Interviewing Erik Torstensson, it’s very easy to be swept along on an exhilarating ride of vision, creativity and daring. This seemingly inexhaustible fashion industry maverick, an only child raised modestly on a farm in the Swedish countryside, possesses the vitality and passion of someone determined to never let ‘norms and fixed paradigms’ stand in his way. In a pre-internet world, inspired by magazines such as Arena Homme +, The FACE and i-D, Erik set his sights on a very different life/work trajectory than his formative environment might have proposed.
Amongst the many strings to his professional bow, you can count creative director, photographer, designer — graphic , fashion and interiors — along with several stints on fashion magazines including GQ Style (consultant creative director), Man About Town (founder and editor-in-chief) and Industrie (founder and editor-in-chief), all utilizing the skills and experience he honed working at his first job for Tyler Brûlé’s Wallpaper magazine in it’s heyday in London in 1999.
In 2003, when he was 24, he left Wallpaper and co-founded, alongside fellow 24-year-old Swede Jens Grede, Saturday Group, a multi-media fashion marketing agency, prominent in the world of public relations, art direction, talent brokering, sales and brand management. Their first client was H&M, and they are credited for bringing them COS, introducing Justin Bieber to Calvin Klein, and with creating Mr Porter, the successful complementary men’s site of Net-a-Porter. (Erik’s longtime partner in life is fashion entrepreneur Natalie Massenet, the original founder of Net-a-Porter, and now founder of investment fund Imaginary Ventures). In 2008, with the addition of a digital arm, the agency became Wednesday, a holding company that invested in and managed firms in the fields of fashion and entertainment marketing, operating from offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Milan. Their joint client lists included the creme de la creme of global brands including Vogue, GQ, the Gucci group, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and J.Crew.
In 2012, Erik and Jens launched FRAME, intent on creating the perfect pair of skinny jeans and utilizing their circle of supermodel and celebrity friends at the outset of social media to post pics of themselves in the product as publicity. They were determined to create items that would last, all the while considering the environment and supply chains to improve, recycle and re-purpose materials. (They have created a biodegradable denim that is compostable and used the recycled denim for store installations.) By the end of 2021, there will be 16 independent FRAME stores with another five being added in 2022. In 2016, they sold what had now become The Wednesday Agency Group to advertising behemoth BBDO, planning to solely concentrate on FRAME as it grew exponentially.
This September, Erik relaunched FRAME’s mens collection, alongside a campaign and book featuring 44 men around the world that he photographed as ’The Modern Man’, and who styled themselves, including Jordan Barrett, Gary Rogers, Paul Wesley, Chiiild, Vito Schnabel and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. The line consists of denim pieces of course, a plethora of essential basics, plus ’literally the best cashmere I have ever had’, to quote the man himself. This in a year that also saw design collaborations with The Carlyle, Museum of Peace & Quiet, and most recently with the Ritz Paris. Plus a soon-to-come new website, and a newly opened ’neighborhood flagship’ store in London, with LA , New York and more in the works.
At 42 summers young, Erik is already massively accomplished in the business and fashion worlds and shows no signs of being jaded, complacent nor resting on his laurels — in fact the opposite is palpable. Here seems a man bent on succeeding, educating himself, evolving and morphing within the new and ever-changing rules of social and global etiquette, both commercially and personally. He is acutely aware of his privilege and genuinely committed to improving his understanding of the world, whilst recognizing as a father, partner and business leader, the responsibility he holds to contribute in a positive and meaningful way.
Here, we ask Erik the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are in our latest ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ interview.
Who the f*** are you?
Do you have an easier question, like what’s the meaning of life?! I’m Erik Torstensson. I’m 42 years old, from Sweden. I live in New York and I am the co-founder and creative director of FRAME. And then many other little things here and there. But FRAME is what I spend most of my time on at the moment.
How do you feel right now?
