• “I’m a future freak. I believe that today’s people, who are

    younger than 50, are going to live in many of thousands of

    years. I don’t believe in “the end of the world”

    Everything is just getting better and better”



    photography by FUMI NAGASAKA / Magnolia

    Interview with Ann-Sofie Back

    Written by Mari Florer

    In front of the grey main door I stand searching for a doorbell. I can’t find any so instead, I carefully knock at the door. Nobody notices, I think. I am about to try again when the door opens.

    A blonde woman lets me in. Behind the doors, down the stairs, Ann-Sofie Back stands looking up at me as I enter. Her little dog runs forward to welcome me.

    “I noticed I just wrote “interview” in my calendar so I was a little bit unsure about whom I was going to meet”, she says.

    I smile and introduce myself to Ann-Sofie. Then I turn to Beverly, her dog.

    In her tiny office there are just a table and a couple of chairs. While she is out getting a cup of coffee I curiously look at the sketches on the wall.

    She enters the room, sits down, arms crossed.

    It is obvious that this woman has integrity, but I am not so sure that this is a trait that will make this interview an easy ride. This can go either way.

    I ask her how much of her time I have.

    “How much do you want?”, she asks. She’s smiling.

    Ann-Sofie Back was born in Farsta and raised in Stenhamra, both suburbs of Stockholm. She tells me that her parents’ lack of interest in clothing, culture and art was a major reason why she is a designer today.

    “It was a sort of revolt against the ugliness that I felt at home”, she says. “I think of it as a typical middle-class designer thing to do. To break free from all of that”.

    OM: How was studying at Central Saint Martins (London) in comparison with Beckmans College of Design (Sweden)?

    AB: Beckmans was very different then from what it is now. Now, it is very much better, more interesting and more theoretical than when I went there. Beckman was, strange enough, not so into fashion. At that time the common opinion in Sweden was that fashion was a bit superficial and silly. Central Saint Martins was very different culturally. Suddenly, I found myself admiring my teachers and really felt that they had a lot of knowledge.

    After Ann-Sofie got her MA in Fashion Women’s Wear, she started her own label Ann-Sofie Back. At the same time she was freelancing for ACNE. She also worked for the British designer Joe Casely Hayford.

    OM: What was it like, working for ACNE?

    AB: It was so very long ago. I had great fun with Johnny. He really is an eccentric and special person. He chooses the people he likes and you get a lot of freedom. He has great confidence in his employees. That’s how I felt it at least when I was there.

    In 2005 Ann-Sofie Back split her clothing line in two. The result is Ann-Sofie Back Atelje and Back. Back is a diffusion line.

    The craftsmanship is of great importance in Ann-Sofie Back Atelje and the clothing is therefore much more expensive.

    OM: Who do you have in mind when you create your clothes? If we take Back for example?

    AB: I have to say the same as other brands are saying. A strong woman between 25-50. Or maybe 55. In reality our average costumer is a little bit older than we thought in the beginning. She is intelligent, knows what she wants, dresses for herself and all those things they say.

    But unlike other brands that describe their customer in a similar way, the Back-woman really dresses for her own sake or for her female colleagues. She is not someone who dresses for a man. This is true also for the Atelje line. I think you must have some self distance, and it might sound silly, but I think you could not take your so-called femininity and sexiness too seriously to estimate the Back collections.

    OM: Is there any artist who inspires you?

    AB: No, I have not been at any art exhibitions lately. I feel quite distanced from that world. When I started as a designer it was trendy to mix art and fashion. But I think that fashion is so much more interesting as a way of expression compared to art and much more challenging to work with.

    OM: So, how do you find inspiration?

    AB: It is usually from things that bother me. It could be a social phenomena that I really can’t deal with or I don’t like.

    One example is my collection autumn/winter 2008 who was inspired by celebrity obsession. It was a very clear phenomenon, especially in England when I lived there. They are terrible, these gossip magazines and how they hunt celebrities, and this whole misogyny. It is a very scary and weird mentality.

    So I made a collection that was inspired by this. At that time the most wanted women were Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. But it’s not that I think I solve any problems through my clothes. It is more like I get inspired.

    OM: That brings me to another question. Are you a feminist?

    AB: Yes! This whole discussion is so remarkable. Those who say that they are not feminists, do they not want to have equal pay? That’s what it is all about, if you ask me. I get completely angry with men and women who say they are not feminists.

