H&M’s Head Designer Talks About Moving Away From Fast Fashion

A model backstage at the H&M Studio Collection runway show in Paris in one of Ann-Sofie Johansson’s designs. (Photo: courtesy H&M) 

If you’ve ever shopped at H&M, you might have wondered, Where does all this stuff come from? The answer is Ann-Sofie Johansson. 

As H&M’s head of design, the Stockholm native helps create thousands of pieces a year, inspired by runway trends, Instagram darlings, and even the fashion students she sees in her company’s cafeteria.

This week in Paris, Johansson showed the brand’s Studio Collection. Natasha Poly opened, Pat Cleveland and Amber Valletta walked, and after nearly nine months of creating the clothes (!), Johansson took her bow.

Here’s what she had to say about clothes, Coachella, and how to make fast fashion better for the planet.

Our own design but even more fashion-forward and high-end. The quality of the fabrics is higher, the pieces have more involved tailoring, and it’s a smaller collection within H&M. It’s really our answer to a higher-end designer label but still not so expensive.

Yes! It’s a total misconception, I think, that everything H&M does is fast. We can be quick on some trends, for sure, but it takes about nine to 10 months total to develop this line, because the fabrics take such a long time to develop. And a lot of research goes into the inspiration boards too — you get so much information and so many images that then you need to step back and process them all and see what really belongs.

I think it answers the question, “What’s so special about Sweden?” We have such beautiful heritage and folklore, flora and fauna, and then our pop culture icons like Ingrid Bergman, for example. I’ve used her to explore masculinity and suiting mixed with more feminine fabrics. It’s always a mix of different images, because I want the collection to have a versatility, so people can wear the clothes in many different ways.

Long printed dresses are selling really well. Holiday — not [American] holiday, like vacation — vibes are very popular too. Pajama-inspired tops and anything that could be considered “festival” dressing … it seems people want to dress to be comfortable, and also for fun adventures. There’s a lot of movement in the clothes that are doing well.

I look at it more from a design standpoint. Maybe because we’re seeing so many sneakers in fashion now that it’s translating into more comfortable clothes, with more movement.

Ann-Sofie Johansson backstage reviewing models before the H&M Studio Collection runway show. (Photo: courtesy H&M)

I still think Chloë is the coolest person in entertainment, absolutely. But I don’t have any favorite celebrities right now that I’m watching all the time. For me, the models are the fashion celebrities really, because they’re getting more individual now, and they’re just so cool. But you know, my favorite place to look at fashion is in the H&M canteen in Sweden.

Exactly. The fashion students, the interns, they wear the coolest and craziest things. A lot of times they make it themselves or it’s a mix of vintage and H&M, or they just mix up our clothes in the most extraordinary ways. They are so cool. I love popping in just to watch their clothes … you know, I always tell students if they want to be fashion designers, they need big eyes and big ears. They need to be interested in people more than anything, because people are the biggest inspirations.

Oh, you need to care for your clothes no matter where they’re from. My big thing is, don’t throw clothes on the floor! Hang them up! And if there’s a stain, try to just wash the stain, not the whole garment. Also, tumble-drying is really bad for most clothes and for the environment. We talk a lot about sustainability in the office and how to make things that last longer. And the fact is, when you take care of your clothes, you take care of the environment too. Just please, don’t throw your clothes on the floor. That’s so bad.

Oh wow. It was … it was a Mickey Mouse T-shirt! I wore it with jeans — you know, a pair of Levi’s or Lee jeans, and then a denim jacket on top of it. And I think I wore it with clogs. I wore clogs all the time — Swedish girls, we’re really into those platform clogs.

That’s funny. Well, Abba is definitely Swedish. They’re not referenced in this collection, but they did have those really great white, short dresses, right? And I am always looking for new ideas for the H&M clothes. So never say never!     

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