Conversations on Power: Jean Touitou

For its fourth issue, entitled "On Power", fashion/culture publication, Vestoj spoke with A.P.C. founder and creative director, Jean Touitou, about Hedi Slimane, why he finds it important to be so openly critical of fashion, and how he marries that with being very much a part of the industry. If you're not familiar with Vestoj, it was launched in 2009, stocks worldwide and boasts a board that includes Hamish Bowles, Sarah Mower, and Valerie Steele, among others. Here are some excerpts from that interview …

Vestoj: Why do you think that so many people find it hard to speak freely in our industry?

Jean Touitou: Because nobody wants to risk upsetting anybody else. Journalists today have their hands tied. I mean, not that I have anything against these guys personally, but did you hear about Dolce & Gabbana? They took a fucking billion euros from their business in Italy and put it in Luxemburg to avoid paying taxes. Can you imagine? Now they’ve been given suspended sentences and fined 500 million for tax evasion, but the fashion press pretend it’s raining because Dolce & Gabbana are huge advertisers. Stories like this are as common as sand on the seashore.

Vestoj: Though when Hedi Slimane was showing his first collections for Saint Laurent I thought it was interesting that the fashion press were uncharacteristically critical. My feeling was that journalists felt that the company went too far with regards to how tightly the image of the brand was controlled.

Touitou: Yes, an editor can’t even use his clothes in a photo shoot unless it’s as full total looks. Not even a sock by another designer is allowed. It’s like he thinks he’s the Kaiser or something. But seriously, it’s ridiculous; the brand is trying to establish connections between what Slimane is doing and what Yves Saint Laurent himself did by saying that Slimane is working the rock ‘n’ roll vibe in homage to YSL. The official party line is that Yves Saint Laurent hung out with Mick Jagger in the 1970s, and that the relationship between Slimane and his rock star friends is just the same.

But YSL was never into rock n’ roll; he was into reading Proust. I mean it’s one thing to hang out with Mick Jagger at Studio 54 because you’re totally coked out and everybody’s partying, but that doesn’t make you a fan of rock n’ roll. That part is an after-construction and the Kering Group is blatantly trying to spin the story to suit their ends. But the Slimane bashing will stop soon anyway because it’s fashion and people get tired of bullshitting about the same subject. Plus the brand probably sells a lot in China, and as long as you’re financially successful you’re pretty bulletproof.

Vestoj: How do you think the dominance of fashion conglomerates in today’s fashion industry affects the notion of luxury?

Touitou: Okay, here I’ll say something that you’ll think is ‘opinionated’: the more ugliness you accept the more you’ll sell. It’s totally proven.

Vestoj: Ok, I get it – don’t compromise on your integrity in order to build another swimming pool in the backyard. But considering your stance, how do you see the influence and role of A.P.C. in the contemporary fashion industry?

Touitou: We’re independent first of all and that’s a feat in itself today. We don’t have to accept ugliness. We can do what we want. I don’t want A.P.C. to grow so big we become a slave to the banks. If you aim to sell a million jeans a year, that’s what happens: you have to open new stores everywhere. Before you know it it’s all very mechanical.

But young designers today they don’t want to be independent, they all dream of being owned by LVMH. Me, I want to make products with care and attention, and I want them to be affordable.

Vestoj: You seem to often define yourself in opposition to fashion, and in your presentations you’re often openly critical of the industry. The contemporary fashion system appears to be extremely regimented; you have to follow the rules to count. What does it mean for you to be a rebel in the fashion industry today?

Touitou: I’m not a rebel.

Vestoj: Ok, I’m not saying you are. But if you wanted to go against the grain in the industry, what would you do?

Touitou: Well, first of all, never copy. That’s rule number one of being a so-called rebel. However much you admire another designer, you should never ever put someone else’s design on your studio table and say, ‘How are we going to knock this off?’ But believe me, even the most respected names in fashion don’t always follow that rule.

Vestoj: Is there anything in particular that stresses you out before a presentation?

Touitou: The models are very important today. So many people at the shows seem to be there to see the casting rather than the clothes. I don’t agree with the fact that they have to be so young or skinny necessarily, but people really judge you on it.

If you’re able to get the right girls it means you’ve got money and the right contacts. Another bugbear of mine is cheap champagne. I hate cheap champagne, I really do. I think it gives people bad breath. But I can’t afford to have Crystal because when people start to drink they never stop. So every season we have the same problem and we have to find creative solutions for our champagne conundrum.