CONFRONTED WITH A WORLD OF FAST-FASHION, ENDLESS FADS AND EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION, SWEDISH FASHION HOUSE ACNE STUDIOS WANTED TO CHANGE THE DESIGN WORLD WITH A SIGNIFICANT CAUSE: SIMPLICITY. BASED IN STOCKHOLM, THE BRAND PRIZES SLEEK DESIGNS, FUTURE-THINKING CONSTRUCTIONS AND HIGH QUALITY FABRICS TO GO BEYOND THE TRENDS TO CREATE CLOTHES THAT BECAME MORE MEANINGFUL AND PRECIOUS TO THEIR OWNERS.
The initial challenge was to take basic wardrobe items and make them extremely fashionable. Denim became the medium of choice, teamed with a negative name in English and vibrant pink packaging. An unusual combination that works, making the press look twice thanks to the attention to detail in every item produced, starting to unravel a continuous story with each new collection.
A SIMPLE IDEA
Acne studios was founded in 1996 within a wider creative group in Stockholm, Sweden. The collective group included graphic designers, video makers and advertisers, prompting the brand to adopt a multidisciplinary approach. Jonny Johansson founded the business following his interest in photography, art, architecture and contemporary culture. This curiosity and passion for design led him to take up the role of Creative Director; something that he has continued to pursue throughout the brand’s history.
During this initial phase of the business start-up, Johansson created one hundred pairs of raw denim jeans with red stitching, giving them away to his friends, family and influencers within his city. The jeans made such a stir that the press soon started talking about the idea, featuring in publications such as Vogue Paris and Wallpaper. This prompted the company to expand their designs beyond denim, experimenting with other staple items within their wardrobes to create a new look.
In 1998, they launched their first ever ready-to-wear collection, supplying to some of the most high profile department stores in the business. However, the organisation of the logistics side of the business was not quite as developed as the collections, leading the corporation close to bankruptcy at the turn of the century. It was at this point that the creative collective had to decide to curb growth for a couple of seasons to stabilise sales, originally wanting to limit the brand’s production to their strongest, signature product: jeans. However, Johansson strongly objected to this idea, agreeing to contain expansion to local territory if he could continue to build upon his ready-to-wear collection. Thankfully, the collective agreed to the compromise, and the corporate finances started to improve drastically. The collections continued to expand, covering menswear, womenswear, footwear, accessories and denim.
Johansson has always enjoyed pairing together juxtaposing design ideas with a strong focus on intricate detailing, teaming classic tailoring with an original use of materials. He often initiates his own research to create custom developed fabrics, using technology to create innovative materials for each collection. Many of the brand’s signature looks include details borrowed from sportswear, combined with luxe layering and a neutral, often minimalist, colour palette. With a background in furniture design, Johansson also started to branch out into interior design, often collaborating with well-known brands and emerging designers to create limited edition pieces and avant-garde exhibitions.
Today, Acne Studios is renowned for taking an alternative approach to classic design, becoming a well-respected brand creating ready-to-wear fashion collections, interior design solutions, books, magazines and exhibitions. With the rise of online communications, the brand rejects traditional advertising and marketing techniques in favour of timeless connections, launching an online website and e-commerce platform. The company also launch a print magazine featuring their designs throughout the year. Their minimalist design ethos embraces slow design across all areas of the business, allowing them to truly stand out from the crowd by focusing on fashion that carries a deeper meaning that will last a lifetime.
Traditional tailoring meets draping and couture handcraft with a signature sinister edge. A recurring motif in the collections that became a worldwide must-have is the skull motif, printed onto ready-to-wear, as well as accessories. Another popular commercial item is the bodycon dress with elaborate prints or intarsia knit patterns. The Armadillo shoe from Lee’s last full collection Plato’s Atlantis, also featured in Lady Gaga’s music video for “Bad Romance”, became a universally talked-about novelty item.
Acne studios aim to create quality garments that will last for a long time. The pure aesthetic often favours natural fabric treatments, interspersing graphic prints with even-toned fabrics.
Acne Studios opens in Stockholm, co-founded by Jonny Johansson and Mikael Schiller. It was initially created under a wider creative collective group called ACNE, specialising in film, design and advertising. The name ACNE stands for “Ambition to Create Novel Expressions”, inspired by a signature Nordic aesthetic. In 2000, the brand receives Swedish Elle’s “Designer of the Year” award.
The first branded boutique is opened in PK-huset in central Stockholm, followed by another in Copenhagen in 2004. Expansion continues the year after, inaugurating new stores in Berlin, Sweden and Denmark.
Acne Studios becomes a company in its own right, separating from the wider collective group that included Acne film, Acne advertising and Acne digital. The same year, the brand launched its own website and e-commerce platform at acnestudios.com.
Following the interdisciplinary nature of the brand, Johansson launches the brand’s first furniture collection exclusively for Liberty London. A selection of five patterned sofas were available to purchase throughout the London Design Festival, showcasing the floral prints made famous by the iconic British Emporium.
The brand continues to grow, expanding internationally with a total of 35 boutiques, including locations in Tokyo, Antwerp, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Oslo and Copenhagen and London, as well as over 60 accounts worldwide. Designers continue to work towards corporate sustainability goals, reaching 20% of organic and environmentally sustainable fabrics within their perennial collections.
Sarah Burton makes her debut as head designer of the Alexander McQueen brand, proving that she embodies the McQueen DNA.
That same year the brand receives a further incredible marketing and image boost with the creation of Kate Middleton’s legendary wedding gown. To this day the iconic gown is among the most emulated (albeit inimitable) wedding dress designs worldwide.
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