Akris at 100

Albert Kriemler, Creative Director of Akris, shares what a century of the brand–and family-business–means to him.

Interview by Katie Bianco

The 100th anniversary has been quite the celebration, with a book and archival fashions and more. As a family company, tell us, what does this century milestone mean to both the company and to you personally. 

There are few fashion houses in the world that can boast 100 years of family tradition. For us, that is something special. We came a long way from a humble apron atelier to an international brand, that is still based in St. Gallen, still family-owned, yet has found its place among the greats in fashion. It just felt right to take this moment as an incentive to pause, to look back in order to move forward into a new century.

As the creative director, you have worked with high-profile artists and architects on collections. I’m curious on how you see these three disciplines (fashion, art, architecture) meshing. What do they all have in common? How does art and architecture enhance your designs?

We make clothes that are bought and sold. I always find it quite difficult when we talk about cultural claims in our spheres. I’m just as critical of the assignment that people who make fashion are artists. We as fashion designers serve a purpose. I would rather compare our work to that of an architect. Wearing a good piece of clothing is always a bit like living in it. 

I’m interested in architecture and art; it has a big influence on my work and life. But inspiration can’t replace a refined cut or great fabric. It’s always about an interplay of cut, fabric, drape and color, but above all to evoke a natural feeling when worn. 

Let’s talk about fabrics. That’s where it all starts for Akris. How do you know when the fabric is just right for the design? Tell me about that experience when you first touch a new fabric. Why is it important to you to continue to work with St. Gallen embroidery?

The creation process begins when I take a piece of fabric in my hand. Fashion is not just visual. It is also tactile, it’s about feeling. For me it is very important what you wear against your skin. When I feel a fabric, it tells me about what I can or cannot do. Then I start to draw. 

Embroidery is central to the history of Akris as my grandmother, Alice Kriemler-Schoch, started this house by making embroidered aprons. But it is not only about the house’s legacy, I do believe that, besides all the florals and heavy couture style, embroidery can be very modern and a feast of innovation. Case in point, for our Fall/Winter 2014 collection we worked with a conductive thread called e-broidery to create a starry night-sky effect inspired by artist Thomas Ruff’s work. Embroi­dered onto silk crêpe, the thread is powered by a battery pack that’s worn hidden in the pocket of the gowns and suits. This was the first in­dustrial integration of a flashing light tech­nology on a fabric that will keep its elasticity and drape and can withstand dry cleaning and machine washing. These dresses even made their way into museum collections. 

Tell us about your earliest memories of working in fashion with your family and how that has informed your designs today and Akris’ overall ethos.

I especially remember my grandmother, Alice, who founded our company by buying a single sewing machine. Her aprons were the only ones in St. Gallen that had darts, which she skillfully placed. The cuts were not only logically worked out and modern, they had class. Those who wore her aprons no longer wanted to miss this kind of quality. She soon dressed numerous working women, first in Eastern Switzerland and then throughout Switzerland. She introduced us to the Akris philosophy: Clothes that make you feel good from early in the morning until late at night. 

Akris is a go-to for many powerful women. Why do you think that is? What is it about the clothing that makes women feel so confident?

I design for a woman with purpose – women who are committed to make a difference and create change, that have a mind of their own and an authentic voice. Our mission is to enhance a woman’s confidence through the way she dresses, to make a woman feel her best self through what she wears – determined and free, so she can express her own personality and strength.

What’s next? Where does Akris go in the next 100 years? 

In May 2023 we will open «Akris.fashion.selbstverständlich», an exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. In addition, we will open a new store in Chicago, designed by David Chipperfield, who created a new boutique concept for us. After that, let’s wait and see …

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