“Upstairs in a vintage boutique in Tokyo, where most of the clothes were from Comme des Garcons, Margiela, Sacai, Yamamoto, the proprietor had an entire rail of your cardigans. He said they went with everything and that when stocks ran low, people would start to get anxious!”
This is writer Sophie Fontanel penning a sort of love letter to Agnès b in the Assouline book, The Snap Cardigan. Like the origin story of the cardigan itself (in which an officer during the Crimean War took a sword to his vest and then attached buttons), Agnès b’s famous snap button cardigan came to be in a similar way. In 1979 Agnes scissored the front of her classic white sweatshirt, attached mother of pearl snap fastenings and inadvertently created a cult hit. Forty years later the cardigan has seen dozens of iterations, from cropped, to leather, to full-length dresses, to currently every colour in the spectrum.
To celebrate the UK publication of The Snap Cardigan, Assouline hosted a launch in its Piccadilly store last month. After I shared some pictures on Instagram, my DMs went into overdrive with messages. “I loooove Agnès b!” “Oh, is the snap cardigan back?” “I wanted one so badly as a teenager. I couldn’t afford it though, so I bought the Kookai copy!”
A couple of weeks later I was invited to Paris to visit a photography exhibition of the Agnès b snap cardigan (until 19 Oct) and see the SS20 Agnès b show. The exhibition, ‘Photographers, Artists and The Snap Cardigan’ is on the ground floor space of Agnès b’s HQ at 17 rue Dieu. Sixty photographers and artists’ interpretations of the cardigan are on show, with work from the likes of Juergen Teller, Maripol, David Lynch, Luna Picoli-Truffaut and Joel Meyrowitz.
Post-exhibition, we headed to the store nearby at 13 Rue de Marseille and after lunch (at La Marine – get the ricotta ravioli and die happy), hit the Palais de Tokyo for the afternoon show.
In an era of relentless fashion drops, it’s good to be reminded of brands that stay the distance by owning their niche. Agnès b is emblematic to my generation of a distinctly cool, utilitarian Parisian brand. As a passionate supporter of art and film, her clothes have starred in iconic style-centric movies, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost. (For the full low-down of her extensive art collection, I recommend her other book, Styliste).
In essence, Agnès b has never been achingly ‘fashionable’, so it’s never un-fashionable. Using the cardigan story as a useful example, the brand is rooted in utility-chic; boiler suits, rugby top stripes, white shirts, sweats and tees. While the SS20 show included plenty of joy-giving dresses and print separates, it was the work wear pieces and flat espadrilles that reinforced the Agnès b spirit. An anti-fashion spirit, if you will, and one that by chance (or the inevitable timing of fashion) has it chiming with the current vogue for everyday, gender-non-specific vetements – with inherent style credentials of course…
I attended the Agnès b show and exhibition as a guest of the brand. The exhibition is at 17 rue Dieu, Paris until 19th October.
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl; 3 x Nowfashion
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