Master Class: ACRONYM
Master Class: ACRONYM
- Words Rocky Li
- Date November 30, 2016
It is difficult to have a worthwhile conversation about techwear without bringing up ACRONYM. The Berlin-based label has come to define modern techwear and has introduced countless innovations to the field. Despite little to nothing in the way of traditional marketing, ACRONYM has rightfully earned a devoted international following.
ACRONYM maintains a relatively small operation, but is able to exert massive influence on the fashion and sportswear industries. The small team is actually a source of strength and the company prides itself on their ability to quickly innovate and react to new technologies or production methods. This uncompromising approach is how the team is able to make some of the best technical apparel for everyday life on the market today.
The founders, Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher, have stated ACRONYM is run more like an elite guerrilla military unit than a traditional clothing company. While the brand has reached new heights of popularity and brand awareness, its existence is an unlikely result of an ambitious founding vision and intensive design process.
The Founding of ACRONYM
ACRONYM was founded in 1999 as a legal entity by Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher. Before ACRONYM created their own products, the company operated as a design agency offering consulting services to the activewear industry. They began working with a German snowboarding company called Protective, which lead them to a role with Burton Snowboards. Their relationship with Burton was a fruitful one that lasted nearly 14 years. At Burton, Hugh helped bring uncompromising technical innovations to traditional snowboarding gear. He describes their working relationship as a positive one: "Burton was great because they were so irreverent. Snowboarding's inherently technical. You need the protection, you need the performance for the activity, but it's got such a punk rock spirit to it. There was never an idea that was too crazy."
Working heavily with sportswear and military technology, Hugh and Sachenbacher developed an interest in applying them to everyday attire. In between their consulting work, Hugh and Sachenbacher planned out the scope and identity of ACRONYM as an independent label. The design process for the first products took 2 years and were not released until 2002.
While most fashion labels start with a collection, ACRONYM's very first product was a complete experience distilled into a single comprehensive product. Dubbed the "KIT-001" and released in 2002, the set included a jacket, a bag, a soundtrack, software, catalogues and even concept art. KIT-001 was only released in a limited quantity of 120 units and sold at carefully selected shops like Colette in Paris. KIT-001 was an ambitious first product and, in retrospect, perfectly showcased the core DNA of ACRONYM design: attention to detail, maximum utility and a futuristic aesthetic that blends militaristic designs with a sleek science fiction minimalism. The release of KIT-001 was decidedly under the radar with only few carefully placed magazines to assist with promotion. KIT-001 was a showpiece product and the ACRONYM team wanted it to speak for itself. The product was lauded by prominent figures in the streetwear and sportswear industries.
Brand Aesthetic and Innovation
There are many properties that can embody the ACRONYM aesthetic: It's sleek, futuristic, tough and functional. Like a stealth bomber, some of the brand's functionality is hidden by it's surface level minimalism.
Despite extremely minimal website and branding, there are some pretty varied influences that make their way into the ACRONYM product. From their videos, it appears stylized sci-fi films and anime are major sources of inspiration. Another key input into the ACRONYM formula is how martial arts play a role in the brand design and identity. The films that the label regularly releases each season are dubbed "ACRONYMJUTSU." The clips show the different functionality of each garment in quick succession, performed similar to how one might pull off a martial arts move. This part of the brand extends to Hugh's own childhood. He states, "I started karate when I was 10, and I was given the traditional karate uniform, the gi, which is a very Japanese form of pattern-making. Right after that I realized, 'Wow, I can do things in this suit I can't do in my regular clothes.' That's always informed Acronym.”
It's no wonder that articulation and movement are such a consideration for so many of ACRONYM's products. The brand's design process itself can be best described as iterative. Each product is reviewed on a regular basis and the team constantly tweaks the details, features and fit of each garment, a process that was referenced in a recent video from the brand. This constant tweaking of existing products mean that even old favorites can be re-designed and likely improved upon each season.
Outside of merely improving existing designs, ACRONYM has been a pioneer when it comes to adding new functionality in the realm of techwear. While at its most basic level, techwear serves to keep the wearer dry, ACRONYM pieces often feature more specific proprietary features, many of which are patented. A few are listed below:
Jacketsling - Gives the wearer the ability to carry the jacket with an attached strap/sling.
Gravity Pocket - An internal sleeve pocket that can hold items, like a smartphone, that allows the wearer to eject the item when needed.
