Interview: Lena Dystant | Photographer: Chris Tang
“The energy, noise and culture of adolescence,” CMMN SWDN has successfully trod the line between youthful exuberance and the comfort of the familiar since its launch back in 2012. Founders Saif Bakir and Emma Hedlund, partners both in life and work, have accrued enough experience over the years to understand what it takes, not only to build a successful brand, but balance commercial appeal with just the right measure of experimentation and forward-thinking design. Past posts include Wooyoungmi, COS as well as Head of Design for Kanye West, the duo tasked with establishing West’s Parisian studio. Both raised in Sweden, Hedlund and Bakir’s paths first crossed further afield, meeting in London while studying at Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion respectively. Going on to work as a design team across several projects, founding their own label became the natural next step. CMMN would begin life in their hometown of Malmö, eventually moving to East London, the brand a regular fixture on the Fashion Week formerly known as London Collections: Men.
Now stocked globally, Très Bien, Mr Porter and BEAMS among an impressive group of retailers, the brand has evolved at a steady pace, their latest collection encapsulating their trademark mixture of playful risk-taking and steady old-school classics. We stopped by the pair’s HQ to talk working relationships, Spring/Summer ‘18 inspiration and pivotal moments.
Can you talk us through SS18?
EH/SB: For our Spring Summer 18 collection we were inspired by the wonder of Art Deco Miami. At the time we were really looking into the work of Leonard Horowitz, an artist who throughout the ‘70s revived, renovated and preserved the destroyed Art Deco scene of Miami.
The collection itself draws inspiration from the pastel paradise and colour palette created by Horowitz in the ‘70s. Lilac, minty green, faded yellow and pastel pink became a focal point for us.
What’s the starting point when designing a new collection?
EH/SB: We always try to find inspiration in subjects other than fashion.We often start our design process looking at colours and fabrication and then later we add the shape and the silhouette. As a result the collection tends to be rich in colours and texture, a combination that has come to define the label.
Who or what are your inspirations and influences, not just for this collection but more generally across your work?
EH/SB: We always try to find inspiration in subjects other than fashion. Lately we’ve been inspired by places, cities that we visit. It can be the mood or the feeling we experience there, or simply looking at architecture and the way people dress that might catch our eye and imagination. It’s so interesting and inspiring to see other cultures and how they’ve been mixed with perhaps our European or Western culture.
How would you describe the London menswear scene at the moment?
EH/SB: We feel that it is not so much about a "London scene" anymore, due to social media and the rise of influencers trends are no longer regional as much as they used to be.Trends are being adopted globally. The London menswear scene today looks very much like the Moscow or the Tokyo scene.
In what ways does it differ from the Swedish market?
EH/SB: Swedish culture and identity used to be described as simple, clean, uniform and quite democratic in a way. London on the other hand is described as more individual, more experimental where people strive to stick out from the rest. It’s still more dynamic, even though the differences today are much smaller than they used to be.
Now that you’re an established name, do you look back at any particular moment or collection as a turning point?
EH/SB: SS16 was definitely a turning point for us, it was a collection that established the CMMN aesthetic. When designing SS16 we spent a lot of time and thought on what CMMN as a brand should communicate and be about, our identity!
We realised that for us fashion was about having fun, about creating clothes that not just served the purpose of clothing oneself but were also about expressing ones mood and feeling. It was about bringing the inner feeling to the outside as a display; it may be real or fake but it’s what we project into it that matters. Hence the collection name, “Genuine Fake.” It is what we say it is.
The outcome was a colourful and playful collection with interesting silhouettes and cuts that was very different to our previous collections. Many loved it and some not so much, we lost a few of our old stockists and followers but we also gained new ones who we felt understood the brand and its true identity. SS16 is a collection that we still feel is relevant and has set the tone for what we want to communicate in the seasons to come.
How would you describe the CMMN aesthetic? Is it now something quite structured or an ongoing process?
SB: I, a middle eastern growing up in monochrome Sweden with an interest in sartorial menswear, combined with Emma’s womenswear background and an eye for colour and texture. We believe that is the recipe. That contrast and balance between the two disciplines is always evident in our choice of colours, materials and silhouette.
How would you describe your working relationship? Do you both have specific roles when designing?
EH/SB: We are both very involved in all aspects of CMMN from designing to running the day-to- day life of the brand. When it comes to designing it often starts by an open dialogue where we would discuss and present what’s been inspiring us lately and how we could turn that inspiration into a collection. With Emma’s background in womenswear she tends to be the one that focuses on material and colours, whereas I’ll be focusing on cut and silhouette. But again we both add on to each other’s areas and together we shape the final direction and collection.