Table of Contents
1: Introduction to the report: Page 2
2: Background and history: Pages 3-4
3: The Acne Company Philosophy: Page 5
4: Brand Identity: Pages 6-8
5: Product, production and development: Pages 9-10
6: Acne Studios Inspiration: Page 11
7: Corporate Social Responsibility: Page 12
8: Promotion advertising and marketing: Pages 13-16
9: Conclusion: Page 17
10: References: Pages 18-19
11: Image References: Pages 20-21
In this report I have been tasked to examine, in detail, the luxury Swedish fashion brand Acne Studios. I will explore its history, origins and its place in today’s competitive market. I will attempt to explore the studios ethos and company philosophy and how the company translates this into its current products. I will explore its historic and current design aesthetic, inspiration and vision and the impact this has on its goals has a company.
In the report I will also attempt to analyse some of the effects Acne Studies has had on the fashion market today including its prevalence on social media as well as how it views its responsibilities as a corporation and discuss its impact. I will achieve this through detailed research of numerous resources including examining their products, their own documented ideas of the company and the available literature on the studio through online journals and periodicals, as well as websites and blogs.
Acne Studios: background and history (Vogue, 2014)
In 1996 In Stockholm, Jonny Johansson along with three other young creatives with 10,000 euros to invest in their project founded the ACNE company, the umbrella company of which the now famous luxury fashion house Acne Studios evolved.
Originally known as ACNE (Ambition to Create Novel Expressions) the company was founded as a means to showcase the talents of a collection of creatives and was a platform for these young creatives to showcase a number of different mediums including advertising, graphic design, film, digital production and advertising. Fury (2014) reported on the global news website independent.co.uk that the studio was originally intended to have a multidisciplinary atmosphere intended to mimic The Factory of Andy Warhol.
It is often commented that Acne Studios Creative Director Jonny Johansson’s love of art, architecture and contemporary culture has directed the label into exploring different avenues on the fringes of the fashion world but with design at its centre. The brand currently includes men and women’s ready-to-wear, furniture design, print publications and art exhibitions.
The Studio is based in the old town of Stockholm inside an historic building at Lilla Nygatan 23. Inside this building several different branches of the company are still housed under the same name including an advertising agency, a production company, an Entertainment company, Acne Paper, the bi-annual culture magazine, Acne Junior and of course Acne Studios the fashion design brand.
Acne Studios first foray into fashion came after Johansson and his team sat around in their studio and discussed how to break into the fashion world. In an interview with Vogue magazine in 2014 Johansson reported that he initially had “the idea of being a film director and a fashion designer or musician” and stated that he and the co-founders would often have “big round-table discussions” about how they would try and enter each medium. It was during this time when Johansson decided to invest all the collective’s money in creating one hundred pairs of straight-leg denim jeans with bold red stitching. Johansson describes five-pocket jeans as being the “Coca-Cola of fashion.” (Johansson 2014) and thought this would be the ideal entry into the fashion market. This showcases Johansson’s genius as denim was not the luxe must have fashion item it is today. (https://www.wgsn.com/blogs, 2017)
Johansson (2014) stated that it was never his intention in creating “some new denim approach” but all about refreshing and modernising what already was. Johansson stated that he wanted the jeans to be “straightforward for both men and women” and he made sure that the jean was all about the fabric and the cut and thus tweaking this classic tailored shape.
With these one hundred pairs of jeans, Acne Studios strategically gave them to one hundred “influential friends” (Fury, 2014), these friends described as “creative kids” by Johansson wore their Acne denim jeans out in public, around town, at events and exhibitions. This turned out to be a shrewd move as the fashion world quickly took notice of these “creative kids” and their new must have uniform. Johansson (2018) describes himself as being “obsessed by uniform clothing….” and this is evident in many of his collections and adverts that appear in Acne Paper.
“I am not into fancy stuff” (Johansson, 2014)
Swaitkovski (2010) wrote about Acne and the work the studio produces as revolving around the core principle of; art and industry are equal.
