Agnes B

How do you make an über-cool global fashion brand while displaying little regard for global business practices, employing no high-priced models or spokespeople, paying scant attention to current fashion trends, and using no advertising? Whatever the answer is, agnès b has it. The brand agnès b is the creation of Agnès Trouble, a French designer who opened her first store in the early seventies in Paris. Involved in the 1968 student riots in Paris, she was reportedly a young rebellious and socially-aware campaigner who brought the same spirit to the brand we know today. The agnès b brand is stylish; it stands outside of the hype of fashion, focusing more on the feel-good factor it promotes and the friends it makes along the way. More interestingly however, is the fact that agnès b almost unthinkably rejects the notion of advertising and marketing. Imagine such a thing—a global, style-conscious corporation that not only doesn't advertise, but believes that marketing (and over-marketing) in fact restricts the consumers' collective imagination and perception of the brand. So, if there is no advertising at all, how does agnès b reach its customers or even hope to attract new ones? It seems to do so by fostering a sense of discovered cool. It rejects trends, and instead strives for that warm feeling of finding a special item and carrying it home in a stylish paper bag. Agnès b is elusive and understated, its logo is simple—six little hand-drawn letters with a full stop—a signature that manages to feel small and cute. The brand's design implies that the name isn't as important as the clothes, which perfectly matches agnès b's overall philosophy. Many corporations tend to use a graphic treatment that causes the brand to appear to be talking at the customer. This has the effect of telling consumers what the company does, espousing its virtues ad infinitum and spending an awful lot of cash to explain why its better than the competition. Agnès b uses the power of discovery. Letting customers discover your brand for themselves gives them the sense that the brand belongs to them. It means they know something that their friends don't, and they can have the sly pleasure of introducing others to it (therefore looking more stylish and metropolitan in the process). This idea of discovery is an extremely powerful thing. In a world where McDonald's Happy Meals, Starbucks Lattes and Toyota Mini Vans are blatantly visible on our landscape, the joy of discovering a restaurant in a side street or a new independent band somehow means more to us. It means that we have found something of our own, something that we can take ownership in. When we own it, we care for it. Getting us to care for a brand is something that the likes of Apple, Virgin, BMW and even Kmart spend millions of pounds trying to achieve. Here is the irony. Make a fuss, start a noise, get into people's living rooms and kitchens and you are competing with thousands of others who happen to be doing the same thing. Make little fuss and simply wait to be discovered, and your brand, if good enough, could have a loyal army of followers. I cannot remember where I heard about agnès b. It may have been in a department store in Melbourne, it could have been in a magazine in London, I simply can't remember. But once I found it I never forgot it. And I never forgot it because I “discovered” it for myself. Agnès b succeeds as a great big company by acting as a very small one. If this strategy sounds a little too naïve, bear in mind that agnès b has 118 stores across 10 countries. Something is obviously working. There is a lot of talk of corporate social responsibility in big business. Many global companies participate in it, whether voluntarily or because of public or shareholder pressure. Agnès b is the very shape of corporate social responsibility; it is woven into the fabric of the company, the way it functions, the way it looks. The attention to CSR is due to the very strong convictions of its founder, and the control she holds over the operations activities. The company still manufactures in France because it is considered important to protect the skills and knowledge of France's clothing industry. Agnès b sponsors contemporary art to foster creative industries. It has a modern art magazine, galleries and libraries, and even a film production company. All these activities help to create a culture rather than just a piece of clothing. The company's approach to communication can be seen superbly in its website. Sublime, simple, funky, stylish and unmistakably French, the website is in line with the brand philosophy of understatement. As easy going as the brand, the site features hand drawn navigation, funky graphics, and no straight lines. The low-key marketing, the communications, the brand design, the production company and the art, gives the consumer a sense that agnès b views culture as important an entity as merchandise. The brand has staked out a role as guardian, fostering new culture and protecting France's place in the world of art and fashion.