Founded by Saif Bakir and Emma Hedlund, CMMN SWDN was originally based in Malmö, Sweden, before relocating to East London. The now-married couple previously headed up design at Kanye West’s Parisian studio prior to founding their own line. Since 2012, the two have continued to develop their craft, with their recent Spring/Summer 2019 collection focusing on practices of reworking and upcycling. HYPEBEAST paid a visit to the CMMN SWDN studio ahead of the label’s Paris Fashion Week show, and caught up with Hedlund and Bakir after the runway presentation to discuss their creative process.
For CMMN SWDN, everything starts with the fabrics. The creative process behind the brand’s collections begins at Premiere Vision, the Paris-based biannual trade show for fashion industry materials. “Most designers might go only for a day, but we spend three full days,” explains Hedlund. “We go and see every single supplier and feel and touch it. That’s your raw material, that’s what makes the garments. That’s the most important thing.”“It’s always difficult to go with a set idea,” she continues. “You always find something new and something that excites you even more than you had in mind before, and that becomes your source of inspiration and your starting point.” Bakir agrees, explaining that “sometimes you might find that fabric that resets the whole thing.” The focus on fabric is important for Bakir and Hedlund because, as Bakir notes, “it’s obviously the foundation for the garment.”
“I’m glad that it took me so long because it allowed me to really grow and silently, quietly to figure out who I was.”
Fabrics and textiles secured, the duo begin looking at different reference points and experimenting with silhouettes. “We often go separate ways to become inspired and come back with the same reference images or ideas,” Hedlund says, although this process is still driven by the materials they’ve chosen. “I think the fabric straight away speaks to you and says what it wants to become.” The overall theme of the collection influences not only the fabric choices, but also the cuts of the garments. “There’s always a direction, and the silhouette is something that comes out of the concept of the season,” Bakir adds.Despite this in-depth planning, the outcome of the collection is still far from set-in-stone. The designs are sketched out before Bakir, Hedlund and the rest of their team begins a period of sampling and experimentation. “Maybe the shape doesn’t work, maybe as you are doing it you realize maybe you should have done it another way,” Bakir explains, “sometimes a mistake actually turns out to be quite good.”
“It’s about the beauty of imperfection and how garments that have been used and have been handed down can have a beauty in them.”
Throughout the entire creative process, from fabric sourcing to experimenting with cuts, the CMMN SWDN team develops an overarching theme for the collection. For Fall/Winter 2019 — which the label recently unveiled at Paris Fashion Week — the collection is built on ideas that have been developing over previous seasons. “We were talking about overproduction, about mending,” Bakir says, with that theme continuing to this season. “It’s about the beauty of imperfection and how garments that have been used and have been handed down can have a beauty in them,” he continues. “Why are we discarding them instead of cherishing them in a different way?”The hand-me-down theme is referenced in Fall/Winter 2019 through silhouettes — which Bakir describes as “awkward proportions of a garment that has been handed down” — and, unsurprisingly, the textiles used. “All the materials are quite well worn,” explains Hedlund, “they were very tactile, it’s almost like they’ve been repaired.” This theme — which both Bakir and Hedlund see as central to the brand — comes out of issues they see in the wider world. “We both feel like we’re in this fashion business, but we’re also a little bit fed up with the way the fashion business looks today and what it does to the environment,” says Hedlund. “That’s why we stopped and looked at the whole process. We’re naturally a part of it, but how can we try and communicate that there should be some change to it? We should stop and think of the value of the goods, we should keep our clothes and value them. If there is a little hole we should fix it, and treasure it for a bit longer.”