    OM: What is the best thing about Sweden?

    AB: To go out with my dog ​​without being afraid that she will get bitten to death by a pit bull terrier. It could be a really big problem in London. I did not think about it until I got a dog. In the area where I lived, it was quite dangerous. Crack house dogs everywhere who really had been trained for aggression. I was terrified every time when I was out.

    OM: Do you think there is some interesting designers in Sweden today?

    AB: Yes, several. There are many who are talented in different ways. I cannot pronounce their names but it is a duo that is new, Altewai anything. (Altewai.Saome) … I think they have some kind of international level on what they do.

    Sandra Backlund is a fantastic craftsman, a technician that must be admired.

    ACNE, it is impossible not to be impressed by the journey they have done from jeans to high-end fashion. There is no other designer who has ever done it ever before. It is an entirely new phenomenon.

    OM: Is the craftsmanship just as important as the concept for you?

    AB: I was not interested in that for many many years. I was very interested in the opposite. I worked with fabrics I felt lied. It looked good from afar, but when you came closer you could tell that it was knick-knacks. I wanted to reverse the luxury phenomenon.

    Now when we are doing this Atelje line, of course the quality is very very important. I think it is a matter of balancing - to be smart and choose between the intellectual or aesthetic judgements.

    It is probably why I admire such designers as Sandra Backlund. She is a perfectionist to the core.

    When I think of the next question, I suddenly hear a snoring sound. I really can’t focus. I bend my head down to looking for the source. It is Ann-Sofies sweetheart Beverly who is sleeping on the floor.

    OM: You are using linen fabric in your latest summer collection. Is it not a rather unusual or untrendy material to use today. Is this another way for you to break standards?

    AB: I have used linen several times and it is just because it has such a questionable reputation. You see a certain type of women in front of you. Maybe a kind of older arty woman or librarian. That’s why I think it’s interesting, of course - to do something that I might wear in such a material.

    OM: Is there anything exciting happening right now in the fashion industry?

    AB: As I am also working 50% for Cheap Monday, there’s one funny thing. The jeans are back, from in fact being a bit boring for a few seasons.

    Then, purely personally, it has gone amazingly well last season. I have a business partner, a great designer, and someone who take care of the economy. They all make my life so much easier compared with when I worked in London. Then, I always had the last word.

    OM: Which materials do you think are coming in the future?

    AB: Self-washing materials. I think it would be nice if we did not have to wash our clothes. It would also solve some environmental problems in case they found such a material. I am also very curious about what will happen with 3D printers.

    I mean, will we buy clothes in stores or will we download programs and print out clothes at home? The stores will they be gone?

    The power in fashion have already been taken away from the old elite and put into the hands of consumers. The bloggers caused a bit of that tradition. Maybe it is another step in some kind of democratic process. I do not know.

    OM: Self-cleaning material. How does it work?

    AB: I have no idea. But I’m sure it will come within a few years. I am a future freak. I think of course, that those who are under 50 today will live for several thousand years.

    OM: That reminds me of Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia.

    AB: I have not seen it. Is it a disaster?

    OM: The end of the world.

    AB: I do not believe in the end of the world at all. Everything is getting better and better all the time.

    stylist MEGHAN SCOTT / Magnolia

    make up PARI DAMANI / Agent Bauer

    hair SHERIN FORSGREN / Link Details

    model ANNIE / Nisch Management

    photographer’s assistant HANNA RICHTER

    jewellery BJØRG

  • illustration by MICHAELA MYHRBERG

    Giovanni's Room

    Written by Philip Warkander by Michaela Widergren

    In his classic 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room, author James Baldwin at one point describes the relationship between time and the individual. One of the main characters of the novel, the unfortunate Giovanni, tells the narrator of how he experiences the temporal context of human existence, in which all thoughts, deeds and actions are carried out:

    Time is just common, it’s like water for a fish. Everybody’s in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That’s all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn’t care.

