x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The 73-year-old talks about her experiences, her view of the fashion world and finding freedom behind the camera.

The filmmaker and fashion designer Agnes B. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
The filmmaker and fashion designer Agnes B. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

At 73, Agnes B is showing no signs of slowing down.

The French fashion designer — she is the sole creator of every item in her entire collection for more than four decades — is soaking up the atmosphere at film festivals around the world, introducing her directorial debut My Name Is Hmmm.

For more than 25 years now, wearing Agnes B has become akin to the expression of one’s character. Her movie efforts follow suit.

My Name is Hmmm is open to interpretation in many ways, the story offering a window into the world of a woman with a secret to tell without pointing fingers. Freeze-frames, flash backs and black screens with words appear at random intervals throughout.

“It took two days to write and 12 years to realise,” says Agnes. “Cinema is just another way of expressing my freedom. I feel free behind the camera. It allows me to tell a story, which released something in me.”

My Name is Hmmm is a tale of young Celine, a French girl sexually abused by her father. Ignored by an unsupportive mother, Celine runs away during a family holiday and finds refuge in the form of a Scottish trucker.

“It’s not my story,” she insists. “But I know a lot about it. Maybe I needed to tell the story. Maybe I wanted to get away. It’s not my story,” she repeats. “My childhood was taken from me. I was robbed of a youth by a family member.”

From set design to story, My Name is Hmmm was Agnes’ vision — the dark corridors of the family home in which Celine is a prisoner, the jolly nature of the trucker.

“I helped construct the set,” she says. “I wanted steep steps leading up to a place for the home where nightmares happen. It had to be right, says Agnes, whose real name is Agnes Trouble.

Fitting, as trouble describes the designer-slash-director-slash-art collector perfectly.

“My mother called me a rebel,” she says with a laugh. “I was.”

Agnes left home at the age of 18 against her lawyer father’s wishes — he had plans for his daughter to marry wealthy. “I had a classic education. I come from a traditional family. My life was mapped out to some degree,” she explains.

Trouble took priority over tradition and at 18 Agnes was married, without parental approval, the mother of twins by 19 and divorced by 20. “I had no money, no prospects and no support,” she says.

Standing in the only pair of shoes she owned, a pair of old cowboy boots, Agnes was spotted at a flea market in Paris by the fashion editor of Elle magazine, who offered her a job as an intern, all because of her quirky dress sense.

“It wasn’t fashion,” she insists. “I had nothing else to wear.”

There are now more than 115 Agnes B boutiques around the world, and it remains a family-owned company, which has grown instinctively and far from the spectacle of fashion runways.

“To this day I’ve never taken an advert. Anywhere,” she says proudly.

A mother of five and grandmother of 16, Agnes is a keen observer of life, from which she draws inspiration for both fashion and cinema.

“I take inspiration from everyday life. Clothes are less important than the person wearing them,” she says.

• My Name is Hmmm screens at 9.30pm tonight (Thursday, October 31) at Marina Mall Vox 6