Hand-me-down culture also resonates with the husband-and-wife duo for another reason. “We experienced both the analog and the digital,” Bakir says. “We lived through the analog period where there was no internet and you actually had to go to the shop and buy your clothes. Your references came from your mates, and what inspired them was probably their older siblings. We’re obviously living through the digital. What inspires us is the balance of the two.” Hedlund also emphasizes the brand’s relationship to the digital world. “One of the things we’re highlighting in this season is that goods have lost their value because of the fast pace we’re going in with social media and the digital age, we’re constantly looking for something new,” she explains. “We’re trying to say stop that and have a look that someone has made these garments by hand, that’s why we want each garment to feel and look like some has actually worked with their hands. Most of the garments this season have been hand-distressed, the knitwear has been hand-washed. It’s taking it back to handcraft and the art of mending, adding value to the garments.”CMMN SWDN’s return to previously explored topics goes against the strict season-by-season approach foisted upon them by the fashion calendar. “I just feel sometimes that the deadlines for these things — the shows and the seasons — feels like as a creative you’re forced to stop your creative process,” Bakir says. “As we’re doing the show and as we’re doing the collection, we are constantly inspired and it’s a constant development.” Rather than being a stand-alone collection then, Fall/Winter 2019 is a development of the ideas and themes that have come before it. “Every season you have so many ideas you don’t necessarily have enough time to develop fully,” explains Hedlund, adding that the new collection is a further exploration of the ideas that also run through Spring/Summer 2019 and the label’s Woolmark-nominated collection.
“We should stop and think of the value of the goods, we should keep our clothes and value them. If there is a little hole we should fix it, and treasure it for a bit longer.”
For its Paris Fashion Week show, CMMN SWDN converted and repurposed a disused industrial space. The location reflected the theme of the collection by bringing something previously discarded and unused back to the forefront. The collection itself -– titled “Rushing. Stand Still.” — continued to build on themes from the label’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection. As Bakir explains backstage, “We just felt like, as you are going into a collection and as you are getting excited then deadlines start happening, you never get to develop a collection further.” The brand also describes the collection’s title as a reference to “our accelerated present day.”The show notes for the collection explain that its focus comes from “well-worn fabrics evoking feelings of nostalgia and familiarity that offer an insight into the biography of the wear.” To this effect, classic menswear staples -– including knitwear, tailoring and shirting -– are reimagined to feature oversized proportions, patchwork constructions and pre-distressing. Speaking about these techniques after the show, Hedlund describes this patchwork effect as a reference to “when you find hand-me-down garments or just this mish-mash of your old pre-loved garments, combined into one.” The oversized proportions were chosen to create “that nice feeling that it can be a piece that your Grandad had and has been handed down to you, or you’ve found.” As well as the setting, the show and collection’s overall theme was referenced in the unconventional choice of footwear for the models, which Hedlund describes as “surplus army over-boots.” The style was chosen to tie in with the idea of preservation: “You put your own shoe inside and you protect it, it prolongs the life of your own shoe,” explains Hedlund of the over-boots. “That’s something that we loved, and we thought it was perfect for this collection. It’s a way of taking care of your already beautiful shoes.”
Another key theme of the “Rushing. Stand Still.” collection was the idea of contrast. The collection saw CMMN SWDN continue to embrace sheer fabrics and textiles, including velvet and silk, that are more commonly associated with womenswear than menswear. This contrast comes from the different backgrounds of the designers, with Bakir having trained in menswear and Hedlund in womenswear. “The thing about the balance between us is that we can have something like really amazing boiled wool – a classic menswear tailoring material – but we’ll combine it with something that’s a bit more feminine,” Bakir describes. “I think that’s what we both bring to the table.”
“We are trying to be as thoughtful and sustainable as we can in this business, and especially highlight that we should take it a little bit slower. Wear it and tear it and mend it and rewear it.”
While CMMN SWDN’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection showed how the brand has grown since it was founded in 2012, it also clearly fit into the label’s lineage. The collection itself was seen as an evolution of the ideas that underpinned the label’s previous collection, continuing to focus on the issues that Hedlund and Bakir care about. For Hedlund, Fall/Winter 2019 is not merely the second stage of the Spring/Summer 2019 release, but also fits into a longer-term view of the label. “We try to ensure that all of the collections work well from season to season, so you don’t have to throw away your past collections,” she says. “We are trying to be as thoughtful and sustainable as we can in this business, and especially highlight that we should take it a little bit slower, we should consider what we’re wearing, we should take care of our garments. Wear it and tear it and mend it and rewear it again.”