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How Two Friends From Sweden Created A Global Wonderbrand

© Erik Torstensson

Locking down an interview with Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson is like herding cats across continents. There is just one day in three months that their jet-set paths will cross in London. For a few hours. And so it is here, in the noisy Grill Room at The Beaumont Hotel, where expensively tailored professionals are busy carving out deals over posh burgers, that I finally meet them.

Jens and Erik are the branding gurus behind Saturday Group – an image consultancy business that has worked with pretty much every megabrand in the fashion business, credited for bringing Justin buff-tastic Bieber to Calvin Klein, the COS concept to H&M and launching menswear site Mr Porter. Five years ago, they decided to create a brand of their own – FRAME – which, despite being launched into the cut-throat competitive denim market, rapidly acquired cult status, thanks to a bountiful supply of celebrity and supermodel devotees. FRAME now boasts sales of $120 million.

Both handsome, both 39, they wear the universal low-key look of success: precisely worn-in jeans, faux-frayed shirts, cool haircuts, scrupulous stubble. Except for their underwear (Calvin Klein, apparently) they are wearing FRAME head-to-toe. The only sign of decadence is their matching Patek Philippe watches that they bought for each other a few years back when they ‘came into a bit of money’.

Jens: ‘They’re exactly the same.’

Erik: ‘They’re a good reminder.'

Together: ‘They’re like our wedding bands.’

The pair are not married to each other– although they tell me this is a running joke with their wives, who also happen to be game-changing entrepreneurs: Jens is married to Emma Grede, who set up the brilliant inclusive-sized denim brand Good American with Khloé Kardashian. Erik is married to Dame Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-A-Porter, former chair of the British Fashion Council and now running FarFetch with co-chair José Neves – a business valued at $1.5 billion.

So who are Jens and Erik? And how did they become such consummate sellers of seduction?

First off, they are Swedish – so are all the stereotypes true, I ask? They tease, reeling off hilarious facts about all things Swedish, but essentially, yes, they spoke English fluently by the age of seven thanks to ever-present TV subtitles from which they gleaned British and American pop culture; yes, like every good Swede they were instilled with the strictest of moral codes to ‘work hard, try harder’; and naturally they grew up on a strict diet of Scandinavian design that prizes form and function over extravagance and decoration. ‘It’s no accident that Volvo, Ikea and Electrolux are Swedish,’ deadpans Jens. They say everything Swedish can be boiled down to one word – ‘lagom’ – which means ‘not too much and not too little – just right’.

Erik explains: ‘My parents didn’t have much money, so when they bought a sporty second-hand car, they traded down and got rid of the flashy rims. That's lagon- not wanting to stand out.'

Jens: ‘You have to look hard to find an extrovert in Sweden.’

Erik: ‘Yeah, they all leave.’

Jens: ‘I wouldn’t say that.’

Eric: ‘Well if you were to compare us to an American extrovert, we are almost like priests.’

Jens: 'Let's say we are as extroverted as a third grader in Michigan.’

Erik: ‘In Sweden, they would call us loud.'

Even before they met each other they lived weirdly parallel lives. Born in the same year, 1978, they both grew up on farms: Erik one hour west of Stockholm, Jens one hour south. While Jens went straight to work aged 19 on a magazine in the capital called Stockholm New, casting and producing shoots as the managing editor, Erik went to a media high school, landed a place to study magazine art direction, then freelanced as a graphic designer: ‘Hustling, literally trying every which way to get into this cool industry.'

They met for the first time in 2000, when Wallpaper* magazine founder Tyler Brûlé invited each of them to London to work for his creative agency, Wink.

‘We hated each other,’ says Erik. Plucked from identical backgrounds, thrown into the arena and tossed the same golden opportunity, they both wanted to be top dog. Jens says he was arrogant; Erik says he was insecure. Three weeks later, they were renting a flat together.

‘It was incredible, we were like 21 and the things we got to do, people we met, places we travelled to,’ recalls Erik of their two-year stint at Wink, where they got to rebrand Swiss air, conceive Stella McCartney's logo and help create the brand identity for a luxury mega mall in Kuwait. it was the era of metrosexual male, ingeniously commercialized and repackaged by Brûlée, who encouraged everyone who worked for him to live the flawless luxury lifestyle they promoted. 'Living together and traveling together we became an unbearable little team,' remembers Jens, 'As Tyler once said,'I've created a monster."'

They were 24 when they set up their own creative agency, Saturday, and won their first client, H&M – rewriting the Swedish high-street giant’s advertising campaigns with the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. They were one of the first creative agencies to add a digital arm to their business (called Wednesday, confusingly), which brought in clients including Balenciaga, Moncler and Armani. They published two fashion magazines, Man About Town and Industry, and bought a fashion PR company, RMO. Then, two years ago, as FRAME grew (perhaps beyond even their wildest dreams) they decided to make it their sole focus, and in 2016 sold the agency (by this time renamed Wednesday Agency Group) to advertising behemoth BBDO Worldwide for an undisclosed sum. This was when they bought their matching Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712 watches.

