morgan collett: This is the first time you’ve surfed in Rockaway, or in New York for that matter. I’d love to hear your opinion about the experience.

jonny johansson: There’s millions of thoughts in my mind, but it was so nice being with you, because you were sort of my introduction into the whole surfing thing.

mc: It’s been a pretty recent thing for you.

jj: Yeah, it’s very recent. I bought this house in Stockholm two years ago, which is near the only surf spot in Stockholm. It sounds ridiculous, but I got really hooked immediately, like the first day.

mc: I think that happens a lot. It’s a really incredible sport and it either captures you, or it doesn’t.

jj: I wonder, because I’ve brought friends to my country house who I thought would be really into it, but some of them didn’t respond at all. It was kind of surprising.

mc: It’s been interesting to see the different types of people who are drawn to surfing. Here in New York, there’s a huge mix of surfers who have different professions and lifestyles. It’s a really broad thing, and I think it can really expand into different markets.

jj: There’s not a particular profession that’s specifically drawn to it. I believe that it’s more of a mental state.

I have this idea of honest design. It has to come from me and it has to be something that’s relevant to me at the moment.

mc: Do you think that it’s something that’s going to continue to influence you? It influenced you recently in a couple of your collections, right?

jj: Yeah, because my method of working is very simple. I like to make it very personal and very straightforward. When I was younger and starting in fashion, I made it more complicated, but now I have this idea of honest design. It has to come from me and it has to be something that’s relevant to me at the moment. I’ve been in the water with my sons all summer, trying to be better at surfing. We’ve been in the water at least two times a day all summer. So when they ask me what to do in the office, what’s happening, I say, “Well, I’ve been surfing.”

mc: So it’s all drawn from this honest, present state.

jj: I think that’s my method. It’s my life. It’s my friends. It’s all very close and it’s not so much about being amazing or anything like that. Doing something in surfing, for me, is more the about colors. My beach is a rock beach and it’s always cold, because it’s the north of the world. There are a few girls there, and not everyone can afford to have a surfboard, so they share. They share and they pile up all the clothing—whatever they have—and wrap them into a pile on the beach. From time to time there’s a pile of clothing with one person inside, because it’s so cold. And so I worked with that experience.

mc: Have you seen the creative process evolve since the beginning? Acne started in 1995.

jj: The thing is, I don’t think I’d be in this industry if it weren’t for that moment when it first happened. It was a moment of deconstruction and DIY, so you could do something that looked really shitty and have it be accepted as a great design.

mc: The time when you start is really important.

jj: It was an open door for me. I don’t think I would be able to come into fashion in such a swift, easy way if it weren’t for that moment in fashion.

mc: It must’ve been crazy. Showing in Paris for the first time was a big moment for you.

jj: The reason we did Paris was that we had a collaboration with the biggest fashion museum in Europe. I was introduced to a man named Olivier Saillard, who was the director of Musée Galliera, which is where they have Marie Antoinette’s dress, Napoleon’s jacket, things like that. So I asked him, “Can I do something with you guys?” He took me there, and it’s very serious. They walk around there in white robes, and you have to wear white gloves, and everything is in tissue paper and it has own drawer. It looks like an old Margiela store, but it’s real. I live in the past, the now, and the future. It’s all affecting me and it’s all important to me. So if I’m working with fashion and I’m standing there in the middle of historic, French fashion—which is kind of the core of what we do—I see that and I have to digest that. So I asked Olivier Saillard if we could scan the clothing and randomly print the images on fabric. I wondered whether doing our patterns on top of those pictures would insert French fashion into the design. I wanted play with this idea, of having Marie Antoinette’s dress infused with my designs. And I wanted it to be really random, so I asked a friend, her name is Katrina, to photograph them, because she’s a photo artist. She used this super big scanner—as big as a table—and they come in with their white gloves and placed the dresses on the scanner and scanned them. Then we went to an Italian printing house and printed whatever was there onto our own design, without bothering with where the print ended up on the clothing.

mc: You had so much of Paris infused into the collection.

jj: We had to go a long way to make it happen and we knew we couldn’t do the show anywhere else, so we did it in Paris.

The thing is, I don’t think I’d be in this industry if it weren’t for that moment when it first happened.

mc: There have always been a lot of different influences for you—architecture, art, etc. I’m curious how that process evolves. How do you get invested in a certain topic when it piques your interest?

jj: I don’t do much else aside from my work and being with my boys, so it’s kind of a constant progression. I go to these art fairs and I go surfing. The reason why I’ve been sucking blood from artists is that some artists are very intelligent people and they reflect on my world, or the way I think. In that sense, I don’t feel very lonely. I feel connected. But I don’t see myself as an artist. I see a red line between art and fashion. There is fashion, or there is art. Fashion is like the bloodsucker of art. But I think the art scene is getting more fashionable. Some galleries now are more or less like shops.

mc: It’s becoming a little bit more attainable.

jj: And it’s a business.

mc: When you break it all down, everything is a business.

