Perched at their usual spot in the lobby of The Mercer hotel in New York's SoHo, Jens Grede and Erik Tortensson look like attractive bookends. The precise fit of their faux-worn-out jeans, Grede's slim T-shit, and Tortensson's grayed chambray shirt mark them as fashion insiders, obviously successful ones given that both are wearing Patek Philippe watches.
Fast friends since they met nearly 20 years ago while breaking into the London publishing scene, the two Swedes have gone on to devise some of the most talked-about fashion endeavors of the past decade (they brought Justin Bieber to Calvin Klein, helped H&M introduce its COS concept, and launched the men's site Mr. Porter). They also started two magazines devoted to the beau monde and founded their own denim label, called Frame, five years ago. Their business is seduction, and their designs are catnip to an obsessive fan club that includes virtually every successful model today: Karlie Kloss, Lara Stone, and catwalk veteran Sasha Pivovarova, who appears in the shoot for this piece, among them.
The allure is simple. "Erik and I love good-looking things," Grede says. "We don't make things that are not flattering."
"Yes," adds Torstensson, "there's a very famous person in this industry who always asks us, 'When are you going to do something that is ugly?' But good-looking is what we like. We like beautiful women and men and environments—whatever they might be."
"If you have the privilege to work with people who are incredibly good-looking, why wouldn't you?" asks Grede. "It's like saying no to a cupcake. Why? It's delicious."
Earlier that morning Grede was contemplating this subject as he walked to the hotel from a nearby Equinox gym on Prince Street, a location that happens to be popular with beautiful people. "SoHo is the theater of New York," Grede says. "It gives you everything it promises in the movies." And for Grede and Torstensson, the store they opened this summer at 51 Greene Street has become their stage, a bright white box with an enormous, painstakingly weathered stone table and light boxes that display new Bruce Weber images of models with jeans wrapped around their heads.
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"Historically, our job was to make other people famous, never ourselves," Torstensson says. After a few years working at Wallpaper magazine as kids, they formed Saturday Group, a creative firm that included a marketing agency (called Wednesday, now a part of Omnicom Group) and their own magazines, Man About Town and Industrie. As editors and as admen, and sometimes as photographers, they operated largely behind the scenes.
"We had a great education working for some of the best brands in the world." Torstensson says. Lesson No. 1: "If you try to make something cool, it doesn't work. What we try to stress is consistency and clarity."
Frame's collaborations with the genetically gifted, for example, began in 2013 with Kloss, who designed jeans with a 40-inch inseam for tall women like herself, and carried on with the photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, the fragrance guru Ben Gorham of Byredo, and Pivovarova, whose habit of doodling on her jeans became the inspiration for Frame's embroidered denim this spring. The attitude of their designs is always unpretentious, even if an awful lot of thought does into every detail to convey a certain image.
"Frame has a European casual-wear aesthetic rooted in Paris in the '70s but seen through the lens of American sportswear," says Grede, who recently moved to Los Angeles, where his wife, British executive Emma Grede, created a size-inclusive denim line with Khloé Kardashian called Good American. Torstensson lives in London with his partner, Natalie Massenet, who founded Net-a-Porter and now works with Farfetch and the British Fashion Council.
"We'll never be the brand that makes the highest heel," Torstensson says. "Our customers might want that handbag from Céline, but to wear with jeans and a denim jacket fom Frame. What we do very well is play a supporting role to the lead actor in their lives."
And while Grede and Torstensson play their parts very well, a frame wouldn't make sense without a bigger picture. Once, their dream was to create advertisements for Calvin Klein, and when that happened, their dream was to work with Bruce Weber on a Frame campaign, and now that's happened too.
"When we met, we talked about everything we wanted to do in our lives," Grede says. "So what do we want to do 18 years later? We want to be Calvin Klein."