Jens describes himself as fearless. ‘I’m very good at giving direction and ambition, where we’re going together.’ Erik says he’s the ‘executor’, the creative content provider, the detail man. Both agree they couldn’t have done it without the other; they are refreshingly candid about their strengths and weaknesses.

Jens: ‘Basically, I’m good at throwing
us both in at the deep end, but Erik drags us to shore.’

Erik: ‘Drag? It’s more like a beautiful synchronised swim to shore.’

Is he joking? It’s hard to tell given how easy they make it all look. When I ask them why they decided to launch FRAME into the oversaturated denim market, they say everyone they knew, including their wives, said they should ‘categorically not do it’. So what were they thinking?

They simply asked one question: ‘Why should anyone give a shit?’ Jens explains, ‘That’s where a lot of people go wrong, when they try to second guess an audience they don’t understand. It’s better to just create for yourself. And we are the most difficult, demanding consumers we know.’ Adds Erik, ‘FRAME is where we are in our life, for the women who surround us and the men we are now.’

And where are they now? Both multimillionaires since their early thirties, brand masters and happily married to superwomen. Jens lives with Emma and their two children, Grey, aged four, and Lola, two, in Beverly Hills – with two other homes (‘my greatest extravagance’) in Gloucestershire and London. Erik lives between London, Wiltshire and Los Angeles with Natalie, their two daughters from her previous marriage, Bella, 18, and Ava, 12, and five-month-old son Jet Everest Torstensson, whose ‘much yearned for’ arrival was far from your average birth announcement.

‘Jet was born on 15 September in Los Angeles and came into our lives with the most generous help from our surrogate,’ revealed Natalie, 52, via Instagram – like, pow! Take that people! ‘All women are strong and we love strong women. I mean, generally, a lot of men are scared of strong women, but we love them and that feeds into FRAME,’ says Erik.This, they believe, is what makes their brand believable. ‘Any successful brand has to be authentic, people can smell it.’

To that end, their wives are a massive influence on all that they do. ‘What they’ve done, their stories, inspire us,’ says Erik. ‘Take Natalie: her dream might have been to be editor-in-chief of American Vogue, and she’ll never be that, but what she became was a new version of that; with the same power and influence she made her own story, using ecommerce to get her viewpoint across.’ Surprisingly, she had no hand in launching FRAME. ‘We’re kind of Church and State, we keep things quite separate. She didn’t help in any way there, Net-A-Porter was one of the last [to buy FRAME], she was like, “I have nothing to do with this.” When I bought the first pair home, she says it was one of her greatest reliefs when she put them on and they felt good.’

I ask them if there will ever be room in their vision for larger-framed women. This is, after all, a brand that advertises everything it makes on the lithest of superbodies, including their ‘great friend’ Karlie Kloss, and in their exclusive shoot for us here on these pages, with another bestie, Hailey Baldwin. They look somewhat outraged.

‘Kim Kardashian is a fan of the brand. All the Kardashians are! And Amy Schumer – we heard it’s her favourite jeans brand!’ So why not put her on a billboard then? ‘Oh, absolutely we would,’ says Jens. ‘100%,’ adds Erik. ‘It has nothing to do with body shape, if we’re excited about Amy it’s because of what she does, who she is and she is amazing.’

Piqued, they offer Lara Stone, another FRAME model, as proof of diversity by talking up her voluptuousness, and I point out that she is perhaps only voluptuous in the eyes of fashion people, as far away from a ‘real’ body as is possible to be.

‘Listen,’ says Jens, all serious, ‘We produce 900 styles a year, split between men’s and women’s. We only sell to real-life men and women with real-life bodies, that’s why we’re a $120 million company.’ Touché. The huge collection of ‘elevated everyday staples’ – which this spring runs from billowing striped shirts to a cool 1970s-inflected safari suit – has long since grown out of being just a denim brand. All of which has afforded them the opportunity to open stores in LA, San Francisco, New York and Dallas, with Aspen opening this May and more in the pipeline. They are also set to launch bags – aptly titled ‘Les Second’ – as in not your fancy bag but a sleek, functional, subtly branded tote ‘to keep all your crap in’. It’s all part of their ambitious plan – to grow FRAME in size and status to that of Calvin Klein.

Well, who says they can’t? Twin talents. Exceptional communicators. Driven, intuitive, risk-taking – and did I mention how much fun they are to be around?

So why do they think they’ve been so successful? Jens shrugs, like it’s obvious. ‘We’ve worked together 18 years and I get to do this with my best friend.’ And Erik says, ‘I don’t think I’d be interested in any of it if I couldn’t share the highs and lows.’

See? It’s their friendship. Not too much and not too little – just right, in fact. At the end of the day, it’s all about ‘lagom’.