The French clothing designer Agnès b doesn’t attend fashion week or advertise her brand—she likes to follow her own instincts. Since she opened her first store, in Paris in 1975, in what was once a butcher shop, her name has become synonymous with an inextricably Gallic look.
Her famed snap cardigan has been a staple in the 230 stores she operates worldwide almost since the beginning. Her large circle of friends includes the musician Patti Smith, who often shops in the men’s department. And her philanthropic pursuits are numerous—from her support of nonprofits like Human Rights Watch to the deep-sea research vessel (helmed by her son Étienne) that she funds to explore the effects of climate change.
For more than three decades, the designer has lived in a two-story manor outside of Versailles—not far from where she grew up—on a property once owned by Louis XIV and later given to Guy-Crescent Fagon, his personal physician. Agnès found the house in a newspaper advertisement, which she cut out and tucked inside a book. Months later, the clipping fell out, and she arranged to meet the seller—but not before an impulsive late-night visit turned daring and she found herself jumping over the property’s high stone wall to get a closer look.
Amid the historic architecture, she has created a relaxed world that seamlessly merges centuries and cultures in spaces filled with history and warmth. Her boldest move was to paint a 19th-century wing of the house red; it now holds Agnès’s library and music room. But elsewhere, the six-bedroom home retains many of its original features: limestone floors, floral plaster wall moldings, and a wrought-iron central staircase. Apart from a skylight in the dining room, there are few signs of modern interventions; instead, she has allowed the house to evolve naturally with all the signs of age intact.
On a recent visit, she gleefully opened a floor-to-ceiling armoire to reveal stacks of well-worn cloth napkins, tablecloths, and runners. She loves to cook and entertain, especially for her family—she has five children and 16 grandchildren. That Agnès, whose actual surname is Troublé, started out as a stylist is evident in her home: She loves to create tableaux of objects that juxtapose the old with the new, the precious with the quotidian. She’ll place a grandchild’s toy dragon, translucent and as delicate as ancient glass—belying its mass production—atop a mantel next to a functioning 18th-century clock once owned by her grandmother.
Outside, the property rises gradually from her front door as it meets a leafy forest and hidden swimming pool. Passionate about gardening, Agnès has created a landscape both cultivated and wild. She has collected art for years (in 2020, she opened La Fab, a gallery in Paris) and has hung the walls of her home with favorite works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Simon Hantaï, and Alighiero Boetti.
During France’s pandemic lockdown, when she found herself mostly at home, Agnès experimented with an art project that combined both pursuits. As a young girl her father affectionately nicknamed Agnès and her two sisters “les drôlesses,” or funny ones, an invented endearment. She borrowed the term to describe the doll-like figures she fashioned from the vast archive of clothes she keeps in her closet. She arranged these outfits in her garden and found her muses in a pair of small portrait paintings that she keeps on either side of her front door. The works, by the French-born, Los Angeles–based artist Claire Tabouret, depict a pair of young women with smeared lips and determined stares.
Over the years, Agnès has often adapted her own images of flowers, water, and architecture into textile prints for her fashions. So it was only natural that she would photograph these imaginary companions with her iPhone, draping them over moss-covered steps or on the grass. “They became my models,” she says. The pictures have been collected in a book, Les Drôlesses, and will be exhibited this fall at the Agnès b Galerie Boutique in New York’s SoHo.
Passionate about gardening, Agnès b has created a landscape both cultivated and wild.
Now that the lockdown is over, Agnès has reopened her office in Paris’s 10th arrondissement and commutes every workday. Still, her house, just an hour west of Paris, continues to be both her sanctuary and a laboratory for ideas. In a garden studio that sits in a field of wildflowers, she takes time for personal art projects rarely seen outside of family and friends. But these creative endeavors crafted in private could become stepping-stones to her next public project. For Agnès, home is a constant source of inspiration—and where she loves to be.
Produced by Leah Singer
This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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