The fashion industry attracts strong characters and yet even against this backdrop Ann-Sofie Back is a compelling woman. An accomplished Swedish creative who has held positions at H&M and Acne Studios, Back has also launched several labels of her own. She is an inimitable character who produces collections which reflect her flair and originality.
Her first label was a ready-to-wear range called Ann-Sofie Back and then in 2005 she introduced a more affordable diffusion line, Back. A high-end collection Ann-Sofie Back Atelje followed in 2011 – and there has been a bit of a surprise along the way. ‘Back has now evolved into a proper mainline label, with prices ranging from €60 to €3,000,’ she explains. Rather than being a conceptual label, Back’s style ‘slowly evolves’. ‘With Back, I pick and develop ideas from previous collections. The focus is on the potential wearer and this is an objective range of clothing.’
In contrast to the luxurious Ann-Sofie Back Atelje garments, the Back collection provides more wearable option. The autumn/winter 2016-17 range offers easy-to-wear tunic tops, sportswear-inspired trousers and functional coatdresses highlighted with touches of metallic silver, black velvet and lace.
It’s interesting to note that according to the designer, wearability is a nebulous concept. ‘I think for fashion to be relevant it has to be wearable but then what that is is very different to different people,’ she says. ‘I get really tired of looking at student shows and seeing great research on the catwalk, but these aren’t really clothes. You can see how easy it would be to turn them into something wearable and, in my mind, cleverer, but they just don’t know how. But of course I was the same, for a very long time.’
Now adept at creating clothing with her own personal brand of wearability for Back, the designer is also the creative director of the affordable Swedish denim line Cheap Monday. When asked if this high street fashion line offers something different to her own brand, the designer acknowledges that the gulf between luxury and affordable fashion is shrinking: ‘I think the line between high end and high street keeps getting more and more blurred so there’s no longer such a big gap in how you work.’
At Cheap Monday she works with a ‘big team of designers and art directors’ and her role is ‘more like an editor’, as she doesn’t produce designs for the label. ‘I really love that collaboration… most of the time.’ Back’s refreshing honesty sets her apart from her less candid peers and, for her, having a sense of humour is just as important on the catwalk as off it. ‘I’m a child of the 1970s and have a huge problem with taking clothes and fashion completely seriously,’ Back admits. ‘I have this little voice in my head that keeps telling me how superficial and stupid it all is. People who work in fashion often have very big egos combined with a low self-esteem so there are a lot of very scared people that you have to deal with and I just have to take the edge off that to cope.’
The autumn/winter 2016/17 Back collection is inspired by cars and how people sit in them, and includes humorous touches such as exaggerated, voluminous knees on trousers and elbow patches which protrude from the sleeves of sportswear-inspired tops. As well as the mystery and freedom of ‘just taking off’ on a road trip, another theme in the latest collection is androgyny, something Back returns to time and again. ‘I, like a lot of designers, am drawn to contrasts,’ she explains. ‘Menswear is less eager to please and was traditionally designed to give confidence to the wearer and instill respect. As a woman I’m not comfortable with femininity or looking or acting feminine so I guess that's part of the explanation.’ Despite this, Back’s designs have struck a chord with some very high-profile performers, including Beyoncé and Rihanna.
To experience the label for yourself while in Stockholm, visit the world’s only Back store, located in the Södermalm district. ‘It's inspired by charter trips that my mum took me on as a child. She passed away two years ago and travelling was her favourite pastime. We had a complicated relationship but the store is a kind of homage to her.’ In the store, there are racks made from swimming pool ladders and there’s even a gigantic lilo on one of the walls.
Even in something as public-facing as her store, Back is not afraid to bare her soul. This, combined with her refreshingly approachable take on fashion, makes her stand out.