    For some reason I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this brief passage. In a few sentences, Baldwin has captured the sense of anxiety and powerlessness a person experiences when faced with the seemingly indifference of time; we live, we die, but in a larger perspective, none of it really seems to matter. Our existential traumas, struggles and difficulties which for us are a matter of life or death, is of no relevance to the universe.
    Depressing as this may sound, I couldn’t stop thinking about Baldwin’s work, but now focusing on the whole novel, and my reading of it. Originally published in 1956, I read it for the first time in 2012. When I read this text, I see it for the first time, and for me, the text is alive. This way, Baldwin has counteracted the supposed linearity of time and escaped from the demarcations of the indifferent ocean. Through a creative process he has suspended the laws of time, and in a way overcome his own mortality.

    A few weeks after I finish reading Baldwin’s short novel concerning events of Paris of the 1950’s, I am in the middle of a new project; Marcel Proust’s In Search for Lost Time. Based (among other places) in the same city as Baldwin’s, Proust’s work spans over several decades, through winding passageways and surprising twists and turns through time, as elaborated by Proust himself. The taste of Madeleine cookies and scent of hawthorn bushes awaken his memory, making him reminisce over times past. Through a deeply personal perspective, he controls the narrative, filling it with detailed descriptions of sexual escapades, romantic infatuations and social ambitions. Long forgotten incidents and people now dead are brought to life, woven into the fabric of Proust’s imagination. Similar to Baldwin, Proust also takes control over time, questioning its linearity and instead molding it into the shape of his own desire.

    I read In Search of Lost Time while in Marrakech, Morocco. One morning, I visit Jardin Majorelle, former home of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent. The two were deeply fascinated with Proust, and have even named the guest rooms in one of their other homes (Chateau Gabriel, near Deauville, France) after characters in the book.
    To an almost extreme extent, YSL was inspired by references from his own life in his fashion design. His passion for art and weakness for Arabic aesthetics (which he discovered through his long stays in Marrakech) were articulated in his collections. This way, his private experiences and personal preferences were materialized in commercial products, to be sold and worn all over the world, by people who had no connection to French art of traditional Moroccan style, thus blind to the references in the garment they wear.
    Here, the artistic legacies of Proust and YSL become interlaced. While I read Proust in the former hometown of YSL, I note distinctive similarities in how they operate artistically; using ideas that emanate from subjective and secretive existences, they employ memories and reflections to create a world of their own. This world is open for visits by others, albeit only temporary ones. For Proust, this is carried out through words, while YSL does it literally; designing garments for people to dress up in, wrapping themselves in the worlds of his creation.
    This tactic takes us back at the starting point; the relation between individuals and time, and the possibilities of overcoming the contextual demarcations of our existence. Interestingly, both Proust and YSL were physically weak and neurotic, placing them in the category of the smaller fish in Baldwin’s ocean, easy prey for bigger and stronger forces. However, using the power of imagination, they create their own worlds, inventing personal rules and value systems, thus overturning the logic of the mainstream and the ordinary outside of their sphere. Visibly weak but with imaginations stretching outside of the limits of their place in the ocean, they subvert the order of things and, in this way, cheat the logic of time and death.
    When I visit Jardin Majorelle YSL has been dead for some time, and his memorial is situated in the garden where I spend my morning, now accessible for the public. But, carrying the Proust-volume in my bag, I have a sense of being able, as Proust did once himself, to edge myself back through time, to when YSL and Bergé were sitting in the garden, engulfed in the stories of Paris past. YSL may be buried here, but his notion of upsetting and tricking time is encoded in the structure of contemporary fashion, thus continually living on through the works of others.

  • photography by NELS FRYE

    Leaping Forward into the Past

    Written by Buyun Chen by Michaela Widergren

    When I moved from New York to Beijing at the end of August 2009, I packed nearly every shoe, jacket, and dress I owned. For weeks I had meticulously evaluated each item in my wardrobe and determined that it was absolutely necessary to take everything, only sparing a couple pairs of old jeans. (This, of course, resulted in a hefty overweight luggage fee.) My irrational packing was driven by the belief that Beijing had nothing sartorially inspired to offer me.

    In my mind, the ever-changing metropolis was littered with fast-fashion empires and luxury retailers disseminated across sprawling malls and outdoor shopping pavilions. This image, perpetuated by articles with titles like “China’s taste for high-end fashion and luxury brands reaches new heights” (published in The Guardian in April 2011) portrays the shopping scene as a playground for the foreign luxury market. One of the oft-cited statistics claims that Chinese consumers will buy over 40% of the world’s luxury goods by 2020. Yes, wealthy urbanites are shopping – but what are their young, financially constrained counterparts buying? As a recent transplant to Beijing, I was particularly invested in learning where the clothing-obsessed twenty-somethings – like myself – find the good stuff.