Acne Studios manifesto is set out in its brand name which, as mentioned before, is an acronym, standing for “Ambition to Create Novel Expressions.” It is well documented of Johansson’s initial goal to create these “novel expressions.” I feel this definition could be misconstrued and could become confusing for consumers as I believe it does not mean to denote the brands intention to reinvent the wheel but rather to tweak what is already there. This approach to fashion is very distinct as it does not follow the trends or wish to set them, thus making it accessible to people because it is so easily recognisable.
Acne is often noted for its innovation not only on its designs but on the way that it runs its company, focusing on making functional wearable pieces of clothing. Their desire to constantly innovate comes with their collaborations with well establish names in the fashion world such as Lanvin, with which they created a new denim line. These collaborations are central to Acne’s evolution as a brand, it is worth noting that Acne has been approached by the fashion conglomerate Kering amongst other small equity firms but turned down a possible sale to them as Johansson has always maintained that he wanted to be able “to do what I want.”
“Fashion is the best form of self-expression. We like to design pieces that together form the coolest wardrobe but is ultimately wearable. It becomes one way of thinking as individual pieces, but together creates a strong, modern, considered statement.” Jonny Johansson. (thestylesoliloguist.blogspot.com, 2012)
(Kering.com, 2018) (Foley and Foley, 2018)
A brands identity is viewed in many ways and it is arguable the most important element of any label. Brand identity can be translated in many ways from a certain cut of a garment, to a certain colour used in its collections or marketing. It is what the consumer uses to identify the brand amongst others signposts and ultimately use to differentiate between brands.
Brand recognition for most people is not as complex as recognising a certain designers silhouette. The most recognisable elements of brand identity are brand names, logos, symbols, spokespeople, slogans, jingles, packages and signatures (Keller, 2012) and according to Keller (2012) these elements have to meet some certain criteria to be valid, those being that the branding must have; memorability, meaningfulness, likability, transferability, adaptability, and protectability.
If we are to follow this criterion, I believe that Acne Studios would fall short on several of these elements. If this theory is accepted but also excel in other areas that Keller may not accept.
Memorability; Acne is the name of a skin condition not noted as being desirable but, because of this, this name stays with you, therefore meeting the criteria. It is worth noting though that Acne is an acronym which is rarely publicised on any of the studios branding, therefore only somebody actively researching the brand would locate this meaning. Keller (2012) discusses two dimensions needed to achieve memorability, does it give specifics about the brand or benefits of owning this brand and does it give any general information about the brand. If we were to follow this point then it would not achieve the criterion, but the very nature of the word Acne and the fact that it does not automatically conjure up ideas of the brand makes it memorable once made aware of what the brand is and stands for.
Likability; as stated above Acne is a name of a skin condition that people do not, generally speaking, have fond memories of either experiencing or witnessing someone suffer from, even Johansson reports that he is still unsure of the name (thecut.com, 2015) and it has been documented that he often wishes that he would have changed it. Being that it is not a name that you can easily warm to it may fall short of reaching this aspect of Keller’s criterion.
Transferability; Due to the non-specific nature of the name it is easily transferable to its many ventures and is evidenced by this i.e. Acne Paper their bi-annual magazine focusing on culture and featuring its own brands and aesthetic.
Adaptability; ACNE changed its original name to Acne studios without any backlash or loss of custom, therefore proving its adaptability, although it has not lost its original meaning to older customers. It is reported in grailed.com (Azar, 2018) that before it was known as Ambition to Create Novel Expressions it was known as Associated Computer Nerds Enterprise. Whatever the original name it does show how easily transferable the name is.
Protectability; Acne studies is a protected trademark across the world and therefore protected against misuse therefore meeting Keller’s criteria.
