Involved in everything from design, film and music to fashion, architecture and advertising, Swedish collective ACNE are an ever-expanding empire renowned for breaking divisions between art and industry – they also happen to make pretty nice jeans. LULA gets personal with Jonny Johansson, the creative mastermind behind ACNE’s comprehensive identity, and talks teen-rocker dreams, Warhol pop and the last days of punk.
LULA: Jonny, how did ACNE – the collective – come together?
JONNY: It began with just four people… we were all friends and all came from different backgrounds. The whole idea was to work as one group across different disciplines. We were very inspired by the Warhol ‘Factory’, it was about using design as a base to meet everything else – to have the freedom to mix influences. We wanted to change the usual system of doing things – to create a company that did many different things rather than concentrating on just one.
L: And what is your role in the company?
J: I’m the Creative Director, I’m in control of the company’s identity and look after all the fashion design.
L: How many disciplines are ACNE involved in?
J: Everything we do is built on creativity. We have five sections; design, architecture, music, film and fashion. We’ve also got a bi-annual paper that I’m the Editor at Large for, available throughout Europe and the United States.
L: What is ACNE’s philosophy?
J: We have something we call ‘art and industry’ – it’s our tagline. It’s about finding a meeting point between creative expression and commerciality. We ask, ‘do you really want to be a Van Gogh – only celebrated for your work after death?’ I think it’s interesting what Andy Warhol stood for – being part of pop culture, being celebrated in his own time, in his own way. Our company is all about pop – we’re playful and happy.
L: Is being into pop culture part of the reason you created ACNE Jeans?
J: Yes, we started to work with jeans because they are the ultimate fashion item… they are basic and generic, so we wanted to play around with that and see if we could make something different. Jeans were originally a work-wear item, a functional garment, but quickly became a very pop, fashion item. We chose to work on jeans first before any other fashion, because jeans are one garment everybody owns – they are the most simple, and most important, fashion item. Our jeans started off as an experiment, we just made them for ourselves and friends. But then our friends picked them up and promoted them… stylists, photographers and buyers in Sweden, and soon shops and a lot of people were asking us to create more. When we started making our jeans, other jeans were all about vintage or over-decoration – we wanted simplicity of design, where proportion was the focus over decoration. We stuck with the classic model, but created interesting detailing like red top-stitching.
L: Was fashion always an interest of yours growing up?
J: I come from a musical background… my sister is a music teacher, my father is a drummer and my brother is a guitarist – so I’m from a very creative world. Fashion is a big part of that, so it was a natural move for me.
L: You must have played an instrument then?
J: I played the guitar and was the lead singer in a hundred bands all through my teens. When you play in bands when you’re young, you change all the time, I was always playing in bands through high-school. Even quite recently I recorded an album with EMI – in 1998.
L: Oh really, what was your band called?
J: (Laughs)… I don’t really want to name the band.
L: So, being a teen-rocker, did you dream of becoming a rock-star?
J: When you find music, you really believe, ‘this is who I am, this is me’, so I did hope there was a future in it. I really knew I had to be involved with music in some way. I grew up when punk was almost dead – but it was still really happening in Sweden. I was trying to be punk, I wanted to look and be punk, but I was a little late… I was a bit of a fashion punk, because the real punk ‘anarchy’ thing was dead. I was the last of a dying breed.
L: Aside from playing in bands, what else did you like in high-school?
J: Music was my favourite pastime and subject, I also liked biology. Even studying religion I really enjoyed at one point – although I’m not religious myself. I listened to all different kinds of music when I was young – before I found punk music as an early teenager, I liked music my father played. He played lots of music like Bruce Springstein, he was one of the house gods… one of my father’s favourites. I used to really like Bruce Springstein before I found my own music scene, but I didn’t want my friends to know – I was a bit embarrassed about it. I can remember changing the tape over in my walkman one time so that my friends couldn’t see what I’d been listening to.
L:Where in Sweden did you grow up?
J: I grew up in the North of Sweden, in a place called Umeå. It’s so far north that in the summer the sun shines all day and night, and during the winter it’s almost total darkness. Summer only lasts one month, so I really grew up with a lot of darkness… it’s a heavy mentality growing up in that much darkness. We moved there because my father was in the army, and the north is where the military is based. Now I live in Stockholm – I moved when I was 19, I just had to leave as soon as I could, I’m very happy here.
L:Have you lived anywhere else?
J: Actually, in 1994 I moved to New York and I lived there for eight months, I loved it there. I went there on a project – I designed the interior of an apartment.
L: You’re into all kinds of design then?
J: Definiteley… I design furniture, interiors, many things. I didn’t go to university, so I just taught myself and learnt from friends. I learnt by doing and making – when you’re creative it’s more important to actually ‘do’ things than just think and talk about doing them.
L: What’s your dream outcome for ACNE?
J: To be honest, I want us to have an international presence and perspective to do all the things we can, to keep creating and doing new things. I want ACNE to be remembered for being a positive collective, doing positive things.
L: Kirsten Dunst is the guest editor this issue, she actually picked ACNE…
J: Oh that’s so sweet… that really makes me blush.
L: Cute! Have you ever met Kirsten?
J: No but I saw her once in LA in an organic café, it was about two years ago… I didn’t talk to her that time, although I would like to.
L: What is your favourite Kirsten film?
J: I like the vampire movie… it’s really one of my favourites to be honest, it’s a beautiful movie. I know she was young when she made it, I hope she still likes it.