If Japanese fashion ruled the 1980s and Belgian fashion the 1990s, then the noughties definitely belong to the Scandanavians. Brands like Acne, Astrid Andersen, Bruuns Bazaar and Cos woo us with a cool, clean-lined, quietly oddball aesthetic, born from endless nights and long winters. But the philosophy, says Dorothea Gundtoft, author of Fashion Scandinavia, may be changing.
This sounds like a statement custom made to describe Ann-Sofie Back, arguably one of the earliest exponents of Scandi design. Back graduated from Saint Martins in 1998 and showed in London before returning to Stockholm in 2009 as joint creative director of cult denim brand Cheap Monday and head of her own labels Ann-Sofie Back Atelje and diffusion range Back.
Back does extreme extremely well. Themes of past collections have included porn, punk and Hello magazine (there’s probably a connection). SS09 saw models strapped into pin-tucked dress, decorated with plasters and incision marks, the designer’s investigation/critique of plastic surgery. AW09 was styled onto zombies (not real ones).
Back has taken part in group shows that span London’s ICA and the Victoria and Albert Museum. When she was awarded the prestigious Goldbutton Award, the Swedish equivalent of the CFDA awards, a stamp was produced in her honour. Some of Back’s pieces may be frankly hard to carry off (some are very easy) but her work is always a response and challenge to the world around her.
Back once admitted that she ‘doesn’t enjoy the daily grind of working in fashion very much.’ I sent a list of questions to this most unfashiony of fashion designers and got a lot Back (sorry).
Ann-Sofie: I was a lot more blunt in the past but I get better at having a more subtle nod. Mind you, I WAS VERY BLUNT so don’t compare me to proper subtle. I couldn’t help myself poking fun with choice of music, odd-looking models, shows back to front etc. I really wanted to be uncomfortable. It’s a place where most people do not want to be whereas, for me, being uncomfortable is my comfort zone.
Ann-Sofie: I have huge problems with femininity, sensuality and “normal” beauty. It’s getting better and I, probably with age, feel more comfortable myself in the way I look and the way I am. I don’t mind femininity as much as I used to.
Ann-Sofie: Oh, there are so many things. Research and being able to talk about my designs are maybe the two most important things.
Ann-Sofie: I think it’s the most important art form there is. You can’t avoid it, even if you think you are, you’re not. Not caring about fashion is caring about fashion. Everyone has to take part.
Ann-Sofie: In the office by 10, answering e-mails until 12. Lunch in front of computer. Trying to avoid questions from production manager. Fittings. Putting stuff on Facebook and Instagram. Walking dog. Getting feedback from sales. Bus home at 19. Play ball with dog. Weeding in garden. Glass of wine, cook dinner. 5 episodes of The Killing on Netflix. Not answering phone. Falling asleep with glasses on and dog on arm.
Ann-Sofie: I look in my archive and find things I’m not done with that I think deserve development and that are still relevant. Add more research, pictures mostly. I’ll do an enormous amount of sketching. The sales and production team and I check all the prices are correct, that we have all the right jackets and so on. I redesign and add and take out all the way up to the show.
Ann-Sofie: social phenomena that I’m uncomfortable with like celebrity obsession, porn or Jante’s law.
Ann-Sofie: What I think is most important is that Swedish fashion (in general) doesn’t objectify women. It’s not sexy or girlie. Men dress more feminine here (this is where men started wearing their girlfriends’ skinny stretch jeans) and women more masculine. This aesthetic feels fresh, internationally. We also do not have the burden of a lot of history in fashion. Fashion is a relatively new business here and we don’t have a lot of rules of what is supposedly stylish and so on. This also makes for a fresh approach.
Ann-Sofie: In my life, I’m super sustainable, I’m the worst consumer there is. When I shop, it’s 99% second hand, furniture, clothes, bikes, you name it. I’m not a gadget freak. The most environmentally beneficial thing I’ve done is not having children. I travel very little for being a designer and I don’t have a car. So, bearing this in mind, I don’t have sustainability paranoia. I think that our environmental problems will be solved with technology. Progress is exponential and we can’t fathom what is around the corner, things that we have problems with today will not be in 5 years because consumer habits might change completely. What happens, for example, when all people have 3D printers at home and print their own clothes? Saying this, since we sell or collection BACK to Weekday stores (which is owned by H&M) we follow their code of conduct manual. I have heard from an expert that H&M really are on the forefront on these issues.
Ann-Sofie: I don’t know! I just know I wouldn’t want to live at any other point in history. I think it’s very exciting.
Ann-Sofie: Yes, I am. I haven’t become nostalgic about London yet, I just feel it’s not my town anymore. Maybe I’ll love it in a couple of years.