Jean Touitou: A.P.C.
A brand known synonymously with clean, timeless aesthetics in addition to initial forays into the world of raw denim on a streetwear level, French brand A.P.C. and its founder Jean Touitou have had a great impact on the fashion landscape before us. Catching up with the Tunisian-born designer, as he opened his latest flagship store in Hong Kong, you get a great understanding of the outspoken leader of A.P.C., who maintains a set of strong values and opinions. The chance to speak with him incited some strong comments regarding Touitou’s opinions on fashion in America, the reluctance of Japanese brands to expand internationally and his own vested interest in the upbringing of youth through a solid education. With such a strong grasp and involvement in many different disciplines, we’re excited to see what’s on the horizon beyond fashion for both A.P.C. and Jean Touitou.
Interview with Jean Touitou
Having had a few different retail locations across Hong Kong, what does it mean to open a new shop in what is arguably Hong Kong’s premier shopping district, Central?
Hong Kong is a very difficult city because it doesn’t have streets, no streets that really make sense. It’s mostly about going from one building to another air-conditioned building. We cannot have the same experience in Hong Kong as we do in other parts of the world and there definitely isn’t the same street experience. That’s why I think Central has some of those necessary street characteristics, from that point of view.
Will there be more subsequent A.P.C. store openings in Hong Kong?
No, I think that’s it. I think enough is enough. I don’t want to over-develop it. I don’t even like flagship stores, I think there are way too many huge stores in Hong Kong. Life is not only about stores, we should stop making so many stores.
Have there been any particular cities or regions in the world beyond the normal associations such as Tokyo and Paris which have caught your interest on a fashion level?
Yes, probably Northern European cities, Copenhagen.
Yes, Scandinavian countries. Even small Scandinavian cities have a strong sense of inventive fashion.
Do you think it comes down to their culture?
Yes, that is a good point. Maybe it comes down to their capacity of accepting and they have a good educational system. From the very beginning they are educated in nice buildings. There is something about harmony that make them look well. There isn’t such a great reliance on brands when it comes to fashion.
Do you have any particular favorite Scandinavian designers?
Oh no, I don’t know any, I don’t know if there’s any. I just think they have a good overall aesthetic in Scandinavian culture.
In terms of collaborations, what sort of elements do you look for before engaging in a project, for example, Nike. [Touitou was wearing A.P.C. x Nike All Courts]
You know, I don’t like collaborations, because I think there are way too many of them right now. Frankly I hate them, cause it’s a purely a way for a business man to do business when business is dead. Business is dead so the boss tells the creative director, “find an idea to collaborate on”. Sometimes they do not make sense at all. Those are my thoughts on collaborations. For us, sometimes when we do collaborations with specific companies, we do it cause we specifically don’t have the know-how to make the particular product. We could do a sneaker, but it would be over-priced. If somebody would want to buy a new pair of sneakers every 3 months, it would not be very clever. For July, there will be some items with Supreme. The reason is, I really feel like I share a similar sense of morales and politics with them. I would shop at their Lafayette location even before I knew them. I found they had a really radical way of doing things.
I think they’ve done a really good job of keeping true to their roots…
Yes, we’re going to do a pair of jeans that say “Fuck Em’” on the back patch and they should release in July.
Do you have anything special planned for that release?
No… and that’s what I like about them (Supreme). I said, should we do a party in Tokyo? They said “Uh, not another fashion party with people who just want free drinks”. That’s what I like about them, they’re really frank and true.
Over the years, how would you say the A.P.C. aesthetic has changed or developed? Would you say it has been pretty consistent?
It has been mentally consistent where it hasn’t changed. It’s funny you’re asking me this… yesterday I was on Wyndham Street passing by some Japanese brands and I thought it was good that they sort of woke up and killed minimalism. Some sort of chic minimalism is SO boring. I’m really glad I’m out of that. It’s the most boring thing. I’m glad I did it 15 years ago, 10 years we looked in another direction in the clothing design and architecture of the store.
How important is architecture to each store and packaging the whole A.P.C. aesthetic?
The look is even more interesting and important than the design of the clothes themselves. We have a shop project every so often and every time and it’s more challenging than designing the clothes. Having designed clothes for awhile… I know it very well like dancing or being on your bicycle. I’m not saying its easy, but we know what we’re doing. For a shop, you cannot make a mistake cause you don’t want your shop to look ridiculous after two years. So many shops have been built and you get sick of them after two years. You have to think ahead and maybe create something with a more timeless design that lasts a longer period of time.
What are your current thoughts on the current popularity of American contemporary menswear brands?
There are quite a few good things to come from this. Thom Browne is doing a good job in shaping and proportions. Although in the US, they have too many problems with menswear, the American body is just impossible. It’s impossible to have a huge man look elegant, that’s why in Asia they’re usually more handsome because the proportions are better. In America, they are obsessed in sports. Sometimes you go to Los Angeles, big chest and broad shoulders with skinny legs. So I think that’s a problem in menswear. Second problem is pricing, there is some good stuff such as Thom Browne and Tom Ford but the price is much too expensive.
What do you usually do you do in your leisure time?
