Towards a doable utopia – An interview with Jean Touitou – Tenue de Nîmes

Jean Touitou was born in Tunis, Tunisia in 1951. When he was 9 years old, he and his family relocated to Paris. Throughout his days at university, he was a revolutionary militant and at some point, he wanted to become a history teacher. When he discovered that being a teacher wasn't what he wanted in life, he travelled through South America for a year. Before founding A.P.C. in 1986, he had a job at Kenzo and even at one point started his own record company. As one can imagine, mister Touitou is an interesting and inspiring individual. Not just for the fact that he founded A.P.C. but also, for his views and philosophy. Despite the current world pandemic mister Touitou was so kind as to give us the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Mister Touitou started A.P.C. in 1986 as a statement against the over-the-top and loud fashion scene from the 1980s, yet little has changed since the founding of A.P.C. Add that up with the odd trend of propagating a perfect life through social media wherein hardships don't exist and all problems are ignored, and you have a very similar situation to that of the 'care-free' '80s and '90s. This, combined with extremely high financial stakes that have been implemented into the fashion industry, has created a toxic situation wherein brands have to create a huge amount of collections every year which heavily depend on trends that are cool now but will be out of style within a few months. This situation has been able to sustain itself since there seems to be an unsatisfiable hunger within consumers to buy more and more clothes, with devastating effect to the lives of people around the world and the environment. When asked where Touitou thinks this hunger to buy more and more clothes comes from his answer was bleak;

"Fashion has a libidinous relationship with merchandise. I can't say more than that.

"I shop, therefore I exist" is the explanation. That crisis might change this. Or not."

There have been suggestions that the COVID-19 crisis could drastically change the current state of the fashion industry. All production has been put on halt and companies are struggling to find a solution for their upcoming seasons. Maybe the current pandemic could bring an end to the impossible schedules and financial goals that have been the zeitgeist for the past years. Maybe the current pandemic could push companies towards a more sustainable way of producing fashion, or at least a more sensible one.

Mister Touitou has already been practicing a sustainable way of doing fashion since the '90s. Apart from a sustainable production chain, A.P.C. has also been doing recycling programs. Old A.P.C. fabrics have been turned into quilts that one could buy for their homes. Also, there's the A.P.C. Butler program. A program that lets people turn in their old and worn A.P.C. jeans for a discount on a new pair. To mister Touitou jeans are "Very beautiful at any stage of it" but the worn-out ones are the best. Recycling old materials and clothing could be part of the solution. But when reflecting on if the pandemic could push the fashion industry towards a more sustainable situation, he was a bit hesitant;

 "A part of me is thinking that it's hopeless, and that the days after (in a year a half) will be just like the world of yesterday.

Another part of me could think that consumerism oriented towards fast fashion and luxury fashion (it is the same thing to me) will slow down. Only time will tell.

In my dream there could be a massive rejection of what's called the luxury brands, I mean the ugly part of it."

The simple fact of the matter is that a lot of people aren't fully aware of at what cost fast-fashion clothing is made. Nor do they know the time, process and effort that goes into making a quality garment. When asked if educating the consumer on the process that goes into making a garment and with that creating consciousness and a greater appreciation for clothing could be a solution, Touitou seemed a bit more positive;

"I hope so. The more educated people will be from their early childhood, the more they will be able to think about the way they buy things. There again, let's wait and see. We might be disappointed. Some people will come out of this jobless, and if they need clothes, they'll go to the cheaper prices, and the pieces again will come from faraway countries, etc. etc."

Mister Touitou still holds hope for a brighter future though. Even though the fashion industry hasn't changed that much since the '80s, Touitou still sees a few positive developments. The esthetic off timelessness, which gives clothing worth in his opinion, has caught on a bit more. Not being able to find a decent pair of jeans or a shirt at Barcelona airport, after losing his luggage, is what sparked the idea for A.P.C. After being asked if since 1986 there has been a time wherein, he would be able to find these clothes he answered;

"Probably yes. I would probably find a raw denim in the city of Barcelona today. Maybe other things too. A few brands are sort of doing better things now; At least their will be some APC copycat somewhere in a department store. Or maybe an APC retailler."

So, it seems that his mission has been accomplished to some extent. Yet the battle is far from over. There were only two brands, including A.P.C., who cancelled their shows during Paris Fashion Week in March at the beginning of the pandemic. A primary example of to what extent brands are forced/willing to go for their own sake. The whole situation made Touitou reflect on A.P.C. itself. In an open letter to his employees, he admits having had a thought of trying to stop to survive as a brand as the world is bound for the worst. But mister Touitou wouldn't have come so far if he had let thoughts like these get the better of him. He sees the period that is opening up now as a period wherein everything can be reinvented. He has often spoken on viewing A.P.C. as a 'doable utopia'. Keeping A.P.C. alive and spreading this idea of a 'doable utopia' is now the main objective. He wants to keep on doing sustainable fashion, leave esthetic traces, and initiate more artistic recycling projects. But most of all he wants to nurture a sense of community. One wonders where someone finds the energy to keep on pushing forward after all these years. To this question Touitou's answer embodies his philosophy behind A.P.C.- simple and true to oneself;

"Suicide has never been an option to me, and drugs neither.

So if you decide to go on, you might as well do interesting and challenging and mostly creative things everyday of your life.

Otherwise one might be attracted by the very welcoming big black hole who always manages to show his presence.

That works for me. Everyone is different. Some people have religions like football and beer, or monotheism, or whatever. I do not."

The final question we asked mister Touitou was if he had a musical reference for the current pandemic (as he seems to have one for any situation). Unknowingly, I believe, he chose a song that sums up the whole crisis, a hope for a better tomorrow, and his philosophy perfectly. He chose the song Autobahn, by Kraftwerk.

"It is so strange that lately I was playing the long version "autobahn" ALL the time. The music transported me. And I also thought that the way it was written made some sort of beautiful minimalistic literature."

The song is indeed very minimalistic in terms of the lyrics, as it only has 8 lines. It describes driving along the grey German highway with green on either side towards a wide valley that is filled with glittering rays of sunlight. I think you get where I'm trying to go with this. Let's all try to focus on this 'valley filled with glittering rays of sunlight', as Jean Touitou does. 

Interview by Thomas Hibbert
Check out the full A.P.C. Spring / Summer collection here!