Credit: Courtesy of Acne Studios
Born: 18 April 1970 Nationality: Swedish Lives: Stockholm Education: Self-taught
Where fashion folklore is concerned, Acne’s origin story is more closely aligned with The Ugly Duckling than it is with The Emperor’s New Clothes. Co-founded as a boutique creative collective in 1996 by Jonny Johansson and then business partner, Tomas Skoging, the brand’s acronymic namesake philosophy – the Ambition to Create Novel Expressions – underpinned all of their initial film, advertising and graphic design projects.
It wasn’t until Johansson famously exhausted the company coffers by crafting one hundred pairs of raw denim jeans with distinctive red stitching to gift his underground creative friends the fashion world took notice.
Despite his lack of formal training, the unprecedented success of that first crudely-constructed denim offering piqued the interested of publications like Wallpaper*, Swedish ELLE and French Vogue. Acne (as it was then known) responded with a complete collection of apparel in 1998. Operating with a multidisciplinary creative ethos inspired by Warhol’s Factory, coupled with a uniquely Scandi sensibility, Johansson and Skoging dabbled in the production of music, furniture and branding for themselves, advertisers and contemporaries. They also created haute street wear that married form and function with an idiosyncratic vision of ‘cool’ – one that found increasing traction overseas and is what most people now associate with the Acne Studios (as it’s now called) name.
When Johannson’s vision for the label began to diverge from that of the collective in 2006, he and Skoging amicably parted ways. By then, Acne Studios was a critically-acclaimed brand with a cult following in global ready-to-wear fashion that showed regularly in London and Paris and had expanded into a bi-annual print publication.
The large-formatted Acne Paper, which is helmed by Thomas Persson, famously shuns traditional publishing focuses on advertising money and readership figures, as well as the conventional notions of celebrity. Instead, it features esoteric profiles, artful photography and spectacular fashion shoots which, incredibly, often feature none of the label’s own product.
Johannson has also forged ahead with a host of creative collaborations – capsule collections of couture denim with Lanvin, a unisex blouse with transversal fashion magazine CANDY, a monograph with legendary British photographer Lord Snowdon, and creative collaborations with artists like Peter Schlesinger and Daniel Silver all followed. True to brand, Johannson’s range of functional, yet avant-garde furniture, produced in collaboration with Liberty of London, is the antithesis of Ikea.
Perhaps busting the ‘poor creative’ stereotype forever, Johansson and the executive chairman of Acne Studios, Mikael Schiller, have crafted a global empire with 650 outlets in 66 countries. In 2015, the brand reported a turnover of $153 million dollars (€100 million) without having ever paid for a single advertisement. Again, shunning convention, Johansson cast his 11-year-old son, Frasse, to be cocooned in exaggerated outré tweed coats for the label’s Autumn/Winter 2015 womenswear campaign, photographed by Viviane Sassen.
Fittingly, Acne Studios’ Stockholm flagship store inhabits a former bank, the Kreditbanken, which was the site of a 1973 hostage situation that gave rise to the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Continuing the theme, its headquarters occupy a 16th century former bank at Lilla Nygatan 23 in the heart of Stockholm’s fairy tale-perfect, cobbled Old Town. While denim remains one of the label’s chief revenue generators (accounting for as much as 25 per cent of takings) Acne Studios remain committed to the creation of fashion, footwear and accessories that challenge stereotypes – of gender, of what’s consider ugly, new or cool – with integrity of design, an unparalleled point of view and an uncompromising desire for self-expression, no matter the cost.