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August 30 2014

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11 posts tagged "Jonny Johansson"

Acne Studio’s Jonny Johansson on Getting Out of the Denim Box, the Globalization of Style, and Innovation Versus Appearance

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acne-01The denim business today is nearly as fast-paced as ready-to-wear. Boyfriends have been replaced by mom jeans. Printed denim? So 2012. And flares go in and out almost too often for even die-hard jeans lovers to keep track. Acne Studios is a label that survives and thrives not by rushing in to grab its share of the trend pie, but by staying true to the simple principle that it launched with back in 1997. The Swedish brand’s denim philosophy is best summed up by founder Jonny Johansson: “I’m not into fancy stuff.” For Johansson, cool anonymity is a virtue, and over time it’s that very quality that has become Acne denim’s signature. Johansson called in from his vacation in the Stockholm archipelago to talk about the company’s origins, the competition, and where Acne is headed.

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Acne Studios’ entrance into the denim market has been told often enough that the story has made it onto the brand’s Wikipedia page. Can you tell it again?
Acne was built on the Warholian Factory idea. I thought it would be so cool to be a film director and a fashion designer and maybe a musician. We had these big round-table discussions: How do we enter the fashion thing? What the discussion came down to basically was that five-pocket jeans are the Coca-Cola of fashion. It was never about doing some new denim approach. That was never the idea. We had success with the first 100 pairs we gave to fans and friends and photographers we knew, and forced them to wear. It was a very good start but also a very shocking start. Everything happened really fast. We wanted to be a fashion brand, not just a denim brand, but we got placed in the denim box. It was a bit of a struggle to try to make people interested in the other stuff we wanted to do. We were scared to be this one-product project where you’re hip for a certain moment because you have a new name.

In hindsight, how do you account for the quick success of Acne’s jeans?
Today if you enter the fashion denim space, it’s a race that’s much more complex. It’s much more layered, it’s much more about the finishing, about the weaving. At the time [Acne got into the business], it was just about your approach to fashion. It was about your attitude. Today, it’s a super-big, complex industry where the race is much, much tighter. Your approach might be a good idea, but a good idea is not enough.

Talk about the “idea” behind Acne jeans.
I’m very focused about the word generic. It’s not really about the silhouette [for me]. You could say, “You should have a pair of ’70s-cut, flared jeans today because the ’70s [are trending].” Yes, that may be so, but I think it’s more about the fabric and how to circle around it. I don’t like what you call the stereotypes of fashion, which would be the flare, the super-skinny. I like a five-pocket [style], and I’m not too much into fancy stuff. And I don’t like vintage. It has to be very straightforward for both men and women; I’m very [into the idea of] unisex.

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But silhouette is so important to girls. I have a pair of high-waisted, straight-legged Acne jeans from eight years ago that I adored, but I can’t wear them now. The fit isn’t quite right.
For women it’s about finding something that will make you feel confident. It’s about the body. That’s what I find quite interesting with women and denim—it’s about trying to present yourself in a good way. It’s about pocket sizes and things like that. I think for women it is about being contemporary, but more so it’s about being flattering. Women are not so conforming about what to wear, so I like women’s fashion more for that respect.

Back to the fabric. Where do you source yours?
I’m not too much into the whole selvedge Japanese denim phenomenon. I do like Japanese fabrics, but when it comes to heritage, re-creating a complete heritage never interested me. That has never been the core for me. We work with a factory, which we’ve worked with for many, many years. They do a plain denim that I really like, it’s a twill denim. Another reason I love denim, it’s also very sustainable, it’s not a garment that you throw away every season. I envy sometimes friends who have one pair that they’ve had for a long time. I’ve always been into that.

Do you remember your first pair of jeans?
I try to forget the first ones my mother forced me into in the ’70s, but, yeah, I do remember the first pair I decided to have. It was a pair of Levi’s 501s, a straightforward American import. I was 12, maybe 11. Everything else that was available [in Sweden] were copies of Levi’s. It was Levi’s or nothing, for me at least. Our parents were quite heavily influenced by American pop culture, and they channeled it down to us. When I discovered my own aesthetic in terms of design, I remember changing the 501s. I’ve done everything, from changing silhouettes to dyeing. But I still wanted 501s to play with.

