Conversation with: Frame Denim
April 26, 2016
As cofounders of London-based Saturday Group, multitasking Swedes JENS GREDE and ERIK TORSTENSSON create advertising and marketing campaigns for top fashion brands, publish two magazines, and, oh yes, lead blazing hot label FRAME DENIM. Ken Downing finds out more.
Ken Downing: It’s great to have you here in New York this afternoon. So you’re just off the plane from London. You work there; you work in Los Angeles. You’re kind of a multicity design group.
Jens: Yeah, it turned out that way, didn’t it?
Erik: The post comes to London, and our families are there. But we’re in New York maybe a third of our time and L.A. once a month. And then a few other trips between there and Europe.
Jens: We have a whole crew of people we work with, so we’re organically moving between cities. If you come often enough to New York or L.A., or Paris or Stockholm, they almost become an extension of your life space.
KD: Is that global spirit where some of the intrinsic cool of Frame Denim comes from?
Erik: Absolutely. The idea was to make Frame in L.A. because the best denim manufacturing is there, but with a European aesthetic. So sort of the chicness of Europe, mixed with the great manufacturing of Los Angeles, speaks to the global citizen.
Jens: I think we created Frame for the women who surrounded us in our lives. And when we started doing men’s, we essentially tried to dress ourselves—or the men we wanted to be like.
KD: Where did the name Frame come from?
Erik: When we started, we saw it in terms of the first step in how you dress, framing what you wear. But that was a fairly short-lived philosophy. By the time we made our first jeans, we already had visions of great pieces from head to toe.
KD: Frame was a sensation from the moment you launched in 2012. I think a lot of it was the fit — and just the attitude.
Erik: Jeans is a good category because you can start with one fit. We were quite the purists: We wanted to do the ultimate skinny jeans in the perfect mid-blue, and that was the whole idea. And then we were like, okay, this is a chic essential. With our aesthetic we can do more of these. Because we looked at the women in our day- to-day life in this industry—wives, girlfriend, models, editors, stylists—and what they actually wear is very essential-based. They want to belong to a good tribe, feel super chic and easy, and we seek to supply that.
Jens: Much of that initial burst of attention also came from the fact that we had the most unbelievable women wearing our jeans. [Karlie Kloss, Miranda Kerr, Amanda Seyfried, Sienna Miller, Reese Witherspoon…] We were blessed, of course, to know some of them, but then thankful that they liked what we were doing and kept wearing it.
KD: Do you remember your first pair of jeans when you were kids?
Erik: I don’t, but I remember where all the jeans came from, like one store in a small city in Sweden. We couldn’t necessarily afford Levi’s, which were like the high-end stuff there. But they had their own private label called “Davies and Crocker,” so that was that. I remember the day when I got my first Levi’s 501s, which was huge.
Jens: Oh me, too. And 505s or 506s.
Erik: Yeah, but the 501s were skinny. In my school, they were like ‘Skinny jeans have arrived to this guy.’ You know, back then the foreign lands of Sweden were not as fashion forward, so it’s like either I was going to get beaten up or be the coolest kid in school. I landed somewhere…
KD: But sometimes when you’re the coolest kid, you can become the most unpopular kid, which isn’t cool after all. How long have the two of you known each other?
Erik: I never met him before. I saw him on the plane in a similar sweater, so I was like, “You should come on this interview.” Same watch, same sweater—we must be friends.
KD: Didn’t you actually meet at a design agency?
Erik: Yeah, I moved to London in 1999, and Jens came in 2000. We worked together at an agency [Winkreative, headed by Wallpaper* founder Tyler Brûlé]. At first, we couldn’t stand each other.
Jens: Not everyone can with this beauty. We struggled for a while.
Erik: I thought I was the bomb — the only Swedish kid working at this cool agency. And then suddenly, he shows up with all this confidence. I was like, who is this kid? I was going to be the young star here.
KD: The humility between the two of you is intoxicating.
Jens: I have a certain amount of arrogance…
KD: Did they know you didn’t like each other, so they put you together to work as
Erik: No, we kind of found each other by working together and establishing our roles and boundaries. We worked together before we became best friends. We’re very yin and yang.
Jens: People always ask, “Should I work with my best friend?” I always say, “Hell no, it’s an awful idea.” And then they say, “But you and Erik?” and I say, “Yeah, but that is an exception, that’s not normal, it’s a… it’s a marriage.”
Erik: You’re right. There are three people in this marriage.
Jens: I think that was in your speech at my wedding, actually.
KD: Jens, I’m sure your wife was happy to hear that.
Erik: Delighted! We’re all a family now. A big, modern family.
