This season, Acne Studios celebrated 10 years of showing in Paris. But also, the spring-summer 2023 offering suggested a new direction for the brand. “Sexy” and “sensual” aren’t really keywords that affiliate with Acne Studios. Jonny Johansson decided to explore this new territory for the label – but don’t expect anything too obvious. We’re speaking of “sexiness” done the Acne-Studios-way: oddly-fitting, raw, mysterious. The Palais de Tokyo venue was carpeted a light pink, and here and there shell-covered candelabra stood at attention among a maze of beds covered in matching satin duvets and pillows. There was a wedding-slash-honeymoon vibe about it. The ostensible bride wore white embroidered tulle in the shape of an elongated pillow case, the corners creating drama around the shoulders, but Johansson said that he was less interested in the affianced than in the crowd of nearest and dearest that might assemble to celebrate them: the bad brother, the mother who lets the bad brother get away with everything, the tipsy aunt, etc. “Weddings are kind of kitsch,” he pointed out. Surely, the pink satin bed sheet dress qualified. Ditto for the pastel bows trapped between layers of lace and tulle, and the gingham suits with bra tops worn over the jackets, each cup boasting a blooming rosette. All that sweetness met its opposite in thrashed leather blazers trimmed with metal spikes.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
This was one of Acne Studios‘ strongest collections in a while. It had some very surprising turns (eveningwear!), it had an inspiring sustainability factor, and it somehow captured what fashion can be in turbulent times. But lets start from the beginning. When Jonny Johansson was a teenager still at school he lobbied his mother to get him some Levi’s 501s. Mrs. Johansson resisted, bought Swedish, and came back with two pairs of denim pants that she’d snagged from H&M for the same price as one pair of red tags. “She said this is the best choice,” Johansson sighed backstage. At the same time, however, Mrs. J also picked up a jacket which Jonny initially was not into – but which he decided to have a go at turning into something he liked. “It needed to be shortened and then I added a belt. I went into school wearing it, not knowing if people would notice it, or notice that it was home-made – which was not cool,” he said today. None of Johansson’s schoolmates reacted either way. Well, just look at him now. This collection leaned into Acne’s denim heritage in front of an influence-loaded audience with great effect. Upcycled patched denim paperbag skirts, an upcycled patched denim crini dress, and the opening look, a wide-leg garment dyed denim skirt, all paid homage to the single medium that was chiefly responsible for this multi-hyphenate success. Against this he played denim’s natural co-conspirator, leather, via a series of double-breasted trench coats reduced to slit-skirted armless dresses, sometimes also overdyed. Other notable elements included tuft-lined and sometimes-quilted regal blanket dresses in grandma florals, crystal embedded rib-kit socks over shoes, grungily faded jersey separates, layered fringed curtain dresses, and repeated returns to the post-Talking Heads boxy blazer in overdyed leather that was another early Acne signature. As tattered and ragged in its delivery as it was complete in its conception, this was an Acne collection that seemed more comfortable with itself than some of Johansson’s previous ventures. The show was accompanied by an original live performance by musician and composer Suzanne Ciani, a pioneer of electronic music who embraced the liberating technologies of synth to transform the way we listen to music today. As a last-minute change, the finale soundtrack reminded one of a war battleground rattle. The nomadic silhouettes walking on the elevated runway with these disturbing sound sensations in the background felt like a hopeful vision: in the end, the good overcomes the evil.