Where do you stand on washing or not washing your jeans?
Oh, I wash. My mother told me to take a shower every day.

When you look around, are there brands you think are doing interesting things in the denim sphere?
I always like A.P.C. They’ve carved out this timeless zone. They’re never really in and they’re never really out, which I kind of like. And they sort of sprung up in the same period as we did. Not maybe in everything, but regarding the jeans, they’re the brand I like.

As a Levi’s fan from your earliest days, when you look at Levi’s now, what do you think?
Confused. It makes me confused. I’m sorry, that’s the first word that comes to my mind. I think it’s about scale. It’s really a super-big machine that supplies everyone everything. That’s difficult always.

Acne itself is now a global business. Are jeans tastes the same in New York versus Stockholm versus Tokyo?
No, I think it’s going more opposite, I think it’s becoming more unified. I think it’s maybe the World Wide Web. [laughs] It’s becoming so unified it’s almost scary. [I compare it with] when you go out in Stockholm, [where] everyone looks the same. If one thing is right, everyone is on it, and if it’s not right, no one’s doing it anymore.

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Is Acne’s denim design team separate from its ready-to-wear team?
It’s always been a big challenge to make it one. The cycles in denim are not six months or four months or one month, or whatever it is [in ready-to-wear] now. Denim kind of has its own life. But our developer for denim is always in every meeting about what we’re doing, how we’re progressing, about the look or whatever it is. He’s in the mix. That’s very important.

How big a part of the brand is denim, and is it important to align the personality of the jeans and the ready-to-wear?
Denim is 25 percent of our business, a figure that’s been quite stable for the last five, seven years. It’s never in, it’s never out, that’s the beauty of it. But the five-pocket jean is a classic thing, which is why it’s so difficult for a fashion show. Because you want to stay in the realistic field, but you still want to try to do something [on the runway]. So you don’t see much denim at Acne shows.

Acne stores are popping up everywhere now—on Paris’ Left Bank, in downtown L.A. Where to next?
We’re opening in Hong Kong in September, a very small, little cute store. Our New York store is due for a rethink. We’d like more space, or else we’ll have to split men’s and women’s.

What do you see as the future of denim? How important are technological innovations, in terms of stretch, say, to the Acne brand?
We had success at the start because I developed a denim fabric with a supplier that had stretch. So I’m interested, but I’ve become more and more about the visual, less about the technical. I’m not smart enough. I’m so much about appearance and first impression. I think the technical aspects are very difficult. I’d rather like to be the Hermès of jeans than the North Face.

Don’t Wait a Minute More, L.A. Acne is Waiting for You Downtown

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Acne's L.A. Store

Acne's L.A. Store

Acne Studios is heading to Downtown L.A. Tomorrow, the Swedish brand will open its largest store in the world (and its second stateside location) in the city’s Eastern Columbia Building—a thirteen-story 1930s art-deco landmark with a deep blue and decorative gold facade. “It started with the building, to be honest,” creative director Jonny Johansson told Style.com of his decision to decamp to an unexpected part of the city rather than one of its high-gloss shopping locales. “We can afford to not do what people think has to be done,” he continued. “And we always work with the concept of the space—we like to find somewhere historic and interesting, and then do something contemporary inside.”

The 5,000-square-foot, single-level space was based on Johansson’s own vision. “I tried to not learn the history of the building,” he said. “I just wanted it to speak to me.” The result is a futuristic interior with exposed columns and structural details that fit Johansson’s concept of modernity. The formatted rows of merchandise are expansive, as the store houses Acne’s men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and denim, as well as bags, accessories, and footwear. Though sleek and structural, the design actually embraces Johansson’s desire for privacy. “When you walk through the store, you see columns that create these private areas,” he said, referring to the mazelike floor plan. “I like to stay a little bit more private when I shop, and I think this structure allows for that.” Meanwhile, the flagship’s adjoining ilcaffè coffee shops—one of Johansson’s favorite spots back home—will offer customers a true taste of Stockholm.