The company’s aesthetic has obviously been heavily influenced by Johansson’s signature of “juxtaposed design and attention to detail” (acnestudios.com, 2018) this in itself is not a new idea and has been at the forefront of many major fashion house for decades if not centuries, take Dior’s New Look at the end of the 1940’s into the 1950’s, this innate desire to push boundaries in the fashion industries ultimately alienates people by promoting exclusivity and pushes the costs of garments up to amounts the average consumer would not be able to purchase. Acne studios although in the luxury brand price bracket, focuses on staple and well-made products which a consumer can purchase and not be afraid will fall out of fashion quickly. This attention to detail, quality of fabric and non-descript look of the clothing stops the garments aging as fast as their high-fashion counterparts. Their self-described “normal” look to clothing, in fact becomes the opposite of “normal” and makes the brand recognisable and extremely desirable.
One of the most visual elements of the brand are what the garments leave their retail premises in. Acne use a pink hue for all their packaging which makes their bags instantly recognisable as well as attracting attention from others when walking around town with them. Keller (2012) states that for a packaging to be successful it must facilitate the safe transportation of the product, identify the brand and convey information of the brand which is both descriptive and persuasive. Acne studios simple, well made and striking design of their packaging achieve this easily and convey the message of luxury high-end products.
Acne Studios stores are all individually designed by Johansson and his chosen architects and although are designed to reflect the brand none are the same. Dezeen.com (2018) reported that each store around the globe has a different character. “In Seoul, a translucent lightbox hides the concrete interior, while the ceiling is painted Pink in Milan” (dezeen.com, 2018) this individualism of each store become, ironically as it sounds, a signature of the brand. Customers expect that each store will be modern, simplistic and practical, just like the brands clothing. I believe that with each new store, Johansson wishes to communicate his brands ethos as boldly as he does with his clothes.
Product, production and development.
Acne Studies have both men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections along with an accessories line and a denim line called Bla Konst. Acne Studios sell their products online, in their own stores as well as high-end retailers such as Harvey Nichols and over 650 different locations.
Their target market is 18-35 with large disposable income this is evident by how they price their products including a £1,100 Leather tote, £700 for a wool-blend blazer, £190 for a pair of jeans and £95 for a baseball cap (acnestudios.com, 2018)
The pricing of garments obviously has an impact on whom can afford these products and they rely on their reputation of using high-quality, innovative materials, having often had materials custom developed for the brand to fit their design. I feel that this goes against their company ethos somewhat, that of being an inclusive company. I struggle to see how they can continue to say it is inclusive of everyone whilst still remaining at their price point for their products.
Businessoffashion.com (2017) reported that Acne Studios will start to produce two collections per year having recently consolidated its women’s pre-collections and ready-to-wear collections and shifting the timing of their shows to now coincide with Paris haute couture Fashion Week. This was a move to streamline production and promote sustainability but also appears to be a very specific move to showcase their products when all the worlds fashion press is around, again, I believe this again, goes against their ethos of wanting to be inclusive but on the fringes of fashion. On the other hand, this could also be said to be the brand pushing their aesthetic more by juxtaposing their famous simplicity and modernity against the back-drop of haute couture creations at fashion week.
As discussed previously, the brand developed a denim line first in 1997 but by 1998 they had moved into creating complete collections and were being stocked across the globe. During these early collections the brands now famous aesthetic was formed, that of being simple, modern wearable clothes. By 2001 the company was in a huge amount of debt from their rapid expansion, obviously this was unsustainable, and Johansson hired the help of Mikael Schiller to try and steer the fashion brand through this turbulence. It forced the company to completely review how it designed and produced its clothing and forced the company to “cut down” the size of each collection and focus on “selling locally” (Azar, 2018.)
Mikael Schiller said, “If we find something we really like and can afford it, we do it.” (businessoffashion.com, 2013)
Acne Studios Inspiration.
“Less is More”
During the 1990’s the fashion trend was focused on minimalism and this became more so during the end of the decade. Nearly all major brands had embraced this trend, fashion houses such as Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang amongst them.
