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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Q&A: Jonny Johansson

Not long ago Acne was a relatively unknown skinny jeans company from Sweden. Now with 16 stores internationally, phenomenal collaborations with Lanvin and jeweler Michael Zobel, and an exceptional collection for fall '09, it's ballooned into the brand that everyone is obsessed with. We caught up with founder Jonny Johansson as he vacationed with his family in Stockholm. By Kay Barron

The last year has been great for Acne. The recession has been good to you!
The recession has been good in the sense that it means I can focus on what I really like and almost "clean up" what I do. When I was in London a year ago I met an American guy who was recently bankrupt. He didn’t have any money so I took him for a drink and bought him some food. He was a vintage collector and a writer, but he is a musician, too, and he told me that even though his business is on its knees, he has never felt so creative. I think that’s inspiring. For me fashion had become too narrow. Everything had to be so fucking luxurious, and the whole creative and expressive part disappeared.

There is something intrinsically Swedish about Acne that I can’t put my finger on. Can you explain?
I am Swedish! I think that our clothing is functional and related to architecture. It is graphic, but I wouldn’t say it's minimal, which people often say it is. Maybe it's a lack of growing up with couture and extravagance. We had this plan from the start that everyone is on this journey and we know that we’re not perfect and next season we might be more or less interesting. We accept things as imperfect, we almost treasure it. I don’t think people take us too seriously.

Really, even now?
It's only clothing, you know. If you try to keep up with all the amazing and creative people you'll lose your personality, your focus and your ability to find something a little bit personal.

So there's no master plan?
Our plan is to work with people we like and admire. Acne is built on other people. I feel the spirit of everyone I work with. Now we are designing furniture, and for me it's so much fun! Few people have the luxury of trying out different disciplines. If I worked for a big house, it wouldn’t be appropriate to try out different things as there would be a heritage to respect.

Or maybe you get bored easily.
It might be a bit of that.

How do you see the company growing? You mentioned perfume earlier. Will we see that soon?
I am really interested in it, but I think those kinds of brand extensions feel very commercial, so we’re not doing perfume for now. We have lots of other projects lined up that I’m really excited about, but we are taking things slowly. I don’t want Acne to be super mega and absolutely everywhere. In the end, people will find you.

I think Acne has changed the price people expect to pay for quality.
If we’ve done that then I am very proud, especially if they are buying pieces that they are going to wear for a long time.

Do people shop differently from country to country?
In some places. New York is made up of different societies—Chelsea, Brooklyn, the Village, etc—and I don’t think we have reached all of those groups yet. But everywhere we are, we are attracting a really diverse community. That means that we are doing something right.

When is London getting its Acne store?
We’d really like to do that, but we need to find a location. A while ago we were thinking about Mount Street [in Mayfair]. But now when I go there, there doesn’t seem to be anyone walking around. Everyone is in Scott’s restaurant. That’s the only place on the street that's always busy!

You were in bands for a number of years. Do you still play guitar?
Yes, of course. Music is meditation for me. If I’m tired or really excited about something I’ll go to my cellar and play music for hours and hours.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m sorry, I have been listening to Metallica. I just really like their latest album. I bought a drum set and that is why I’m listening to them, to practice.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Definitely. I wish I had known more when I started. It sounds sad, but I still wish I had had a fashion education. Of course, there is strength in not coming from a fashion background, but at the same time I am missing some skills.

It’s never too late to go back to school, Jonny!
Haha! That’s just what my mother said.

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