Jens: One big tribe. We even celebrate holidays together.
KD: And then are you talking about Frame the entire time?
Jens: Not that much.
Erik: Not on the holidays. But yes, we talk a lot about Frame Denim—are you kidding me!
Jens: From first call in the morning until I go to bed.
KD: Coming from a branding background must have had a great impact on developing Frame.
Erik: Absolutely. People think this all came together so quickly, but I feel we’ve been in training to do this since we were 19, by doing different types of businesses — the advertising agency, PR agencies, distribution companies, several magazine projects.
Jens: We’ve been so blessed working with some of the greatest designers on their brands for the past 15 years. You learn so much that you come to a point where you kind of want to put your money where your mouth is and try it for yourself. We see Frame as an expression of our creativity, but we also see our magazine and the work that we do for other designers as expression, too. All are interesting projects that fit into one another. I don’t really know where one starts and one stops all the time.
Erik: The important difference is that when you work for someone else, for another brand, you go to the roots of who they are, and you help them look the best, behave the best, communicate the best. At Frame, we do that for ourselves.
KD: That must be more nerve-wracking, when it’s your own brand.
Erik: This is a thing to us. We’ve always thrown ourselves into things that we don’t exactly know how to do, and push ourselves to try new things. We dare to fail, to evolve, and to prove over and over again that we try. And sometimes we have failed. Luckily enough, Frame is an amazing team effort. There’s an enormous amount of talented people involved — from the actual design side and running the company to PR and sales and so forth. We’ve been very lucky in having the right team together.
KD: When you get together with the design team, do you start with your ideas? Do you bring mood boards? Or is there more of a collective spirit?
Erik: To start, Jens and I discuss what we’re feeling and what we think is right for us now — all of our
impressions and touch points, and where we are in our worlds. We have one foot in Frame woman, and we know who she is. And then we have the other in Frame man, who is us, ultimately.
KD: I love that you’re your own muses. It’s okay; I want to be you, too!
Erik: The Frame man is kind of the man who has the life we want to have lived. So the muse would be Robert Redford or Jack Nicholson, or…
Jens: It definitely is Jack Nicholson, though.
KD: So how do you get such an amazing fit in your denim?
Erik: I’ll tell you what the secret is. We buy the best fabric in the world but do not put the biggest price tag on it. That’s the secret. It comes from one mill in Europe, and we ship it to the United States where we make the jean. We’ll never compromise on the quality of the fabric. That really is the great contributor to the fit.
KD: Isn’t fit the focus of a good pair of jeans, though? It’s all about how you look walking away, right?
Erik: Exactly, exactly. In the end, fit is everything.
KD: Any hints for fall? Any shift in silhouette or new point of view you’re loving?
Erik: Everything is going to be a bit more sophisticated. We’re also going to do some stuff that is a little more expensive. Because we think we have a customer who’s interested in the higher end of things.
Jens: If they’re getting something great in return, they don’t mind paying a little bit more. But they want a lot in return. So we’ll experiment with price point but offer incredible value, like with the suede leather jackets, which had the most amazing reception from our customers.
KD: Talk about late ’60s, early ’70s. Suede had all but disappeared. Now the attraction to that era has brought it back, and it looks so good.
Erik: We move a little bit around the ’60s and ’70s always, because I think the woman we find most attractive was from that era. I loved the way they dressed and the way they were.
KD: It was a really sensual moment in fashion. There’s a sexiness there that’s not overt.
Jens: Our fall will be a little slicker, a little bit more late ’60s in the silhouette. We’re going to step away from the obvious, like lots of flares, and move into something that is a little harder, actually. And a little darker when it comes to the colors, more blacks and navies and dark reds and so forth. Our girl’s a bit tougher.
Erik: She wants to get on the motorbike with her rock-star boyfriend. But it’s not just another biker jacket. We’re not doing that. It’s the American gone to Paris and now she has a French boyfriend.
Jens: We can get very specific when we start thinking about the image we’re trying to re-create. So it’s not just like, as Erik said, an American in Paris. It’s maybe this specific American woman who goes to Paris, where she falls in love with this particular French man, and this is where he lives…
Erik: Who stole her jacket maybe. And now she’s running for …
Jens: Basically she stole Charlotte Rampling’s life.
KD: Whose lives did you steal?
KD: And on that note…
Jens: No, no, no, we share each other’s lives. I don’t know. Maybe if I could’ve lived someone’s life, I would choose a mix of Avedon and Helmut Newton.
KD: But can you walk around in high heels?
Jens: High heels, no. But give me three weeks and I’ll figure it out.