ACNE Breaks Out

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Don't expect to hear much chanting going on in the little pink church on Rose Avenue in Venice, California, owned by the Hare Krishna. It's now home to the new U.S. outpost of ACNE, the Swedish creative collective that over the last twelve years has succeeded in putting a positive spin on its challenging name. Formerly repped out of RSA, the company stepped out on its own earlier this fall, with former RSA executive producer Fran McGivern heading the Stateside outfit as managing director.

Fran McGivern
Fran McGivern
ACNE is actually an acronym for "ambition to create novel expression," the driving force behind the company's launch in 1996 in Stockholm. Four rogue Swedish creative professionals, Thomas Skun Skoging, Mats Johansson, Jonny Johansson and Jesper Kouthoofd (the latter moved on to do his own thing; see his 2008 Directors to Watch profile), left their respective jobs in advertising, illustration and fashion with the hopes of creating a company that would allow them to freely pursue any creative whim.

That mantra has proved to be a solid foundation for what has become a 160-person creative powerhouse, boasting a feature, television and commercials production company, a children's toy brand, a culture magazine, a creative/design agency, a popular fashion label and, most recently, a rising digital production arm. "Our philosophy is, if somebody thinks something is fun, we should try and do it," explains executive producer David Olsson. Moreover, "when we come up with an idea, we don't sit down and talk to investors," says ACNE producer Richard Bjorlin. "We grow it from the start, and it has to kind of prove itself. That also means we have control over the product and our destiny."

ACNE Digital
ACNE Digital
In ACNE's Old Stockholm headquarters, a historical bank building once owned by an aristocratic Swedish family, The Wallenbergs, the creative energy is palpable—every floor, room and hallway reveals a different facet of the company's creative reach, with each division feeding off, and often collaborating with, the other.

Back at the pink church, ACNE is hoping to replicate a similar model. It's already well known for its successful commercials division, which has produced Cannes Gold-awarded work for ESPN, spots for Nike, Coca-Cola and Burger King, and more recent ads for Tele2 and EA Sports. ACNE has also gained a larger share of the spotlight thanks its newest baby, ACNE Digital, launched two years ago and steered by former B-Reeler Max Ahlborn.

The digital arm has helped to turn out notable projects like the brain-challenging Swedish Armed Forces website, Saab's "Turbo Gene Test" and the award-winning GNUF online gaming stunt, "The World's Great Dice Roll," in which a pair of enormous dice were rolled down a mountain and online viewers were invited to bet on the outcome. These efforts actually pulled resources from both film and digital, as well as other parts of ACNE's creative arsenal.Together, they represent what the company hopes will be the cornerstone of its U.S. business: truly collaborative, package deals in creative production. "When we, at one company can take care of both the film and web production, we make up quite a strong unit, and that makes it easy for advertising agencies to let us in even earlier in the process than they would if they worked with two or three different companies," says Ahlborn.

And what about the denim? "If we have a project that requires it, we'll sew up the jeans and we'll hand pick people we have in house," says Olsson. "Our mission in the next couple months is to reintroduce the brand to the industry and allow people to understand the scope of it and the creative talent involved," explains McGivern.
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