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APC’s Design Iconoclast

Long a favorite of fashion insiders who appreciate basic styles impeccably rendered in fine fabrics, APC's Jean Touitou has never played by the fashion industry's rules.

NEW YORK — Long a favorite of fashion insiders who appreciate basic styles impeccably rendered in fine fabrics, APC’s Jean Touitou has never played by the fashion industry’s rules.

The designer doesn’t divulge the names of celebrities who wear his clothes, nor does he stage runway shows or advertise in magazines.

Yet Touitou has headaches most retailers dream of. The company’s store on Mercer Street in lower Manhattan is outgrowing its space. On Saturdays, when shoppers jam the shop, the wide plank floors creak incessantly. “We plan to open another store in Manhattan,” Touitou said. “The store gets too crowded on the weekends.”

APC, which does 30 percent of its business through mail order, had sales of $120 million last year, he said. The company has 29 stores worldwide and Touitou is in no hurry to drastically grow the number.

“I think the company is the right size now,” he said. “I’m not lazy, but I just want to have a nice life. Opening 10 shops every month doesn’t turn me on.”

Touitou has a spate of disparate projects on tap that do excite him. A golf enthusiast, of late, he’s appalled by the styles he sees on courses and plans to design a golf line. “Sometimes you see big champions and you’d like them to look more elegant,” he said.

The designer, who refuses to sell end-of-season leftover clothes at outlet stores, saying they wouldn’t look good in that setting, is to open a shop in Buenos Aires. While scouting for store locations there, Touitou found a side project: tea production. “I’m going to make teas in Argentina,” he said. “I’m going to have a tea made with cocaine leaves. It’s totally legal, but a little bitter. Personally, I like tea that’s a little strong.”

Touitou also likes seeking out interesting artists with whom to collaborate and indulge his creative flights of fancy. He has made pilgrimages to Madras, India, with London artist Jessica Ogden for their Madras collection, and will choose a different fabric in India for their next effort.

He published a book about Japanese movie pornography illustrated by Julie Verhooven, with whom he might work again. Waris Singh Ahluwalia, who played a henchman in Wes Anderson’s film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” is designing a line of jewelry for APC. “I met Waris because he’s best friends with Wes and Wes moved to Paris,” Touitou said. “Wes’ work really speaks to me.”

Of his collaborators, he said: “It’s always a very small, virtuous circle. It feels good to work with other artists.”

Music is a constant theme for Touitou. The designer bought a music studio in Paris and this summer released “Let the Poor Boy Rock and Roll,” a compilation of the saddest cover songs sung by his friends. He’s working on a DVD of images of the North Pole filmed by a friend on an ice-breaking boat. It will be set to karaoke music. “It’s totally heartbreaking and funny at the same time,” he said.

Even APC’s look books have featured musicians. Fall 2004 starred Luke Jenner of The Rapture. For spring 2006, Terry Richardson photographed Jamie Hince of The Kills and his girlfriend, Valentine. In the past, Ellen Von Unwerth and Jean-Baptiste Mondino shot the books. “We prefer to use a very good photographer for a look book,” he said. “The look book is the ad for me.”

Touitou is working to build APC’s wholesale business. He declined to reveal his customers, but acknowledged that he has some fence-mending to do. “I stopped wholesaling when [APC’s business in] Japan went big and very rudely ditched all our nice customers,” he said. “I realized that if something went wrong in Japan, I’d be in trouble.”

He was, for a time. But Touitou, who sees himself as an artist, doesn’t particularly like selling his product. Asked why he doesn’t hire a salesperson for wholesale accounts, the designer, who is something of a control freak, said, “It took me 10 years to find a good general manager. I don’t like men with too much testosterone.”