When I started out in fashion Ann-Sofie Back was just a student at Central Saint Martins in London that the magazine I wrote for believed in so much that they put her on the cover of their final issue. Soon thereafter, her graduate collection was shot by Juergen Teller for Purple Magazine and Ann-Sofie Back was hailed as one of the ones to watch. This was in the early Noughties.
For a brief stint she showed in Paris but mainly she has remained in London, taking a break from showing once in a while. These days she seems to have found a way to structure her life and business that works – proper job at Cheap Monday; diffusion line BACK giving her a price point which works in Sweden; “proper” line Ann-Sofie Back Ateljé more focused.
You can tell this works just by looking at the clothes, which are more sophisticated, luxurious but also clearer in vision than I think they’ve been before.
I really thought it was a splendid collection she showed here in London on Sunday and while it was criticised by Tim Blanks at Style.com for being “unnecessarily severe”, he also said it was “positively esoteric” and compared her to Miuccia Prada.
Is it important for Swedish fashion to be seen at places like London Fashion Week? I sometimes think it would be good for Swedish brands to be subjected to the kind of competition and scrutiny you have on the international scene, but at the same time, the Swedish bubble also creates interesting stuff, like the menswear label Our Legacy which many think is the next big thing to come out of Sweden.
I know that I previously said that I believe the Swedish design identity needs to be broadened, but for a lot of brands there will naturally exist some kind of sensibility that is perhaps Scandinavian. Many small Swedish designers make their shoes in Argentina (because of an Argentinian woman living in Stockholm) and I’ve heard that the Swedish shoes for women are laughed at in the Argentinian factory and seen as frumpy-looking and ugly. This might make a lot of Swedish design uninteresting in latin countries, places with a warmer climate and more feminine design aesthetic.
At the same time, the woman of Swedish fashion is perhaps more on trend than ever before. The working woman look that evolved in the Seventies, and who has been brought back by designers like Phoebe Philo at Céline, Stella McCartney and Hannah MacGibbon at Chloé, fits very well with the Swedish mentality where women want to dress in a way that signals equality, independence, intelligence and natural beauty.
Acne is also a label which has recently started showing in London, in many ways marking a new era for the denim brand. The first real show at Kensington Palace last autumn was not so well received by fashion critics, in a way showing that the exoticism of Stockholm could work in your favour. It will be interesting to see how this added scrutiny changes Acne. In a way it is a question of identity that any company reaching this level faces: in what ways are you an international brand and in what ways are you still Swedish?