For Akris creative director Albert Kriemler, having his work in a museum seems like a case of fulfilled fate. Collaborations between art and architecture have defined the brand for more than a decade, and Kriemler leans more towards the path of curator than that of a traditional fashion designer with each collection.

One morning earlier this month, Kriemler treated me to a private tour of “Akris. Fashion. selbstverständlichat the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich before the crowded opening that evening (the exhibition runs until September 24). At its core, “selbstverständlich” (which is a German term meaning “naturally”), is a fashion exhibition, and, yes, there are plenty of coveted dresses, coats and accessories, as well as catwalk images. and campaigns. But what sets the exhibition apart in the crowded realm of fashion is the impressive assortment of artworks that Kriemler has curated for the exhibition. Remove the clothes completely and there would remain an impressive group exhibition featuring works by the late abstract minimalist Carmen Herrera, as well as Greta Bartescu, Thomas Ruff, Reinhard Voigt and others.

Creative Director Albert Kriemler.  Courtesy of Akris.

Creative Director Albert Kriemler. Courtesy of Akris.

The exhibition crowns the Swedish brand’s centenary celebrations – which included a compendium book and the Spring/Summer 2023 show at the Palais de Tokyo staged under a rainbow sculpture by Ugo Rondinone – Kriemler delved deep into the archives and reproduces some key pieces.

The museum’s exhibition is a retrospective, but only of its last decade-long iteration. It traces Akris back to when Kriemler reinvented it as a high fashion brand (the St. Gallen-based family business is the only Swiss brand to parade during Paris Fashion Week). The exhibit tackles the earlier history of the brand and its founding in 1922 by Albert’s grandmother, Alice Kriemler-Schoch, with a small section called “A woman, an apron, a vision”. There’s a small window into Akris 1.0 with catalogs and family ephemera (and a rather wonderful 1950s apron), but it’s an amuse-bouche for other areas that are divided by artistic collaborations.

Akris, Albert Kriemler x Geta Brătescu, Wink, print, backstage shot, Spring/Summer 2019. Courtesy of Akris

Akris, Albert Kriemler x Geta Brătescu, Wink, print, backstage shot, Spring/Summer 2019. Courtesy of Akris

The museum space is subtly configured to echo the brand’s trapezoidal “A” pattern that features in Akris’ designs, from its signature bag shape to zipper pulls. “I really wanted to build it so that when you walk through, you always have a new surprise,” Kriemler said, as he strode through the halls in an oversized black Prada suit. “That’s what it’s important to get from an exhibition: a starting point. You would think that the slanted walls extending from the ceiling are made of concrete, but they are formed of seamless paper. Kriemler developed this design with Oi workshopwho did the scenography.

The museum spectacle is not staged chronologically or along a particular route. Visitors can walk around freely and enter the section that attracts them first, which would probably be the Emi Knoebel Room. “He’s a master of color!” Kriemler exclaimed. The photos of the liveworks (from 1998 and 1999 and originally shown together) don’t do them justice. They are not so much paintings as 3D sculptures, with painted aluminum slats adding topographical elements and depth.

The paintings are collected here (along with the dresses they inspired). Kriemler bought them mainly from private collectors. “This work we had travel issues with,” he said and waved at a particularly daring one who had traveled from Japan, “but I had some real fabulous galleries to work with me.”

Akris exhibition.  Fashion.  selbstverständlich at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, from May 12 to September 24, 2023, photo: Regula Bearth, © ZHdK

Akris exhibition. Fashion. selbstverständlich at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, from May 12 to September 24, 2023, photo: Regula Bearth, © ZHdK

A landmark Akris collection was Fall 2014. Kriemler created luminous LED-lit constellation dresses and photorealistic moon and night dresses based on German photographer Thomas Ruff’s series. Ruff was there for the opening, and his photos lined the walls, orbiting the clothes. Images range from celestial to suburban. The moon and stars string together to zoom in on the intimately eerie green-lit night vision surveillance footage.

Akris exhibition.  Fashion.  selbstverständlich at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, from May 12 to September 24, 2023, photo: Regula Bearth, © ZHdK

Akris exhibition. Fashion. selbstverständlich at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, from May 12 to September 24, 2023, photo: Regula Bearth, © ZHdK

But the more subtle sections particularly resonate. A visit to Scottish sculptor and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay in 2003 led to Kriemler’s first art-inspired work. A large tree emerges from the ground and there are images of Findlay’s poetic tombstone works – it reads ‘Of Flutes & Wild Roses’.

But instead of riffing on her sculptures, Kriemler opted for an abstract bucolic version of dresses inspired by her famous Little Sparta garden. Its wooden portal inspired a geometric pattern woven to balance floral silk and sequins. “It was my first digital print,” Kriemler said. “It was a completely new feeling. It was an incredibly different approach back then. Finlay died in 2006 and the spring 2009 collection would be a tribute.

Ian Hamilton Finlay and his garden inspired the Spring 2009 collection. Courtesy of Akris.

Ian Hamilton Finlay and his garden inspired the Spring 2009 collection. Courtesy of Akris.

A 2013 trip to the Serpentine Pavilion was a pivotal experience. “I saw this and said I had to meet him,” Kriemler said of his architect Sou Fujimoto. “You can sit, lie down, dine, feel, all inside this minimalist sculpture. I felt a certain centrality in this minimalism.

They eventually paired up and the result would be like a mid-career Fujimoto retrospective told through clothes. The original sketches of the Serpentine Pavilion in the shape of Fujimoto’s hatch mark would become an impression of Akris. The 2017 Naoshima pavilion, a sculptural iceberg of wires, was directly translated into rings. “That beautiful diamond in the harbour!” Kriemler enthuses. Other architectural motifs were less apparent.

Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima, Japan... NAOSHIMA, JAPAN - AUG 24: Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima, Japan on August 24, 2017 in Naoshima, Japan.  (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima, Japan. Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images.

As we admired an ensemble featuring a translucent blue plastic jacket inspired by the Japanese architect’s Miami Design District facade, Fujimoto himself slipped in to greet Kriemler. He was in town for the opening.

“It was a really wonderful, amazing experience,” he said of working together. “It’s an interpretation that gives new life to my architecture.” The Japanese architect then explains why he draws with a red pen. “Black ink is not strong enough,” he explained. “I tried it in red and it was a nice interactive relationship, proper strength feedback loop.”

The Japanese architect's Akris collaboration was akin to a mid-career clothing retrospective.  Courtesy of Akris.

The Japanese architect’s Akris collaboration was akin to a mid-career clothing retrospective. Courtesy of Akris.

We come to an outfit that is an outlier among architecturally inspired clothing. It seems to refer to a Zen garden more than a modern structure. “He told me that human beings should live with plants,” Kriemler said. It is based on one of the first houses designed by Fujimoto.

“It was beyond my expectations, beyond my imagination,” Fujimoto said. “The house is quite geometric, but it translates well into a dress.”

Sou Fujimoto's house design inspired print.  Courtesy of Akris.

Sou Fujimoto’s house design inspired print. Courtesy of Akris.


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