I don’t make a difference between leisure and work. I try to do both of them together because really I find ideas when I’m just sailing on the boat or sometimes when I’m just totally drifting off somewhere else. I try to read as much as I can. It’s the only thing that keeps your head awake.
How does A.P.C. tackle the problem of sizing being a well-known international brand now?
Trying to have clothes ranging from Asia to America and Europe, it’s hard to have a huge range of sizes. That’s the most technically difficult aspect.
I think that seems a big problem for Japanese brands is sizing as well?
Japanese brands don’t expand because they’re really shy. There’s something about the mentality of Japanese people that I don’t get. I’m friends with SOPHNET.’s Hirofumi Kiyonaga, who used to be an assistant of mine in Tokyo. I told him please go to New York, take my showroom, you’re my brother and go and do business. But they don’t go… there’s something about Japanese people being really shy about worldwide business.
I’m sure some of it has to do with the language barrier to a degree?
I don’t know? Probably language barrier. In Japan, sometimes it’s the language barrier but also the morale barrier. Sometimes they can understand you but their way of thinking is so ingrained in “self-punishment”. It’s the culture of not enjoying life. Japanese culture, I think they are very depressed because they cannot express themselves very much. When they do express themselves, it’s about being very very drunk.
It’s all repressed?
And then they do the worst excess, sexually, alcohol, drugs etc. They do have to open themselves up to the world. I think the people in Europe and America would like things in Japan a lot. For the kids, I think a brand like BAPE (R) is among the best, but it is quite hard to find.
How do you feel about the statement about A.P.C. regarding “we make noise not clothes”?
It’s true but it’s not true. If you stop making news, you’re “dead”. Sometimes you need to make some news, under the radar noise. Not too loud but you do have to make some noise. It’s very hard to do and sometimes you need to be both within and outside fashion.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen a lot to Metronomy and French singers of the late 70s. Singers that I didn’t listen to at the time, probably because I was your age and at that time it was mostly The Ramones and The New York Dolls. I wasn’t ignorant to their music but it was impossible to pick up that there was good French pop at the time. They looked ridiculous and something I couldn’t register. I’m really amazed by Metronomy though and I’ve worked a little bit with them.
What’s with your statement about hating Rock n’ Roll?
There’s so many brands in Paris started by so many under-gifted people with no sense of styling and copying a lot of brands. They use a lot of Rock n’ Roll signs and icons like guitars, amplifiers, drugs and being a rebel. I made this statement overrating these brands. I don’t hate Rock n’ Roll, I hate them. I think Elvis on cashmere sweater, a poor quality cashmere sweater…
It seems really contrived and unnatural…
Rock n’ Roll has a lot of signs visually and it’s very sexy. It’s easy to write a shirt that says “I’m a Rock n’ Roll Rebel” but it doesn’t mean a thing. That’s why I made this statement about hating Rock n’ Roll. Like analysts would say, it’s like killing my father. Rock n’ Roll is my father but two things.
Could you speak a bit about your Butler series of denim?
My jeans are done in a very good denim. Some people like to wear it in its raw state and never like to wash it which I agree. So what I said, if you give me back your jeans after two years, I’ll exchange it for 60% off. I wash it very carefully, mend it carefully and put a little drawing inside and then sell it. Even if you tell your manufacturer, I want the must beautiful used/washed denim without any price limits, you’ll never imitate the beauty of personally worn denim. In England’s aristocratic period, they would never wear something brand new cause they would find it vulgar. So they would give it to their butler to wear. We tried to do this in Japan but it didn’t work. People want to keep them and preserve as a memorabilia keepsake. But it worked well in France, Scandalize and America.
Having opened a school last year, what was your reasoning behind it? I know you mentioned the importance of an education when referring to Scandinavian countries.
Yes, Scandinavia’s education system has inspired me. In France, when you go with children to a restaurant, they look at you like a dirty dog. When you’re in Scandinavia, they’re much more welcome and well behaved. To tell you the truth, I wanted to do something really deep and important. I’m not a religious person at all but to me touching education, was like people touching god. It was something holy and very important. I’m happy I did A.P.C., but I’m also happy I did a school, it is something I want to give it to my children. Everybody wants to buy art and keep it on their wall. I thought I’ll take so much money to buy a Warhol, Basquiat, but if you think of the money you invest into art, you could put it into a school, I felt it was a better investment.
We’ve seen a steady move towards fast, accessible fashion such as H&M, Zara and Uniqlo among others, what are your thoughts on that and what effect does it have on a brand like A.P.C.?
It has no effect on A.P.C.. I respect those people cause they have a great sense of logistics and production. But sometimes I hate them because the quality they use is very poor and it is disrespectful to the masses. Sometimes you put something on from them and you stink cause the fiber they use makes you smell “wrong”. While there’s no denying they copy people for their looks, but the problem is they copy too quickly. Patterns aren’t well done and the cuts aren’t good. Their communications relative to their money should hire better photographers and art directors. They have a great capacity for product too bad their efforts are wasted on poor quality offerings. I really mean that but I have a huge respect for them, it’s like running a country what they do. But there’s a lack of thinking.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Season Chan