This period of design was seen as the antithesis of 80’s excess (imagine Princess Diana of Wales wedding dress by the designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel) and most fashion houses focused on producing garments that had simple, streamlined silhouettes often using new technology or new fabrics in their production. Acne studios was no different and has successfully translated this trend across the decades. Simple silhouettes and cuts are often seen as being classic and therefore rarely go out of fashion. (Cheng and Turner, 2016)
Scandinavia is widely renowned for its simplistic, functional, affordable and practical design across mediums. Brands such as H;M and IKEA, global brands and market leaders have their origins in that part of the world and are famous for their approach to delivering what the customer needs, of good quality and price.
There are plenty of comparisons that can be made between each of the brands listed above and sometimes they cross-over at times. An example of this is Ikea having used Acne Design agency to create some of their more famous advertisements demonstrating that the Scandinavian design ethic is translatable and evident across brands and therefore maybe part of a cultural identity “only things that are needed are used.” (EMFURN, 2017)
Corporate Social Responsibility
“Since 2008, Acne Studios has been a member of Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) who helps us to monitor and improve labour conditions at the factories where our products are made. Fair Wear Foundation is a multi-stakeholder initiative directed by trade unions, business associations and NGOs.
FWF has developed the Acne Studios Code of Labour Practices, which all our suppliers need to agree to work towards. As a member, we are also obligated to follow several requirements. These include providing FWF with a list of all factories we use; continuously monitoring these factories’ labour standards; and annually reporting on our progress and results in a ‘Social Report’.” (acnestudio.com, 2018)
As shown above Acne Studios is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) a not for profit organisation whose main goal is to work with brands, manufacturers trade unions, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and governments to improve the workplace conditions for people across 11 different countries whom produce garments and work closely with those that outsource production (Fair Wear Foundation, 2018). This kind of conscientious production is at the forefront of people’s minds currently, along with sustainability and it goes a long way in showing the companies ethos and stance on inclusivity, which is one of the only times I believe the brand does this effectively.
Acne Studios’ produce their full range of men’s and womenswear, shoes, bags and accessories in numerous continents and countries including Europe, China, Turkey, South Korea, Morocco and Tunisia with approx. 35% of production in Italy. The company along with FWF list the countries as either high or low risk of poor working conditions and as such their level of monitoring is determined on this risk assessment. Because of the high number of migrant workers namely from China, working in countries like Italy, Acne Studios considers this a risky country and along with the FWF, constantly monitor working conditions.
(Fair Wear Foundation, 2018)
Promotion/Advertising ; Marketing
It is clear from the way that Acne designs its clothes that they do not follow the norms/trends and its marketing strategy follows suit. Acne do not follow the traditional advertising strategies of other big brands, that of full page advertisements in glossy magazines such as Elle or Vogue but prefer to showcase their products in their magazine Acne Paper and online.
Acne Paper is a biannual magazine that is designed in-house at Acne HQ in Sweden and each edition focuses on conveying a particular theme regarding the arts. It covers all areas that Acne Studios cover and more including, for example, fashion design, furniture, architecture or photography. The magazine explores each theme from a different view-point such as, view-points from an expert in that field, a celebrity and/or from people whom work at Acne Studios. Using this method, it is easy to see how the company manages to direct and merge their brand almost seemingly with the other disciplines of art. Acme studios design the publication in-house, they control who is in the magazine, where it is published and how the brand is represented within the publication, sticking to its philosophy of having complete control over the brand.