The new season Acne Studios collection is quite close to Jonny Johansson‘s recent outings: incredibly tactile, playfully deconstructed and intentionally ‘unfinished’ if you know what I mean. The difference is that it’s a direct response to current lockdown feelings and isolation moods. Spending lockdown at his Swedish country house, the designer has found it a sort of pastoral escape from reality: “a dreamscape, fantasy situation,” he said. “It’s been quite an easy place to focus, a comforting world to be in.” There’s a certain relaxed, cozy feeling in the opening, vintage-y looks. Distressed dressing gowns and fuzzy fabric pajamas, floral nightgowns and distended knits appropriated the cutesy fabrics that furnish his home, thick knitted socks stuffed into sandals… so Acne Studios and so, so desirable right now, during what seems to be a global fatigue. Stripped back, some of the underlayers (notably a tie-dye, silken dress, or a button-down micro-floral ’90s number) were charming as well. Johansson explained he was also designing with the future in mind. His somewhat severe snapback to reality, which appeared toward the end of the collection, revolved around the weddings and funerals precluded by gathering restrictions – hence the monochromatics that followed a palette of well-washed pastels. It felt somewhat dystopian, gaping crochet and wader boots read more directly as apocalyptic than churchgoing attire, but a twisted lace version of a wedding dress or some black taffeta tailoring would certainly suit cocktail hour. This season, designers are grappling with the notion of a post-pandemic wardrobe, and nothing has yet been decided – although it feels unlikely that many people will want to extend a year spent in pajamas much longer than is strictly necessary. Acne Studios offers that in-between wardrobe, one foot in bedsheets, one foot in actual life.
Acne Studios returned to the usual fashion month week schedule, which might be making more sense than showing two months earlier during menswear-couture-resort frenzy – ironically, this period of time is even more hectic than regular Paris Fashion Week, especially in post-lock-down era. The spring-summer 2021 collection coming from Jonny Johansson is one of the best ones in a while. Less over-styling, more focus on the actual clothes. And there was plenty of optimism and vibrance (and occasional magic), too, which we all need now. “It feels like a transition to something more positive. I’m very optimistic about what’s happening. I feel positive. I spent more time with myself and my family, and just in the studio with people. It’s been a less stressful period, although the stress has come from somewhere else. I’ve been quite happy, actually, although I know that sounds weird.” Maybe that explained why Johansson’s show notes referenced “gatherings for a spiritual moonrise”, and the garments quite literally reflected it. Everywhere you looked, there was a shiny, metallic, or iridescent texture. Within the context, it felt a bit like New Age spirituality, an element you could associate with the surfer culture Johansson belongs to. “When the sun is going down, hordes of people are staying on the beach looking at the sundown. It’s like a tribe of people that go towards the light,” he said. The shine mingled with raw materials like crinkled paper, washed linens, and hemp on heels. Styled together, it had a certain density about it. A raggy dress in stained leather and tattered netting drove home the cultish association. A collaboration with the Los Angeles–based artist Ben Quinn, who interprets his personal experiences with the mystical via supernatural imagery, produced various pieces that made the whole affair feel that extra-bit pagan. Invited to experience a repeat of the show after its livestream, guests walked through a series of rooms in the Grand Palais, each reflecting a different time of day and the light that defines it. The looks were selected to match those different occasions. Models were lined up and walking around in circles, eerily staring up at a massive sunlamp as if they were participating in a séance. Who said fashion can’t be therapeutical and slightly transcendent?
You wouldn’t know it from these photos, but the Acne Studios women’s and men’s collections took place together. Meaning, at the same time, in the same venue, with the same music. But instead of being shown together, they had been consciously uncoupled – separated by a featureless white wall running the length of the runway. Jonny Johansson, the label’s designer, explained that the men’s direction would be “forward” while the women’s direction would look back. More specifically, AI and algorithms contributed to the men’s designs, whereas Old Masters artworks and ornamental fabrics formed the basis of the women’s show. Beautiful jacquards, brocades, and velvets that might have otherwise been used for upholstery, theater curtains, or a mondaine’s corset were transformed into dramatic dress coats, cocoon-shaped tunics, and sumptuous suiting with edges frayed and tasseled to varying degrees of decadent distress. A series of twisted tailored looks, including a leather coat painted with a faded scene of classical nudes, reiterated a certain unhinged, arty attitude that comes so naturally to Acne Studios. A body-contoured dress enhanced with a burnout treatment that traced the acanthus pattern was gorgeous. The womenswear was, summing up, beautiful and really, really covetable. On the other side of the wall, thinks weren’t looking this great. The menswear was created in collaboration with a “generative artist” named Robbie Barrat, who writes algorithms to realize his projects. All Acne archives were filtered through Barrat’s algorithms to enable an AI-authored menswear collection. Definitely, a human hand had its part in the collection. However, the tech-authored designs looked clumsy and… overcomplicated? This time, the old way wins.