Acne, Jeff Wall, and Normcore: Examining the Mundane

by Joanna Chaffin


Normcore as a term has been getting a lot of buzz lately, usually describing the resurgence and popularity of dressing, well, normal. A trend in fashion that seems sort of ridiculous, normcore, favours the everyday silhouettes, brands and shapes that are usually not given a second glance. What some might say is the “anti-fashion” seems to be very in-fashion at the moment.’s Maya Singer used this word when reviewing Acne Studios’ Resort 2015 collection that was largely inspired by the work of Canadian artist Jeff Wall. It’s this sort of mundane way of dressing that I think resonates so well within Wall’s work and why his work still remains relevant in this modern context. The Creative Director of Acne Studios, Jonny Johansson, told that Wall’s work and “Realism” were the driving forces behind the clothes. When looking at this collection more and more I began to see how Jeff Wall’s take on realism translated to the Swedish fashion house’s latest collection in more ways than one.


Firstly, what struck me was the incredible way that Johansson played on the notion of two-dimensionality. The way the oversized pants with such exaggerated pleats hang on the body evokes a very similar quality to that of Wall’s work. Being that many of Wall’s works were back-lit, the images don’t necessarily read as three-dimensional or life like. There’s no doubt that you are transported into the scene that he has created but it doesn’t lose the essence of photography in that these are still flat images. The play on realism is pronounced here in its absence more than anything else. To me, some of the silhouettes from the collection look as if they could even be cardboard, so over-exaggerated that they read like they were cut and pasted on to the model’s bodies.


There’s something to be said about the way that Johansson chose to present this collection as well. The blues, purples, oranges, worn-in white leather, and pastel shades of many of the clothes seem somewhat illuminated against the vivid orange, yellow, and grey backdrops in the photos. It’s hard to believe that’s a coincidence. Wrinkles look engrained and impenetrable while knits seem luxurious and enveloping. Wall’s work does a similar thing where you’re brought in, mesmerized by something more than the subjects themselves but the actual way that they are displayed before you.


A View From an Apartment-Jeff Wall

A View From an Apartment-Jeff Wall


Another major way that I saw realism being reflected through the collection is in the incredibly lived-in, even mundane quality of the fabrics Johansson used. Looking though Wall’s images such as, A View from an Apartment, 2004-5, the domestic interior doesn’t strike as lavish or overly designed at all—similarly to Johansson’s. You get a real sense that this is a space being utilized for very practical, normal purposes. The photograph doesn’t try to glamorize this setting but, instead, takes it for face value. Laundry is being done and books and papers are strewn about without any regard for a potential onlooker. Wall’s at times voyeuristic work brings us into a world that hasn’t put on a façade but is real.


Similarly, Johansson’s creative direction doesn’t lead us down a road of glistening, pristine gowns or extraordinarily groundbreaking designs. The motorcycle leather jackets are lived in and distressed like and the garments look as if they were dug out from under a pile somewhere. The light green denim jacket even looks like it may have been wrung out a few too many times in the wash with the sleeves going far beyond the model’s finger tips. The fabrication of each piece reads more humble and common than opulent couture and the use of cotton, denim and leather creates strong silhouettes.


The reference to Wall’s work is clear in the unmistakably worn quality of the clothes. Johansson, like Wall, challenges the mundane and holds a magnifying glass to it. There’s a striking beauty in that—the unfettered, un-pretentious quality of dressing is appropriate for the everyday needs and occasions that these pieces are made for. Johansson’s collection speaks to the same familiar reality that Wall’s does, that celebrates the wrinkles you didn’t have time to get out or the jacket that’s a few sizes too big and scuffed but you love wearing it anyways. Though trends may come and go in both fashion and art, there’s really no denying or escaping the mundane and everyday, so why not take a closer look.


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