Acne hits the streets of London

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It’s been a long time coming – 14 years to be exact – but multi-faceted Swedish fashion label Acne has finally opened its first stand-alone store in London. The wait, we’re pleased to report, was worth it - as the impressive Dover Street location, gallery-esque interior and four floors of impeccable Acne tailoring all attest.

Brainchild of Acne co-founder and creative director Jonny Johansson, the space is a distillation of the brand’s many composite parts, from the Acne-designed furniture to work by artists - including Helmut Lang and Jeremiah Goodman – handpicked by Johansson to line the floors and walls of the store. (Lang’s dissected black wooden eagle is an Esquire favourite).

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The ground floor of the new store is home to the Amelia Earhart-inspired menswear collection, and comes complete with a grand piano - which will be played by a professional pianist at the weekend - alongside a range of densely-stocked (and well-lit, thanks to some nifty neon tubing) rails. We caught up with Jonny Johansson mid-opening to talk shop, glitter balls and guitars.

Acne Men's 2

Acne Studio London, 13 Dover Street, London, W1 opens on July 16. www.acnestudios.com

Esquire: Jonny, when you designed the store was it a case of you reacting to the space, or did you come to it with a pre-conceived idea?

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Jonny Johansson: It was definitely a case of me reacting the space as the latter just doesn’t work. I must say, the London store presented me with a huge challenge. I never thought our clothing was art or anything like that, I never had any ambition to call it art. For me fashion is playful. It’s here and now, and fun.

I’ve created stores in a lot of historic places because, as a young brand, you attempt to create your history. But this London space was originally designed to be a gallery, and it just doesn’t have a history. So we added the wooden floors to give it a Scandinavian feel, and I also brought in the artists to give the space a sense of history. I’ve installed illustrations of other people’s interiors by American artist Jeremiah Goodman on the second floor and I’ve also included photos by Katerina Jebb on the third floor – but whilst I love the finished product, it’s the experience of working with such creative people that really excited me.

Esq: How did Helmut Lang's eagle sculpture (on the third floor) come to be used in the new store?

JJ: The sculptures originally came from a friend because I talked him through what we were doing in London and he asked me whether I’d seen Lang’s eagles. When I first started working Lang was one of my biggest influences, I had a big admiration for him. Time’s moved on now, of course, but when I saw these eagles in the New York store I thought they were fantastic, and the opportunity to create an homage to Lang seemed ideal. Though I haven’t seen much of Lang’s art – his website isn’t geared to it.

Esq: Why did you choose to open the first Acne store in Mayfair, Jonny?

JJ: I just love to run around this area to be honest. There's this great little lithograph place on Albemarle Street, and when I’m in London I always stay in Brown's. I just think it’s a great mix of business people, tourists and creative people. We were originally looking at Mount Street but I’m pleased it didn’t go through. It’s a little bit static and luxury-centric, and I didn’t know anything about Mount Street before I came over.

Esq: How come it’s taken you so long to make the full move to London?

JJ: We were first sold in London back in 1998 at both Jones in Covent Garden and Selfridges, but it was really early on and we couldn’t deliver, being such a young company. We then moved to Paris and were given a big spread in French Vogue, so we played on our strengths and took time finding our perfect home in London.

Esq: Has the whitewash nature of the space allowed you to make your mark do you think?

JJ: I love this space, but to be honest, it’s empty and it’s white so it was really hard for me to fill, whereas with a historical space you just need to stick a few modern things here and there to make it work.

Esq: What does Jonny Johansson do for fun?

JJ: I play the guitar, but I’m trying to learn the piano – I just bought a beautiful Steinway from the 1920s. I find it easier than playing my guitars, although I have a collection in my basement, it’s such a hassle to get them out, take them upstairs and tune them up. The piano however, is there, it’s tuned and it’s just easy.

Esq: What do you like to play?

JJ: I’ve been working on this “Wicked Game” song by that good looking surfer dude, Chris Isaak. (Jonny begins to sing at this point). He did this video with a Spanish model rolling around on the beach. I’m trying to learn that song, but I’m making slow progress! I also like to sing but there’s a big difference between the low and high notes, which makes it really difficult! (Jonny starts to sing again..)

Acne Helmut Lang Sculpture