Really right now, I feel amazing. This is very nice, to meet you, and it’s exciting to brush up on my ego, talking about myself so much, because both personally and professionally, everything is very, very good! My family just moved into our new house in the West Village and we absolutely love it here. It’s very important that we’re finally getting stability, as I feel like we have been hopping around for the last few years. And professionally, I am feeling great because all the hard work that our teams at FRAME have done over the lockdown during COVID and so forth is coming to fruition. We’re on fire, and it’s very exciting.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in a small village called Forsby, an hour and a half outside Stockholm in Sweden, and I lived there until I moved to London in 1999. It was a fantastic, safe upbringing, with a lot of boredom that really nurtured my creativity. So it was a double-edged sword. But I had amazing parents and a lot of freedom.
What excites you?
Ooh, so many things. Perhaps it’s cheesy, but life in itself excites me. People excite me. Newness and people and new ideas. I believe strongly that you’re only as good as what you don’t know. Or ‘to know what you don’t know’ is what I believe in. And I know now, for example, that I am a 42-year-old, white privileged straight man, so I’m not cool. I know that. So what excites me now is to talk to the younger generation to learn, to understand, see how they work. I think we’re in the most exciting time ever, at least in my professional life, with what people can make and create now. I tend to talk about professionals a lot because work is what excites me. I really like people and interactions. Like meeting you is exciting. Every direction is so exciting.
What scares you?
There’s a lot of things. That something would happen to my family scares me, including my parents as they are getting older. So I guess loss and illness scares me for sure. If you have children, as soon as you have them it’s the greatest love, and it’s also the greatest fear.
It also scares me too to get older, to be out of touch and not know about it. And that’s why it excites me to talk to young people. It’s important to remain engaged in everything. There’s so much going on in the world. I don’t feel old anyway, I feel about 16. But it scares me to get old and become an old man.
What is your proudest achievement?
I may have to divide this up into personal and professional. Personally, my proudest achievement is my son. And the relationship I have with my two stepdaughters is better than ever. I’ve been part of their life for 11 years — not trying to be their father in a way, they have a fantastic father. But I’m proud of them and also the relationship we have as the modern family. [Their father is] remarried and has kids, we have kids. We see each other on vacation. I’m very proud of the environment that we’ve created for this family, which takes work. And of course, therefore, my relationship with Natalie. That’s my proudest achievement personally.
Professionally, I think a proud achievement is to have dared to do it. As in dared to have gone to London, dared to have started our own agency when we were 24, dared to have expanded that agency, dared to have switched careers effectively from running big agency groups, to selling it all off and starting a fashion brand — which I had no idea how to do, and was actually quite scary. But to dare to do it, and therefore saying ‘yes’ to things, not being a snob about things, going for it. I’m extraordinarily proud that we managed to come to England from Sweden – thanks to the EU, which was great at that time in England. To have a startup company that created a lot of opportunities for other amazing creative people, and to continue to do that now in America, where we employ hundreds of people. And during Covid in tough times to be able to keep these jobs for people. It makes me very proud.
Plus, the achievements that we are seeing in the second generation of people that work for us. I see people that have worked for us before starting great new creative agencies. We have a girl who is now the editor-in-chief of DAZED magazine, and came to us from literally nowhere. Of that, I’m very proud. People who have been around us and worked with us and witnessing their continual achievements.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
Exactly the same thing. To continue to dare to do it.
Who was your greatest mentor, and what did they teach you?
My greatest mentor is Natalie. My partner. She is the single most incredible person I’ve ever met maybe in every way. I come to her for everything. You know when they say you should be with someone that makes you a better person? I think she makes me the best I can be. I can never be as good as she, but she has taught me to be brave and to be really considerate and to dare. I have to say, I remember when I met her, when we created Mr Porter for her [at Net-a-Porter] and in that meeting she just said, “Okay, I like this. We’re going to do this.” Then there were a few slight changes, she adjusted her strategy and just went for it. And it became a great success. How she meets people, how she hires people, how she evaluates people, how she sees the good and opportunity in everyone she meets… I’m so fortunate to have her.
When I met her, it was funny because I thought — from the outside of course — that she was fancy and glamorous, working on magazines and whatnot. And I remember saying to her, “I really like mostly to stay at home and cook a nice meal and watch a movie. So you might get really bored with me.” And she said, “But this is all I care about too. The other stuff is just for work.” She will not leave the house unless it’s for her mission. And what I learned from her, is that she is relentless. If something needs to get done, she’ll do everything.
