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Agnés B. (the B stands for Bourgois, from her first marriage) is a French sportswear designer who has catapulted herself to fame by challenging the need for fashion in clothing design. She denies that clothes must be stylized, highly detailed, and ephemeral in order to catch the public imagination. Her ascent began in the mid-1970s when, after only a few years in the fashion business, first as junior editor at Elle magazine and then briefly as an assistant to Dorothée Bis, she opened her own boutique in a converted butcher shop in Les Halles, Paris, to sell recut and redyed French workers' uniforms, black leather blazers, and t-shirts in striped rugby fabric. Her reputation grew as one of the first young French clothing designers to sell fashion to those who did not want to look too fashionable. In fact, her clothes, while identifiably French in their no-nonsense cut, simple subdued colors (often black), and casual mood, have a timeless quality that keeps them current. The wrinkling common to natural materials and the already-worn look that characterized the hippie ethos were translated by Agnés B. into a timeless chic, combining common sense with flair.

In the age of name identification and personal marketing, Agnés B. is as respected for her business sense as for her relaxed fashion designs. The spontaneous, childlike hand with which she quickly fashioned the logo for her stores belies a sophisticated business sense. Retaining her own independent boutique rather than being swallowed up in larger department stores, she astutely perceived that the nondesign of her clothes was too inconspicuous, and that they would blend in with other, trendier lines, and be lost. She opened over a dozen shops in France, of which seven are in Paris, with branches in Amsterdam, London, Tokyo, and the United States (including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York).

Her understated approach to design for real people (men and children, as well as women) extends to her shows, which she has called working sessions, where professional models are rarely used, and her stores, in which casual and friendly salespeople mix their own antique or mod clothes with her separates. All the stores exude the same comfortable look, with pale wooden floors, white walls, and the occasional decorative tile. The flimsy curtain that separates the display area from the communal dressing rooms is an implication of the marginal distinction between Agnés B. clothes and what everyone else is wearing.

Agnés B. has managed to keep her family-run business a success for several reasons. Her designs reflect the lives of her customers, speaking more to purpose than to style. She generally produces two collections per year but adds regularly to the collections throughout the year. She keeps the business organized by using a computerized management method of production, delivery, and inventory and keeps the boutiques and stores happy by delivering frequently and consistently. Her customers remain content because the quality of the clothing is consistent. Interestingly, unlike most designers, she keeps some items in her collection for several seasons; "You can't destabilize the client…. Customers want to see some constant pieces." Her clientéle includes women, men, and children and have been described as "cultish."

Her designs have been popular in Europe, the Far East, and in several cities in the United States. In the early 1990s, she expanded her American market, and by 1996, she had a total of eight stores in the U.S., with plans to open several more. By 1997 there were 93 worldwide stores, generating some $260 million annually. Next came the opening of a new store in Chicago, Illinois, and the launch of a beauty products line of skin care, makeup, and four fragrances to the U.S. market. Agnés B. is known for her display windows, which are characteristically devoid of mannequins—where she merely hangs the clothes on hangers and the accessories are strewn about. She also includes movie posters in the display, which have become one of her trademarks.

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