Acne Scarf

Shifting the paradigm of what downtown means to the L.A. fashionscape, Acne’s L.A. flagship seems to be a beacon of what’s to come. Rumors of Aesop and A.P.C.’s arrival are swirling, and the new Ace Hotel down the street is receiving the finishing touches for an early 2014 bow. But at present, local shoppers have plenty to be excited about: In addition to the new store, Johansson has designed a limited-edition scarf (above) that boasts a print of the brand’s new SoCal home. Naturally, it’s available exclusively in L.A.

Acne Studios opens this Wednesday in the Eastern Columbia Building, 855 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014.

Photos: Courtesy of Acne Studios

Evening Edition: Acne Tries A Tux

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Acne’s roots are in casual sportswear and jeans, but over the course of several seasons, the Swedish label has been refining its tailoring. Now a new capsule collection, developed with (and to be sold exclusively on) MrPorter.com, pushes it farther than it has ever gone before: for the first time, into a developed collection of full-on eveningwear. The new capsule, which includes tuxedo jackets and trousers, jacquard trousers and cummerbunds, bib-front shirts, an evening overcoat, bowties, and shoes, launches November 13. (The company, undeterred by New York’s nor’easter, is celebrating with a dinner this evening.) “I like the tuxedo, it’s a feminine uniform for men,” Acne’s Jonny Johansson tells Style.com. “Let’s think of it as a classic little black dress for men. If I could, I would use the word ‘elegant’ to describe the man’s tuxedo—everything becomes elegant in a way.” Even—in a twist harking back to those casual roots—a tuxedo T-shirt, also on offer.

Photos: Courtesy of Mr. Porter and Acne

Nice Day For A White Denim

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What’s old is new again. And at Acne, the old is coming back in white. Jonny Johansson and his team scoured more than ten collections from the Acne archive for a new capsule collection of reissues hitting label stores this Monday. Tops, skirts, dresses, shoes, and accessories are all back from the vault in new, white versions. Why? “I designed an apartment back in the nineties on Park Avenue,” Johansson tells Style.com, “with one room as the Yoko and John Lennon white room. It has been floating around my head for a while, this whole ‘white-out process.’ It finally surfaced and I was like, yes, let’s do a collection.” With Memorial Day and the traditional season of white garb on its way, we wondered, does Johansson have any rules for how to wear it? “Just keep your white pieces dirty—then you know you are having fun,” he says. One caveat: “No sex in the grass wearing white; it gives it away.”

Acne Drives Into Paris

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Acne opened its second Paris store Tuesday on rue Froissart in the 3rd arrondissement, but founder Jonny Johansson remained in a Swedish, not Gallic, mood. “I wanted to do something with a contemporary Stockholm vibe, because that’s where we’re from and it’s been on my mind a lot lately,” he said about the new shop. “When you walk in, you’re not sure if it’s a garage or a club.” (Understandably so—the space used to be a garage.)

Johansson and Acne’s in-house architect Andreas Fornell transformed the formerly oil-stained space (which Johansson found two years years ago while walking around Paris), making sure to preserve the concrete shell and adding a sleek chrome, marble, and beige-carpeted interior with suspended LED strip lighting. As a set piece, he installed a 650-kilo antique marble nude, which artist Daniel Silver dragged from Italy to London.

The Acne team came to Paris en masse to toast the opening and to celebrate with a midnight supper at Lapérouse, with friends Roxane Mesquida, Irina Lazareanu, Gaia Repossi, and Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. Acne Paper‘s Thomas Persson showed up with a surprise guest, singer Jonny Woo from London, who performed a short set featuring shock-and-awe versions of the Doors’ “Tell All the People” and Nina Simone’s “Gin House Blues.”

Paris is only the latest stop for Acne, which already owns 30 stores worldwide; its next will open in New York (the city’s second) in 2012. In the meantime, Johansson has been busy planning Acne’s Fall men’s show in January, which will be shown in—sense a theme?—a Paris garage.

Photo: Courtesy of Acne