Acne’s social media presence is a major driving force and directly targets its chosen audience. Acne has profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and in this section, I have decided to focus on just one of their social media platforms, that being Instagram. (Instagram Brand Resources, 2018)
Acne has approximately 2.3 million followers on Instagram and is a great way to promote its aesthetic. It shares videos and photographs of models wearing their products along with photographs of their stores across the globe. Acne Studios audience reach may be far more many millions than the 2.3 million that subscribe to their profile as Acne is a firm favourite of the fashion influencers and Vloggers, people such as Susie Bubble who has approximately 418k followers. Doing a search of Instagram.com with the hashtag #acnestudios this particular hashtag pulls up over 556k current posts related to the fashion house, demonstrating that the once unknown art hashtagging is a force to be reckoned with within fashion marketing and product placement. Although these posts are not sponsored by Acne Studios they not only spread the word of the studio but also help boost each Vlogger/Bloggers views due to the popularity of the brand.
The AIDA model of marketing.
Smartinsights.com (2013) describes this model as a graphic representation of a person’s thinking when choosing to purchase a specific product. It is described as a “purchasing funnel” and depicts the “go to and fro” at each stage of how the purchasers comes to their decision.
I believe that this model can be easily translated to how Acne Studios tackle their marketing. Below is a breakdown of the acronym and how I believe Acne Studios achieves each one;
1. Awareness; how the brand creates awareness of its products. Acne Studios does this by production of its own magazine and by a huge social media presence.
2. Interest; Acne studios does this in several different ways, by promoting its inclusivity, celebrities wearing their product and by now hosting their collection shows in the middle of haute couture fashion week. This gathers interest and in conjunction with awareness pushes the brand forward.
3. Desire; creating an emotional connection to the brand and encouraging the consumer to want the product. Acne studios achieves this by signing up to the Fair Wear Strategy demonstrating its compassion towards its producers. It also achieves this by its packaging, the colour and quality of materials used make it desirable to own and sometimes keep the packaging it comes in. I also believe that Acne Studios product design and aesthetic make it desirable as they are wearable and not to unachievable to purchase although have a price point higher than a high street store therefore making their products a type of status symbol.
4. Action; this is where the buyer is moved to interact with the brand such as visiting a store, checking Instagram or Facebook. Keeping their social media platforms up-to-date is the key in making people aware of what they can purchase and where from.
There is often another point to add to the above acronym and that is ‘R’ for retention. Acne studios rely on its quality of design and production along with its style to keep people coming back for more. Acne studios collaboration with other brands keep the customer interest and more importantly engaged with the product.
Throughout this piece of work, I have found it somewhat difficult at times to get an accurate history of the brand as Jonny Johansson has not always revealed the true history of his now globally famous brand. It was once said that for Johansson “cool anonymity is a virtue” (Phelps, 2014) and this has been evident in a lot of his dealings with the press, choosing not to divulge “everything” about his brand so as to remain “elusive.” (Phelps, 2014)
I have also found, at times, it difficult to be persuaded into believing it is truly an inclusive brand, as documented and promoted by Johansson and I believe that this is due to its high price point and could be down to its stores due to their specific design of each store and their locations.
It is clear that Acne studios endeavour to provide well designed, well-made clothing that sticks to a well-rehearsed aesthetic of being wearable and of simple but well-constructed design using simple silhouettes.
It is clear that even though Acne Studies never wanted to reinvent the wheel when it came to clothing, its attitude towards its design and placement of the products led them to become the brand they are. Their influence is seen across the fashion world today from Vetements to Balenciaga, both of whom have harked back to the 1990’s trend of minimalism when designing their collections. Acne was the first to do this and even though their prices are relatively high, do not come close to the prices of the aforementioned brands. One brand I believe closely mirrors what Acne Studios has achieved is off-white, a company whose ethos of redesigning classic pieces has catapulted them into the high-fashion world. The question is will they mirror Acne Studios success in the long-run.
In conclusion, it is hard not to fall for this brand who, according to themselves, don’t want to be so high-fashion as to exclude and alienate but in their attempt at not doing this, they have become a label renowned for their style, construct and taste. A must for any high-fashion label.
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Image reference list
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• Vogue. (2014). Acne Studio’s Jonny Johansson on Getting Out of the Denim Box. online Available at: https://www.vogue.com/article/acne-studio-jonny-johansson Accessed 10 May 2018.