Born Agnès Troublé in the Parisian suburb of Versailles in 1941 to a wealthy Catholic family, the eventual founder of Agnès B was encouraged in her love of art from a young age. While studying to be a museum curator at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, she met and married fellow student Christian Bourgeois, from whom she took the surname that would inspire her brand. Though the marriage produced five children, Agnès and Christian were divorced by the age of twenty-one, at which point Agnès moved to Paris and took a job as junior editor at Elle magazine out of economic necessity.
Recognized for her uniquely cavalier yet practical style, Agnès Bourgeois was employed as codesigner at Dorothée Bis, a chic Parisian clothier, in 1965, and served as a freelance designer for the labels Limitex, Pierre d’Alby, and V de V from 1966 to 1975. In this period she remarried and became Agnès Claret de Fleurieu, although she used her former name in creating the label Agnès B in 1973 and naming the boutique that followed in 1975, opened with her second husband in a converted butcher’s store in the Paris neighborhood of Les Halles.
The store became known for its quirky décor and the unfussy clothing within, much of which was based on French workers’ uniforms, including the traditional striped sailor’s T-shirt. Agnès B’s business and design philosophy were always consistent with her leftist political activism; from the start, she has continually resisted industry pressure to move production to cheaper territories overseas, and even refuses to advertise.
Expansion came to the Agnès B brand in the form of a New York City store in 1980, followed by additional American, European, and Asian outlets. While continuing to design nearly every item herself, she has steadily increased the brand’s reach by adding a menswear line (Agnès B Hommes), a children’s line (Agnès B Enfant) in 1981, and a teen line (Lolita) in 1984, as well as signing a licensing deal in 1987 to sell cosmetics and develop three fragrances, Le B, Le petit b.b., and Courant d’air.
The company has remained private, and is now managed by one of Agnès’s five children, Étienne Bourgeois. With a total of three marriages and divorces, Agnès B has focused her life on the brand and on a series of artistic projects outside the fashion world. Since 1984 she has operated the Galerie du Jour, a gallery and bookshop, and since 1997 has published an art magazine, Le Point d’Ironie. She has been involved in the film industry as a costumer for Hollywood films including Pulp Fiction and Mulholland Drive, and has funded and produced a number of French films herself.
Agnès B continues to design six collections a year from her atelier in Paris, and has expanded the brand’s online presence to include an art- and design-focused blog and a web radio channel devoted to promoting new music.