There must be a secret (silent) agreement between Jean Touitou and words (he happens to venerate them). However, these seem to slip away when they are summoned to speak about this character who, in 2009, lives between Shibuya and Mercer street, rue Madame and Stockholm, Beckett and Cristobal Balenciaga. One is sometimes tempted to ask Jean Touitou if he doesn’t feel like looking back, to have a look at what he’s been up to since his birth in Tunis in 1951. We don’t.
He belongs to a category of people who flies across the century without any warning, yet leaving his own touch. When he was sixteen, he backed Chairman Mao. At eighteen he’s ready for university. He joins the Trotskyite International organisation (the O.C.I.) when he was twenty. Dublin was his secret name. As soon as things started, they just kept going on, relentlessly, the way a rhythm section does (dialectics, though steady beat calls for Motown). Store man, then accountant for Kenzo, an associate for the development of Agnes b. in the American continent, associate with Irie and Joseph.
He starts A.P.C. (Atelier de Production et de Creation) in 1987 with a men’s collection (the women’s collection will come in 1988). Ideal for this period when lines and guitar riffs are clearly cut out, just in time for an ace to bring us some style. People like Jean Touitou are then asked what he can see of us. He hears, first and foremost. Words are scarce.
The sound he can hear is a very nervous one, both haunting and full of urgency. The sound of rock’n’ roll quite probably. The imagery will become his, he will be light and rebellious, rigorous and tight, will aim to what is the most cutting. The paradox is that this sacred energy can’t be found in his collections. They are full of the intriguing distance of those who have said enough. But bursts of sentiment, no such thing, a mere standpoint, an elegant unease. No name, no shouting. No way. Such is the weeded out phlegm of twentieth century dandies: Ray Davies, Brian Jones. This list could go on... Roland Barthes, Adorno, The Beatles, Ma... No names.
Difficult to put the A.P.C. collections (forty in twenty years) into words, these clothes, discreetly suiting the occasion, giving a fleeting demeanour, adding glamour to dusk, and they simply look like those who wear them, mostly impalpable, half dissident and half trend setter, urban evanescent and wanderers full of idiosyncrasies. It’s as though there was a virtuous circle between the atmosphere of the boutiques and those who are used to going there. The lighting is soft, nothing is offensive. We are here between brackets; no slashing quotation marks will disturb this universe, this white wall, this wall of guitars. Here we are mere partners, and we have agreed being so. No banners which come as labels, no shiny hymns. This is the way a myth builds up, weaved from all the details a period has to offer (a bob, a reefer jacket, a pair of trainers, a pair of shorts) and this is all so fresh (a schoolboy’s cape, dancing shoes, a smock). Like a casually whispered secret.
It’s everywhere. In Aoyama, Daikanyama, on Mercer Street, in Berlin, Antwerp, Festival Walk (Hong Kong), rue de Marseille (Paris)... Jean Touitou and A.P.C. too : 25 boutiques as such, 10 franchise stores, 100 multibrand ones, 250 people. No lack of strategy aiming at foreign currency, just time folding. A stroll through Copenhagen, the discovery of a striking boutique, and a few months later A.P.C. settles on Montergade 5. In Tokyo, things are even more disturbing. There are the thrilled adoring crowds, immediate reaction, a cult which is an insight into things that will happen, and all this is draped in Masamichi Katayama’s wonder wall agency’s playful transparency (they have recently brushed up Colette’s boutique in Paris).
The paradox with going fast, is that you have to take what goes slowly in a given period into account. No mingling, the voluptuous delight of saying no, not yet. This is a bit like the promises of dawn, and this is how one reaches these delicate moments: offering 150 euros cashmere sweaters is to become part of a new century which is radically going all over the place, which is always somewhere else. Values are crumbling, are changing at the speed of sound. When things are going so fast, it is good to hold on to the right guns, stick to your principles and your adolescent value, to think of something else and always be on the move in order not to be caught up. Jean Touitou at A.P.C.’s helm, a pop eyed spacer of sorts, is off and over the hills. More at ease with an eighteen century weaving machine turning out wine red frogs than at a New-York charity diner (his own words). He published twenty C.D’s as in a crazy ball trap (from Cuban music, Jewish Arabic dub with Lili Boniche, to his unconditional backing of Housse de Racket or Metronomy). He talks about Balenciaga, Cristobal Balenciaga, who himself said he was going to put an end to his fashion house, said it would soon be gone. Jean Touitou was cheeky in the same way and said, as if he were David Bowie talking about Ziggy, that A. P.C. would be gone by 2003. In this manner he remained true to his adolescent feelings of exasperation, and he would even be ready to part with rock n’roll if it keeps on as the farce people have made of it, a mockery of its original raunchy slashing appeal.
At the rue Madame head office in Paris, at six P.M, you can often see the accountant and the P.R. woman, gathering into the house recording studio. Jonathan Richman, Sofia Coppola, Marc Jacobs, Bill Laswell, Wes Anderson were there before them, around the Ludwig set of drums, Jean Touitou’s faithful Fender Jazmaster guitar and his Dunlop cry baby pedal. Words which intimidate him so much are not forgotten. As he was recently about to give up taking over his group, he stood for a few minutes in front of the rue Madame shop window, a way of pulling himself together. In the shop window stood proudly a re-issue of a book which is making many people wonder : Tony Duvert’s «Anneau à l’oreille» as well as his «Abécédaire malveillant». This is all part of A.P.C.’s disquieting game of hop scotch (olive oil, guitar pick, perfume, man’s handbag) and a new square has just turned up on this game: a private kindergarten school, rue de Fleurus, designed by Laurent Deroo, with furniture by Alvar Aalto and the help of Jessica Ogden.