Mikael Schiller, the executive Chairman of Acne Studios and Mrs. Natalia Brzezinski
Innovation and entrepreneurship are watchwords as there’s ever greater recognition that competing in today’s economically interdependent world requires dynamism in a workforce able to create and react to new ideas quickly.
Continuous commercial reinvention can be challenging; transition from the old way of doing things to the new is accelerated by the hyper-connected, lighting-speed world we live in. In Sweden, I’ve noticed a delicate relationship with the traditional and innovative. Less “clash of civilizations” than symbiosis: a strong connection and respect for history combined with openness for new ways of doing business.
This is a trend also happening in the United States in extraordinarily dynamic ways, and is evident in my great hometown— Chicago— as well as my husband’s, New York. For me here in Sweden, it’s so physically palpable due to an ancient Viking culture with intact 500-year-old buildings never touched by modern warfare, original cobble-stoned streets and horse-drawn carriages harkening back to the 1800s.
This is the feeling I had entering Acne Studios last week. The juxtaposition between this cutting-edge fashion house and the centuries-old Swedish bank building in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town) area that serves as their headquarters epitomizes a marriage of the old and the new.
And it’s truly a strong union here. Sweden’s banks remained solid throughout the financial crisis and it’s one of the most prosperous economies in Europe, while new high-tech financial startups like Klarna or Izetttle (which just announced an expansion to Mexico) are also flourishing. Parallel to this, smart retail (H & M, IKEA) and quality-driven, upscale products like Acne are rising quickly alongside traditional industry.
Pushing open the ornate oak front door of Acne Studios, one is transported to another time. What I imagined used to be rooms full of men toiling over numbers are now replete with rows of meticulously designed leather blazers and bold platform boots.
I met Mikael Schiller, the executive Chairman of Acne Studios, for coffee and learned about the meteoric growth of what began with 4 guys creating a pair of jeans. Today, Acne dominates the Scandinavian market— with stores in Paris, London and Tokyo— and is an example of a local company with global reach.
I’m thrilled they have selected the U.S.A. as an investment destination and they now have stores in New York City, with more American locations possible. Driven by an appreciation of Acne’s quality, purity and cool nonchalance, the brand is blossoming in the U.S. with profiles by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times
underscoring their dynamic approach. With a bi-annual magazine, furniture design and eclectic collaborations: Acne is more than just clothes, it’s an inclusive vision.
Their pragmatic approach toward expansion and the low-key, egalitarian leadership styles of Mikael and his co-founders only adds to the appeal of the brand. Acne’s corporate culture is firmly rooted in strong values. Values-based leadership, decentralization, dynamism, sustainability and transparency are concepts integral to the young generation of Americans, dubbed the Millennials, which are increasingly prioritized by modern companies everywhere. The way Acne and many other Swedish companies reflect these values is a great source of connectivity between the United States and Sweden!
After all this talk of good clothes and good values, I had no moral choice but to beeline directly to the first Acne store I could find! A fantastic new dress was the result! How could I resist the store’s 40% sale on the eve of Sweden’s Midsummer holiday?! It’s a girl’s dream: Most of Stockholm’s retailers go on sale in late June before the city empties out for the summer.
As I chatted with the Irish saleswoman, she noticed the powder pink Acne paper shopping bag I was carrying containing look books and Acne’s Paper magazine.
“Were you just at Acne headquarters?” she asked. When I said yes, she excitedly exclaimed:
“Oh, Mikael and the founders are so amazing. I really love working here!”
Thanks Mikael Schiller and everyone at Acne Studios for allowing me to visit and learn more about this important and growing part of the Swedish economy.