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For someone who neither does interviews, nor courts fame, Acne Studios’ co-founder and creative director, Jonny Johansson, has kept his design profile consistently high. The key to his success is in the name Acne – and no, it’s not about pimples. It is a little-known fact that Acne is actually an acronym for “Ambition to Create Novel Expression”. Launched in 1996, Acne has never once strayed from its founding principles, a rare quality considering that most brands of similar fame spin off into the wild worlds of fragrance, homeware, make-up and all the rest. Though that’s not to say that from the moment of conception Johansson envisioned the brand being what it is today. Instead, it was Johansson’s eclectic upbringing that cast such an enchanting spell for his future. Growing up in “reindeer country” Umeå, eight hours north of Stockholm, Johansson was raised by his guitar loving father, who worked in military education, and his artist mother. From day one Johansson was at once inside the system and simultaneously outside of it – a paradox he’s played on throughout his career.

Words by Charlie Newman.

Photography by Edwin S Freyer. Styled by Alton Hetariki.

All clothes by Acne Studios.

Originally, Johansson envisioned Acne as an artistic collective, “built on the Warholian factory idea”, (as previously stated in focusing on furniture, music and film and all wrapped up in the magazine, Acne Paper. It was within these cult pages that the fashion began to rise through. Johansson wanted to create the Coca Cola of fashion with an emphasis on design. This, in his eyes, was a pair of jeans and so they created 100 pairs and gifted them to fellow aesthetes. It’s difficult now to remember a time when straight leg or skinny jeans didn’t rule the world, but prior to Acne, we were still clad in bootcut or baggy denim. Always on the pulse of style, Johansson is considered as solely responsible for “millennial pink”, the dusty shade of rose that dominates walls, water bottles, winter coats and everything in between. In a discussion with Morwenna Ferrier for The Observer, Johansson divulged, “the truth is, a few years ago, I was working late and I had a food wrapper next to my computer in that colour. I liked it, so we made the bags in it. I think it’s lost all meaning.” The meaning may have been diluted but Acne fans seem to have concentrated their attention even more on Johansson’s creations.

However, Johansson also admitted to falling out of love with the fashion industry prior to the pandemic, in a conversation with the Fashion Network. “Before this all happened, I felt quite, not negative, but quite full. And I felt that there were a lot of problems with the environment, and fashion is doing a bad job.” But never one to follow mainstream ideologies, Johansson has flipped our gloomy post-pandemic outlook and instead welcomed it as a time of refreshing optimism. Reflecting on the lockdown, Johansson rejoiced in the “time to work on things and to make a plan. And I think people need fashion as a way of self-expression, from a playful perspective, from the creative side, it’s a very important thing in society.”

To speak of clothing as a necessity and a life-giver might seem superfluous after the past 18 months that we’ve collectively experienced. But surely anything that sparks joy is essential and should be embraced? Unlike other Scandi super brands, Acne produces clothes that jolt you; they demand your attention and your curiosity, compared to the straight forward cutesy, kitsch Ganni, or the purist uniform of Filippa K. With Acne you don’t know what’s coming, all that you can guarantee is that it will subvert the standard narrative and celebrate indifference by championing “maximalist minimalism.”

Indeed for the F/W 2021 collection, Johansson isn’t trying to recreate “the perfect archetype, it’s more about exploring garments with a sense of playfulness.” We see this imbued across the collection, as in one instance where, “we have played with prints, like a copy of a fake Acne Studios logo I found on the internet, which I’ve then repeated until it blurs like an abstract going down the body.” He further challenges the notion of value and perspective, noting that “the whole collection is very inspired by light and what [a difference] light makes to garments, to fabric, to people and how things look different in different lights.”

Thank goodness the pandemic has lifted Johansson’s mood and appreciation for the fashion industry, and long may we reap the benefits. As multi-referential and creative as Johansson may be, if there’s one thing he hones in on spectacularly, it is his customer and the current climate. Full blown glamour and luxury, whilst it may seem appealing on the eye, still feels a little insensitive or inappropriate right now. Johansson’s answer to our inner conflict is to marry our contradictory yearnings and rejections, packaging our debate into a “workwear jacket made from taffeta, and also another pair of dungarees in satin”, stilettos are worn over thick socks, coats resemble blankets and leggings look like rugs. Through the Acne lens we are encouraged to dress in “a more spontaneous way and a more comforting way.” And what’s more comforting than a designer directly dressing for the time we live in? We see this specifically in the latter half of the collection, devoted to a monochrome palette – a sympathetic nod to the influx of delayed funerals and weddings we’re all attending.

Whether it’s for a funeral, wedding, school drop-off, meeting, dinner out, or staying at home, Acne is there to hold your hand and transform you instantaneously into a more nonchalantly cool you along the way. Many designers have prophesied on the effects of the pandemic and the changes within their brand as a result. For Johansson, it only further solidifies his pre-existing faith in Acne Studios, “The global situation this past year has allowed us to look inward, renewing our commitment to an experimental studio practice. Experimentation is what I love in design. It’s like the artist’s studio, or the band’s rehearsal room. The resulting look is still very Acne Studios, dressing with a sense of lightness, sexiness and also wearability.” What more could you ask from your wardrobe?


Unconditional Love with Acne Studios appears in Fall Winter 2021 Issue 7.


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