which released some original material and was also a mail-order auction business specializing in 60s American garage punk. I had to travel a lot around the States picking up various stuff, but eventually after two years [the label] was bankrupt. And so I went back to Kenzo, becoming an accountant for them, which was totally new to me, but it helped me learn the whole picture.

COOKE: So that explains the music that was always there then? Its a hard business, right?!

TOUITOU: Yeah, very tough. So I was back to where I started, and I actually ran into a friend who was married to Agnès B. and helped them start the Prince Street store, which not so many people know. Then eventually in 87 I started A.P.C. as a combined store and office on Rue Princesse near to where the very good bookstore Village Voice is now. It wasnt easy in the beginning, so to finance this I had to be a ghost designer for some brands with no recognition for myself for being involved. I did a lot for the brand Joseph of London, in particular, doing things like leggings, designing, and sourcing fabric and other commercial items, but with the profit I made from that, I used the cash to finance my own unsellable stuff, because it was so minimalist. But it was fun to be involved in those very different things at the same time.

COOKE: But I guess you had to segue out of that and eventually focus on A.P.C. full-time. How did that go down? Was it well-received initially?

TOUITOU: People received it pretty well, and it was initially only a mens line, but women liked it more, which should have been the contrary. But it was 87, so that look was happening then. Women dressed as men. And little by little I started to design things for women, maybe three seasons later. Now it has a little heavier focus on womens. You have to be more focused with womens. I mean, there are quite a few good designers out there, I believe, in mens, but if you tell me I have competition, Ill ask you who. Sorry, I know it sounds pretentious, but on an affordable, trendy, not-high-fashion, not-streetwear basis, I dont see much out there thats similar. Maybe I just dont know and there is, but I dont see the competition. In womens, you always have to be ahead because theres a lot of copying in this business, so you have to surprise them. Move quickly.