APC’S ABOUT FACE
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — Jean Touitou claims to be a reformed man.
The designer and founder behind France’s APC label, a long-running favorite among fashion insiders for basics of just the right cut, has made an ideological shift that, to his sensibilities, is akin to changing political parties.
He has opened the line, which stands for Atelier Production Creation, to wholesaling.
Yes, that’s the same man who turned his nose up at traditional retailers a decade ago, preferring to maintain his business through his own stores and mail-order business, keeping an air of French exclusivity. But after 14 years in business, Touitou is loosening up a bit, having sold his fall women’s collection to Bergdorf Goodman and planning to open the line to about a dozen other specialty stores for spring. He’s even warming up to the press.
“I used to think there were only two or three good designers in the world,” Touitou said over a cup of coffee at the Mercer Hotel during a recent visit to New York, where he was meeting with press showrooms to represent the line, and eventually selected Stella Ishii’s The News Inc., which also handles Costume National, Wink and Run by Susan Cianciolo.
“Now, I see that there are more,” he said. “Even in the major companies, there is hiring of so many gifted stylists and editors.”
Touitou’s APC has always been a little pretentious, but in a good way that fashion devotees tend to admire, by creating basics like lightweight dress shirts or heavy sweatshirt cardigans in unusually fine fabrics and proportions that help justify the $85 price tags on T-shirts and $109 for unwashed denim jeans, the latter of which created a trend adapted by designers around the world.
He’s not into the big commercial side of fashion — instead of a perfume, Touitou launched a record label, since his musical taste tends to say a lot more about the collection than could a scent. For instance, his current projects include an album of karaoke covers of songs by Madonna, Michael Jackson and the Sex Pistols, as well as a compilation of songs recorded by his friends, who were asked to perform the tune that makes them the most sad.
“I used to be very stubborn,” Touitou said. “I liked not belonging to the system, but I kind of grew up. You cannot be on the stage and not dance. So much for the existentialist number.”
What precipitated the change was primarily a downturn for the brand in Japan, where APC has 12 stores. Touitou said he recently realized that sales there could not sustain the business going forward.
“I used to be arrogant and so proud to say, ‘no,”‘ Touitou said. “I don’t want to be like that anymore.”
That is not to say Touitou has had a complete change of personality. He’s still got an edge, he’s still very French and still very chic. During the interview, Zoe Cassavetes stopped by to inquire about his dinner plans. Jean-Baptiste Mondino, heading for the check-in counter, dropped his bags to greet Touitou.
“The thing about fashion that bothers me is that it’s not about clothes, but more about image and noise, which is nonsense,” Touitou said. “At the end of the day, it’s only scarves for tourists at the airport. To me, Triple Five Soul is more about couture than John Galliano.”
He’s considering a fall advertising campaign, directed at some of the artsier titles, and has just completed an image campaign with photographer Pierre Bailly in Paris. He also has been increasing the profile of the brand by collaborating with other designers on limited-edition projects, such as a concept created with London artist Jessica Ogden, to whom he ships a box of clothes each month. Ogden “recycles” them by painting, shredding or sculpting them into something else, which are returned and sold at APC stores in Paris.
This kind of approach to fashion is something Touitou would like to see more, if he had his way.
“I think it would be interesting to see [Azzedine] Alaia style a show for Yohji Yamamoto,” he said. “But most people don’t think that way. It is always ‘I is me’ and ‘Me is I.”‘