jj: I don’t think it was. It wasn’t as structured as it is now. I guess the two are getting closer. But the thing with art is that it has to have an intellectual approach, whereas everything in fashion is just emotion—more or less—or compromise. It’s not very academic to be honest. I’ve been using music a lot lately, which I’ve never done. I brought these great, old speakers to the studio and I DJ every session.

mc: Are you giving input as you DJ?

jj: Yeah, I play certain types of music and I have particular ideas as to why. Music is very spiritual to me. It’s like surfing. It’s pure and it’s very fulfilling. All of my friends in the music industry were asking me why I didn’t use music more, so I started to DJ whatever I found interesting to get a mood in the studio, or to get a tempo, and it’s really working for me. I really feel that I can move much faster. It gets really loud and we can’t even talk sometimes, but it’s good because it creates an energy.

mc: It changes from being just the business to producing a feeling.

jj: I’m very happy to add that to my way of working, and I’ve always been scared to add music into what I do. As with art, music is another category. For instance, I don’t really like when people portray David Bowie.

mc: It’s too literal.

jj: It’s too literal. Do you want to walk around in the David Bowie look? It’s more like collecting memorabilia.

mc: He’s definitely developed a certain category.

jj: He’s amazing! I love Bowie, but it doesn’t feel contemporary. Bowie is important as an inspiration, but to portray David Bowie, that’s difficult.

mc: Speaking of which, I know that you collect guitars. Do you have a favorite?

jj: I have 60 guitars. 60 lovers.

mc: And they come from all over the world, right?

jj: From the US and Sweden, more or less. The best is when I buy from Sweden, because then I don’t have to cheat customs. They’re mostly from 1964 and the early ‘50s.

mc: You have a very strong relationship with New York. I’d love to know your thoughts on the city and what it has to offer.

jj: Coming from Stockholm, I had this special experience, because I traveled a lot. It gave me so much confidence being here and coming back to Stockholm, although I love the old Stockholm. But there’s something very unique here, which is nowhere else. I haven’t been everywhere, but of the big cities I’ve been to—I visit the fashion cities a lot—I have a special relationship to New York, which I’ve built since I was young. It treats me very well.

mc: And you got married here, at the Carlyle.

jj: Yeah, my wife and I met in New York.

mc: I’m curious about the Candy Magazine collaboration that you guys did. How did that come about? The reason I ask is that I feel like Acne has been able to break a lot of different boundaries in terms of the relationships it builds.

jj: The interesting thing is there’s one guy doing the magazine at the moment, a Spanish guy who’s a friend of mine and he loves us a lot. For me, coming from a musical and artistic background, I’ve always been interested in the androgynous aspect of fashion. I was very inspired by the moment when we started to do womenswear that was strongly influencing menswear. Something I really don’t like that upsets me is this heterosexual concept of fashion. It’s important to think about what you’re communicating with your clothing. For me, menswear lately has been about workwear, or the authenticity in recreating the original. But fashion should be provocative in a way like music. For me, it’s about self-expression, or sex, or desperation, and when you dress in this historic way, it’s kind of boring. It’s a very safe environment. I think that’s why I haven’t been very interested in menswear for a while. I felt this resistance.

mc: You can be more expressive with womenswear.

jj: Music is sex, basically. It’s a sexual sort of output. I think fashion has a part of that also. That’s something that I really like, and it’s been missing for a while. It can be as simple as a dotted shirt. The dotted shirt is like a polka dot dress, it’s feminine for some people. I just saw a dotted shirt in a store and was thinking about this. And you can take this step, become freer. It doesn’t matter who you are. I don’t like when it’s only masculinity. It bores me a lot. But now I feel like it’s opening up. And it’s not about womenswear either. It’s just all more artistic and expressive, which is great.

Fashion should be provocative in a way like music. For me, it’s about self-expression, or sex, or desperation…

mc: Are there certain moments in the evolution of Acne and your career that stand out in your mind? There are so many things that Acne has been able to get involved with, like the collaboration with Lanvin, or with local Swedish artists. You’re publishing books now, which I’m not sure you were thinking about doing in 1995. It must be really interesting to see that evolution.

jj: These collaborations for me, in my point of view, are about the experiences, not the end result. The end result is usually disappointing. I’m not the person who continues and refines. I’m more like a golden retriever. I like fun. I enjoy the challenge.

mc: Are you still having fun?

jj: Yeah, the only thing that is not so fun is that it seems like you’re never really satisfied. That’s the good thing about surfing. I wasn’t thinking about anything else when we were out there today.

mc: It’s a pretty incredible feeling. I think that’s why people get drawn to it. When you’re out in the ocean, it’s just you and the ocean, and maybe some friends.

jj: The cool thing is to surround yourself with the world, which is the feeling I got. It’s not about swimming. It’s about when it all moves and you see that the sea is actually in constant motion.

mc: And the control you have over it is so little.

jj: Yeah, this one wave was fucking angry at me.

mc: Any last words. Anything about surfing?

jj: I don’t like kite surfers. Can I end with that?■

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