    After about a month in Beijing, I was desperate to shop – or at least, browse. I had heard that the Gulou (“Drum and Bell Tower”) district located in the east part of the inner-city, home to trendy but tourist-filled hutongs (narrow lanes), was a good place to start. On my search, I passed countless shops selling socialist propaganda T-shirts, floral patterned totes, and embroidered silk shawls – each trying to capitalize on the tourist’s imagination of an authentic Chinese past. Tucked between the traditional yogurt vendors and scattered in the side alleys, however, were small, unassuming boutiques that catered to a different consumer. Carefully curated, these shops offered modern silhouettes done in limited palettes with quality fabrics by local designers. My curiosity was piqued.

    While the figures of luxury consumption are striking, they eclipse the emerging local fashion design and retail scene. Many of the young designers have studied at elite fashion design schools in Europe and then, return to Beijing or Shanghai to launch their own lines. They belong to an exclusive group of tastemakers who are working to carve out a space of their own in the domestic and international fashion markets. But their shops and the independent boutiques that sell their collections remain sparsely populated. The pricing of these designed wares was far beyond the reach of my pockets and I suspected that the same must be true for my fellow Beijing shoppers.

    Several failed shopping trips later, I chanced upon a closed vintage shop in the Gulou district late one night. I peaked through the windows and discovered racks and racks of liberty print skirts, stonewashed denim, and flannel. Pressing my nose against the metal shutters, I spied leather satchels and tasseled brogues, enough to send me into a state of euphoria. I quickly took note of the name: Mega Mega Vintage.
    Located on East Gulou Street, the store holds odd hours. Only after a few unsuccessful attempts did I realize that the store was unlikely to open before the early evening. When I finally gained admission, I was surprised to find that all of the goods were imported from America, Europe, and Japan. The slightly claustrophobic space was decorated with old British and American paraphernalia, complete with a red telephone box in place of a fitting room. Owned by Liu Ke, M&M Vintage was one of the first vintage shops to open in Beijing. In interviews, Liu has described vintage (or guzhuo) as a culture that not only values the history of fashion, but also ascribes new meaning to the remnants of things past. For Liu and his customers, arming oneself in vintage is to confront the homogenizing force of fashion trends.

    Over the past few years, Gulou has transformed into the destination for vintage shopping. In addition to M&M, Tiger Vintage, Old News, DDR, and a handful of other stores offer vintage clothing, accessories, and home goods to a growing population of young urbanites seeking to articulate a unique identity in the age of disposable fashion. Like Beijing’s elite designers, these vintage sellers have studied abroad, traveled, and returned to China to start their businesses. The vintage phenomenon is an outcome of the mobility, both physical and cultural, afforded to a generation of affluent youths who came of age during the China boom. By wearing vintage, these identity-conscious shoppers can boast authenticity and distinction. By buying and selling vintage, shop owners lay claim to a culture that pre-dates mass production, fast fashion, and most importantly, the “Made in China” trademark. They stock their stores with European and American vintage, avoid most merchandise produced after the 1980s and instead, opt for trends from the 50s through 70s – when the market had yet to be saturated with products manufactured in China. Whereas goods made in China represent the regime of readymade appearances, vintage goods are viewed as containing intrinsic worth by virtue of its limited production, workmanship, and novelty.

    Their affinity for vintage, perhaps, bespeaks the backlash against waste and obsolescence that is gaining traction across major cities. Some critics might dismiss the proclivity for vintage as an instance of random cultural borrowing premised on an imagined past – yet another manifestation of the global fashion system. Or they may just be accidental bricoleurs playing in the storehouse of nostalgia, working to humanize forms of wear.

    Before I left Beijing, I went to a vintage and secondhand flea market hosted on the roof of Triple-Major, a concept store that carries obscure labels from across the world. The event was as much of an opportunity to purchase imported vintage leather pumps as it was to get acquainted with a community of locals and foreigners invested in the fight against the ephemeral. In a city so intent on erasing the vestiges of history, wearing vintage has become a battle cry that calls attention to their appreciation of the past.



There’s nothing to see here.