The Discreet Modernist

by Valerie Steele

Stylist: Edward Enninful

Akris’s Albert Kriemler is propelling his Swiss fashion house forward using a mix of innovation and simplicity. Valerie Steele gets to the root of his aesthetic. To help us follow his threads of thought and inspiration, we asked Kriemler, whose book Akris (Assouline) is out this summer, to tell us about the artists and architects who influenced some of his recent collections. Click here to read the article.

Stylist: Edward Enninful

After visiting MoMA’s Willem de Kooning exhibition last autumn, I began to read more about the painter Franz Kline, who was a friend of de Kooning’s. A few years earlier, I had seen Kline’s portrait of Vaslav Nijinsky in Hamburg’s Kunsthalle, and it made a lasting impression on me. Kline’s wife was a ballet dancer suffering from schizophrenia— much like Nijinsky himself. Kline, a true action painter, used paintbrushes up to 25 centimeters thick for his strong strokes on the canvas. I became intrigued and started to research his work more deeply, which is how I found his dynamic Painting No. 7 (left), from 1952, a major example of the verticals so important in Kline’s late work and, eventually, the main point of reference for my newest collection. The painting inspired me to do abstract photo prints in colors—its verticals are represented in the sensual cashmere and silk&nashknit dresses in charcoal, bottle green, and nude. Kline also informed the geometric patchwork in a black and charcoal double-face cashmere-and-leather motorbike jacket and cape.

Stylist: Edward Enninful

Loos felt that modernity meant embracing progress—but always within a cultural tradition. He rejected following trends just for the sake of change and insisted that every form and design have a concept behind it. His vision encompassed much more than architecture, and his mind was way ahead of the times. He wrote scathing fashion reviews, which are as inspiring as they are hilarious. For Loos, whose buildings (left, top) were key in architecture’s Modernist movement, a garment was modern when the person who wore it did not stand out. This is what I mean when I say that Akris strives to be ‘spectacularly unspectacular.’ Loos has always informed my pursuit of clothes that are versatile—for example, when I created a green parka that can be tightened with a zipped insert. He was an early advocate of functionalism and understated elegance. He argued that being normal was the new avant-garde, and I think that resonates today. Being provocative is now a marketing strategy— isn’t it more provocative to put the integrity of the human being at the center of economic and aesthetic decisions?

Stylist: Edward Enninful

Akris is and always has been a no-logo brand: You’ll never find the name of the house on the outside of a dress or coat. Still, I had to create a certain signature when we developed our first handbag collection, which required a special visual vocabulary expressed in the shape of clasps and other elements. I lost sleep trying to both stick with our identity and find a key visual for the brand. Then, in a stunning moment of serendipity, a picture of a building caught my eye. It was a concrete trapezoidal structure (left) by Tatiana Bilbao, a young Mexican architect—one of the 17 pavilions in the Jinhua Architecture Park in China commissioned by Ai Weiwei. I realized that the building’s shape resembled an A—as in Akris and as in Alice, my grandmother and the founder of the house. The trapezoid communicated Akris without directly saying it; the walls Bilbao created to frame the structure inspired a wool embroidery, and we made trapezoids in lacquered knit and other advanced materials. We also launched the Ai bag (left)—our first ever—in 2010. It’s a simple tote with a trapezoid buckle, and it’s become something of an iconic piece.

Stylist: Edward Enninful

One of the signature elements in the architecture of my friends Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron is their unprecedented way of rendering surfaces. Their multidimensional approach to facades always makes me think that they actually “dress” their buildings, and I wanted those kinds of surfaces—for instance, that of their Ricola storage building (top) in Laufen, Switzerland— to be reflected in the surface of new fabrics we developed. Soon we were working with crushed aluminum foil wrapped in chiffon, sliced panels of goatskin on layers of tulle, and a three-dimensional quilted fabric that evoked the facade of Herzog and de Meuron’s de Young Museum in San Francisco; meanwhile, an asphaltlike fabric embroidered with Lurex was inspired by their Walker Art Center Expansion (above) in Minneapolis. I have always sensed an important connection between architecture and fashion, but here I referenced quite literally two of the world’s most influential contemporary architects.

Stylist: Edward Enninful

Wiener Werkstätte artists such as Gustav Klimt were among the first to liberate women from corsets—the ladies in Klimt’s famous paintings wear long, loose gowns in ornamented fabrics (see his 1902 portrait of couturiere Emilie Flöge, above, center) that give them freedom to move. At first, the opulence of the workshop seemed anti-Akris—but I liked the idea of experimenting with decoration in a discrete way, and the lush nature of Klimt’s fashions helped me create clothes that play on the tension between refinement and simplicity. I was also moved by the metalwork and Japanese-inspired wallpaper of Dagobert Peche, which I translated into a gown with lingerie details worn with an embroidered cardigan. And the duck blue sweater in Egon Schiele’s Seated Woman With Bent Knee, 1917 (above, right) inspired a striped turtleneck and a skirt with stitched-down pleats. My Wiener Werkstätte collection was about richness of materials and colors.

Stylist: Edward Enninful

I had seen Morandi’s work in Switzerland at the Sammlung Hahnloser in Winterthur and traveled to the Giorgio Morandi Museum in Bologna, Italy, in 2004 to learn more about him. I was moved by the way in which he seemed to articulate a significant visual language throughout his lifetime. The Morandis, in all their pastel glory, absorbed light in a very gentle way—like the sunlight on a summer morning piercing through layers of dew. In his paintings (such as Blue Vase and Other Objects, 1920, top right), you have smoky pastel lemons, watery blues, dusty beiges, taupes, and greens. I wanted this otherworldly mood in my fabrics, so I created dresses with layers of chiffon and open seams. We also showed our first ever photo print in this collection, rendered in two layers of fabric, and created the Amulette dress, for which leather amulets were molded on nude organza. Since then, such prints have been a key component of my work—a kind of continuation of the Akris heritage of embroidery—and a way of combining art and technology.