In fashion, Sweden has fostered notable names such as Acne Studios, H&M and Nudie Jeans. According to Alexander Stutterheim, the cofounder of contemporary raincoat brand Stutterheim, the Scandinavian country has yet to give birth to a luxury label on par with Hermès and Margiela. He’s taken on the mission to rectify that, offering his hand-knit sweaters from his Stockholm apartment, where he has fulfilled custom orders with in-the-know shoppers, to boutiques for the first time next fall.
Slated to exhibit at Paris’ Man trade fair in January, John Sterner: Swedish Knitology is set to wholesale chunky fisherman sweaters knit by hand from ecological wool and introduce new styles, in Merino wool and cashmere, as well as accessories such as scarves, beanies, socks and gloves.
Made in a week by a grandmotherly knitter in the south of Sweden and numbered with a leather tag like a work of art, the fisherman sweater, dubbed Antidote, retails for $1,050. Stutterheim sees the possibility of growing the brand on the potential of the cashmere sweaters and the Merino knits, which sell for about $900 and $300, respectively. The accessories start at $30 for socks and fingerless gloves and go up to $80 for hats. Made by hand by women who fled to Sweden from Syria, the scarves retail for $1,200, destined to be sold directly to consumers by Stutterheim or through select partners due to their limited quantities and expensive price.
“For me, personally, it’s important not just to create a brand that is aesthetically nice,” Stutterheim said. “I need to carry more than that. There are so many brands already. The earth doesn’t need one more if it’s not like this.”
What differentiates John Sterner is the thoughtfulness Stutterheim put into it, from the conception of the name to the source of the wool to the concerted effort to aid war refugees. While still serving as a creative adviser, holding the largest stake and sitting on the board of the raincoat company, the former advertising copywriter started John Sterner last January. John is his middle name, and Sterner, his mother’s maiden name. “I took a deeper look into my grandfather’s wardrobe,” he recalled of his original inspiration. Through fittings with customers who visited his home last fall, he decided to tweak the fisherman sweater for wholesale with longer sleeves and more narrow chests, add turtlenecks and cardigans and enliven the neutral palette of charcoal gray, black and off-white with mustard yellow.
“Maybe I’ll have a striped one, navy and white,” he said, alluding to his preference for “iconic styles with a contemporary twist in a way and quite basic colors.”
His proclivity for the simple things align with his new job as sheep farmer. On the island of Öland, which is also the name of the Merino wool grouping, he’s readying a site where he will herd 40 sheep and build cabins from which customers can embark on an eco tour and live among the animals providing the wool for their clothes.
“I wanted to see if I could blend ecological fashion with high-end fashion. For me, eco fashion is often more homemade. It’s a bit dorky. It’s not Margiela or Hermès. When you think eco, you think about your woodwork teacher. I wanted to see if I could push up what you feel about eco, if you can make a high-end brand out of it.”
Stutterheim aspires to land in stores in Los Angeles, London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin, hanging next to clothes from Yohji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten and Helmut Lang. Ambivalent about setting sales targets, he hopes to generate enough interest to hire more refugees beyond the six currently making scarves for his company.
“They are really good at knitting,” he said. He also recognizes the importance of giving them a boost, even if he characterizes it as “small support,” in starting their new lives in a suburb of Stockholm.
“It’s fantastic to see a spark in their eyes to finally have something to do and eventually have proper work and start life. Work, as everybody knows, is an essential part of a human being to have something to do and be able to take care of yourself,” he said. He splits sales of the scarves with the knitters. “I want more people to buy them so we can do more styles and have more refugees make them and make more cool stuff.”