Fashion designer Agnes b. strives to make people happy with her clothes, but now she wants them to think deeply about life with her directorial debut about a girl who is sexually abused by her father.
"Everyone is surprised. People thought I would be making a glamorous film," the Frenchwoman and first-time director told the South China Morning Post after presenting her film My Name Is Hmmm... to a full house at the Hong Kong International Film Festival yesterday.
The film tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who runs away from a father who sexually abuses her. During her journey she encounters a Scottish truck driver played by video artist Douglas Gordon. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the film features a great deal of artistic experimentation, such as video art and photography, in an effort to create a visual impact.
"Life can be heavy, don't you think?" said Agnes b., who is credited on the film as Agnes Trouble, her directing alter ego. She said it took her two days to finish the story, writing in a journalist's notepad. The film was screened at the Venice Film Festival last summer and won a special mention in the Child Protection Award category at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in November.
"It is something different from designing. It is a very personal film. I've been taking pictures for a long time," she said. "In the film I want to show people how I look at things, and share my vision."
Born in 1941 in Versailles, Agnes b. founded her fashion brand in the 1980s and has been a household name in Hong Kong for decades. In Hong Kong her brand has more than 40 outlets - besides fashion stores, cafes and restaurants, she also owns an art house cinema at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and an art gallery in Sheung Wan.
Her production company Love Streams Productions has credits including Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine and Hong Kong director Flora Lau's debut Bends, an unconventional romance between a rich Hong Kong woman and a mainland chauffeur that competed in the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section last year. Asian filmmakers from Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien to Takeshi Kitano and Akira Kurosawa are among her favourites.
"I don't share anything with the fashion world," the designer-turned-filmmaker said, adding that she was more of an art world person than a fashion person.
"I do a full collection every year. I love to design. But I have never been to any shows," she said. "I go to film festivals, galleries and concerts with my friends. This is more about my life than the fashion world."
Chinese shoppers, however, remain more interested in her fashion than her art. Agnes b. said it was no surprise to see Chinese shoppers buying French designs as they have the money to experience something different. But she believes that Chinese shoppers will change, something that is already happening.
"I have shops in Beijing and Shanghai and I have more Chinese customers who are intellectual," said Agnes b. "I want people to be happy in my clothes. And as for film, I want people to think. I have an idea for another film, maybe in two years' time."
The film festival runs until April 7.