We talk, of course, a lot about work. But subconsciously she always puts everyone else ahead. And therefore she always gets it done, because no-one puts her ahead. This is not a strategy from hardship. But it is a strategy that’s very hard to replicate, and I think I’ve learned to be a better and more open person from her. I learn every day. She’s absolutely an incredible mentor. I didn’t really believe I had a mentor, but then of course I do, and it’s her.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
My real-life hero is my business partner Jens [Grede], because I’m very proud of that relationship too. We started our first company when we were both 24, and we’re 43 this year and still working together. Differently, but I think that he definitely is a hero to me because he is very good at everything I’m not good at, and also very good at a bunch of things I am good at. He’s an incredible father, he’s an incredible backbone to all the businesses he’s started with me and with others. And I think also in the way he lives his life. He’s definitely a hero of mine and it’s worth giving credit to him because he’s incredible.
And fictional? Like Superman? I don’t think I have one to be honest.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
That must be the new FRAME men’s cashmere that we have just launched. I’m incredibly proud of the whole collection and everything that goes with it. I photographed 44 men in my collection. I’m a cashmere guy and I’m very proud of the sweater that we’ve made. I have it in all colors and I will wear them every day. My CEO, Nicolas [Dreyfus], wore it and tested it for 30 days in a row. I just love a navy or a black cashmere, and good jeans.
What music do you love aged 13, and do you still love it now?
Nirvana for sure. And I still love it, very much. It was very influential me, as it was for everyone in my generation, I think. ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, ‘Nevermind’ and all of them on ‘MTV Unplugged’.
What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?
I am not much for inspirational self-help books. I’m also not much for reading because I’m ADHD and dyslexic. I can’t even barely write an email as my team will definitely know, because they need a code to figure out what I’m saying! I wouldn’t say I’m severely dyslexic in that sense. I’m not severely ADHD either. It’s what makes me and I love that, but it’s also very difficult sometimes.
It’s hard for me to read and concentrate, but I did get through Helmut Newton’s Autobiography. I loved him and he was a huge inspiration for me, through his photography and his aesthetic — everything. So it was just lovely to get to know the man.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
I know the answer so well, because I just watched it two days ago. ‘All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997)’ It’s a documentary about New York when skateboarding and hip hop came together, during the late 80s early 90s. It was about these street kids and music, culture and the art scene, and their everyday life which was so inspiring and what I believed in, even though I was very far away in Sweden. And for me, it’s really amazing how they were street kids who became cultural icons.
You know, it was everything I couldn’t have, because it was hard to skate where I came from. So it’s also my dream, if I ever make enough money, to build a skate park in the little village that I came from, and dedicate it to the kids there because that would have been my life.
What is your favorite word or saying?
This I also know because I live by it every day. And I think a lot about it. It’s not just a saying, I’m actually trying to live by it. But I always said that if my mom taught me one thing and one thing only, it is that you treat others the way you want to be treated. And if you do that, everything kind of works out. It’s how I judge other people and how I judge myself. I love Natalie so much, she’s the best in the world at this. I’m sure the people who work with me can attest that perhaps I fail sometimes, but I think it’s hugely important.
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
I don’t want to die, man! Yeah, it may be cheesy, but I’d like them to say I was a good father or a good person, I guess. If I was a good father, I’d be very happy. If I was a good person, a good partner, a good boyfriend. That he treated others the way he wanted to be treated. I would hope I could live up to that.
And finally, a quickfire five favorites…
Oh, easy. Mercedes 280 SE 3.5 1973, dark green, soft top.
It takes a little bit of explanation because the easy answer is spaghetti bolognese, and that may be boring, but this is not just bolognese. Everything is in my bolognese! So much that it has been named a Swedish meat sauce instead, because there are so many things in it that is not actually a bolognese anymore. So I cook this as often as I can, much to my family’s dismay, but that’s what I love.
Come on. FRAME. Otherwise they’re going to fire me. Definitely FRAME all the way.
Visit the FRAME site here.