Sound Forcelock - A hidden magnetic function near the collar to hold earbuds in place while wearing the jacket.
Interops - Allows the user to easily remove or put on outerwear without removing their bag first. Also allows an interops bag to be stowed on the inside of the jacket.
EscapeZip - Allows the wearer to quickly unzip the jacket with one quick pull.
For newcomers, one of the most daunting aspects to purchasing ACRONYM is how the products are named. The model names are alphanumeric in nature with each part of the name identifying different information about the item itself. Below is a quick breakdown of how the mode names work:
P - Pant
J - Jacket
# - Model number
A - Sometimes follows model number, generally meaning "advanced."
-X - Fabric supplier/type
For example, the P10A-S breaks down to Pant number 10, advanced version, Stotz version.
While ACRONYM has used many different fabrics through the years, the below are some of the most common currently:
Stotz - High-density water resistant cotton with a gabardine weave.
CH - Swiss-sourced, industrial-spec micro twill that is both hydrophobic and water repellent. This is a breathable material with slight stretch.
DS - Schoeller 3XDRY DRYSKIN, which is a breathable Swiss fabric by Schoeller with 4 way stretch.
GORE-TEX® Pro - Durable, waterproof, windproof and extremely breathable.
Windstopper - Utilizes an ultralight inner membrane technology that combines total windproofness with maximum breathability.
Collaborating with Nike
Errolson Hugh built a working relationship with Nike through his involvement designing for Nike ACG aka All Conditions Gear, however the team up between the two is most visible thanks to several high-profile sneakers that were released as an official ACRONYM x Nike collaboration. 2015 saw the debut release consisting of three colorways of a heavily modified Lunar Force One. The collaboration most prominently added a functional zipper to the upper of the shoes and the sneakers were met with heavy criticism and even distain from certain purists. In an interview with Highsnobiety, Hugh described the feedback:
At some point an early image leaked, people went crazy and it felt like it was the most hated shoe of all time. In a sense it was good to get that out of the way. By the time the shoe actually came out everyone had just vented already. It was interesting to see the types of people who were into it and those who hated it.
Despite the divisive response, the sneakers quickly found a fanbase amongst ACRONYM loyalists. Given that ACRONYM had not released its own footwear designs before, the ACRONYM LF-001 served as the first de-facto ACRONYM shoe.
Most recently, the two brands released three colorways of the ACRONYM Nike Presto. Once again, ACRONYM was able to tinker with a classic Nike silhouette. The team flipped the mid-top to include a dual-mesh upper and a reinforced ankle collar for increased stability, with two exposed back zippers added for ease of wear. This release was widely anticipated by both sneakerheads and techwear enthusiasts alike, resulting in the shoes flying off shelves and selling out immediately upon release with many hailing the shoe the best release of the year. Thankfully, it appears that the collaborations with Nike will continue, with another release slated for the spring of 2017.
Other Design Work
One of the most impressive things about Hugh is that he has been able to design for other labels concurrently while running ACRONYM. Below is a rundown of brands he's lent his design talents to:
Nike ACG (All Conditions Gear) - Nike CEO Matt Parker wanted to shift ACG's perspective from outdoors/hiking gear to something city dwellers could get a lot of utility from. He chose Hugh for this purpose.
Stone Island Shadow Project - This offshoot of the Stone Island brand is even more technical. The line gave Hugh the ability to really play with color and fabric. Outside of the usual shells and techwear pants, Hugh designed everything from knits to accessories.
Herno Laminar - An off-shoot of Italian label Herno, this label focuses on adding more function and combining it with a mature, tailored look.
Arc'Teryx Veilance - While Hugh does not play an active role designing premium techwear label Arc'Teryx Veilance, he was brought in to consult on the overarching identity and structure of the label.
A more comprehensive list of collaborators includes Tilak, KHS Tactical, Burton Snowboards, iDiom, Analog USA, Bagjack and United Arrows Japan.
Since the KIT-001 launch in 2002, ACRONYM has made its reputation on uncompromising technical garments that take into consideration the needs of daily life. While the brand vision has always remained ambitious, it can be argued that the products have only gotten better over the years. Similar to how technology itself moves forward, years of design have allowed ACRONYM to further refine everything that they do. With the recent uptick in popularity and interest in the brand, it seems that the world has finally caught up to a company that has made a habit out of being lightyears ahead of everybody else.