The hot spot for cool customers: Swedish label Acne

Fashion insiders love the hip Swedish label Acne – and now it’s opening a store over here. About time too, says Harriet Walker

Monday 12 July 2010 00:00 BST

The fashion set is afflicted by Acne at the moment: it’s all over their backs, their feet, even their coffee tables. If you don’t have any yourself yet, now’s the time to scratch the itch.

Swedish denim label Acne – it stands for Ambition to Create Novel Expressions – is the latest coup de foudre of the fashion world, an understated, under-the-radar brand that offers all the ingredients necessary for a sleek and minimal, slightly grungy, modern wardrobe. And it’s opening its largest store in London this week, a concept ‘studio’ over four floors, featuring clothing, furniture, a roof terrace, gallery and garden. “Acne has flourished on an upturn in taste for cool urbanwear, inspired in part by what models and stylists wear off-duty,” says Harriet Quick, fashion features director at Vogue.

“The design doesn’t try too hard, yet it is still trend-savvy, especially the dresses and tailoring. And there’s a deconstructed grunge element that feels right for now.” That element manifests itself in oversized aviator jackets, mannish blazers and slub vests worn with the tightest of leather leggings and jeans in all shapes and sizes, from skinny crops to carrot-shaped peg denim created for French house Lanvin last year. “If I could design something that people can have a long-term relationship with, I would be very happy,” says founder Jonny Johansson. “I want to design a garment that makes you feel stronger and more self-confident.”

Denim has been the DNA of the label since its inception in 1996, when Johansson and three friends formed a charmingly Swedish collective and gave away 100 pairs of handmade jeans to a select group of acquaintances. Stockholm boutiques were soon eager to stock the signature red-stitched unisex jeans. Having now branched out into rather prettier floral dresses, luxuriant sheepskin coats and furs and fashionably fierce wedge boots, the range never strays too far from its streetwear aesthetic, with this summer’s elegantly dressed-down jersey maxiskirts at the top of many fashion editors’ wish lists.

“It’s a collection of intriguing surprises brought together by people with a frame of reference outside mainstream fashion,” says Penny Martin, editor in chief of The Gentlewoman. “I’m forever asking people what’s that quirky item they’re wearing, and it’s always Acne.” The label’s trademark of quiet quirk is inherently Scandinavian, and it’s an aesthetic that has gained quite a bit of momentum in recent seasons – graphic, sharp tailoring and body-conscious, sci-fi pieces that are subdued without being too subtle. Acne’s autumn/winter collection this year was inspired by Star Wars, and the look is a suitable mixture of intergalactic and grunge, with patchwork fur jackets worn with dull-gold dhoti trousers and warped-looking leather pieces layered like hides over mesh and cotton vests.

But for those who want to invest in modern basics, Acne’s vast range of design-heavy separates will perk up a tired repertoire. “I come back every season and usually find something I love,” says Vogue’s executive fashion editor Emily Zak.

“It more than fill gaps in your wardrobe. Sometimes a brand captures a mood – Acne is more than a fashion brand, at a time when we all want more from fashion.” Extras come in the form of a newly launched furniture range, which will be available from the new store, and the quarterly magazine, Acne Paper, a high-end and painfully hip collection of articles and shoots from some of the biggest names in fashion. Contributors have included Carine Roitfeld, editor of French Vogue, photographer Lord Snowdon and designer Azzedine Alaïa.

“The London shop will provide a quasi-cultural platform,” says Quick, “with furniture and artisan artefacts among the collections. These elements elevate Acne from being just another jeans label.” It certainly does, thanks to a level of complexity and idiosyncrasy in the pieces that renders them recognisable without being ubiquitous. Last season’s armour jeans, with C-3POesque metallic panels running down the front of each leg were spotted on Kylie Minogue, while the label’s aviator jackets caused such a stir that the high street rushed to produce its own versions. “I focus on designing clothes that give good energy to the wearer,” says Johansson. “Our view on fashion is playful and relaxed.” Acne’s fine balance of fashion and nonchalance is calibrated just so. Little wonder then that Acne has got under the fashion pack’s skin.

Acne London Studio opens Thursday at 13 Dover St, W1.

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