Premium denim brand STRÖM has a studio with a patio overlooking a street that, today, is logjammed with vintage 1950s muscle cars. The Showtime series Masters of Sex
is filming next door, and members of the film crew sweep fallen palm fronds to the side, trying to make the Miracle Mile look less like Los Angeles and more like St. Louis.
I’m waiting with Matthew Fisher—President of STRÖM—for Erika Strömqvist, the brand’s designer (and Fisher’s wife of six years). We’re discussing circular career paths. While his family handled private equity investments in Pittsburgh, Fisher chose a life of rock ‘n’ roll and independent film before looping back into the fashion business with Strömqvist. “Why do musicians always fall into indie film?” he asks.
“It’s all storytelling,” I offer.
Strömqvist arrives—beaming, in drop-crotch pants (she’s five months pregnant)—to show me samples from the STRÖM Fall-Winter 2014 line. As she explains her techniques for gaining certain textures, the application of zippers and hooks (“I am allergic to nickel,” she tells me, “and that is why I only use nickel-free alloys in all my trims.”), it becomes obvious that her approach to designing denim involves its own kind of storytelling.
So, let’s start with a story. Strömqvist—former runway model for Chanel, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Miu Miu—hails from Meåfors, Sweden, a small farming community that fluctuates in population between 20 to 25 people. When she was seven years old, she was “out in the pasture herding our goats when all of a sudden there was a huge flash of light and I was knocked off my feet.” Strömqvist was struck by lightning. Her rubber boots, presumably, saved her life. Oddly enough, the Swedish word “ström
” translates to “electrical current or stream.” Ström
, STRÖM, Strömqvist. I can’t make this up. “Great jeans definitely [make] my heart skip a beat,” she says, “just like a dash of lightning.”
There’s also a familial current that runs through Strömqvist’s designs. “I would get my sisters’ hand-me-downs,” she says, “and nothing would fit.” She was the youngest of four girls, one of whom rushed out and pulled her—unconscious after bearing the brunt of a couple hundred million volts—from the pasture.
“She was the runt of the litter,” Fisher interjects.
“I was skin and bones and my build was just so much different from my family,” she tells me. “So I started taking [the hand-me-downs] apart, piece by piece, and re-sewing them to fit, and that was a liberation.”
It’s that calculated artisanal flair that Strömqvist and Fisher hope sets STRÖM apart. “I grew up in an environment where people were always making things with their hands,” Strömqvist recalls. Her grandfather was a shoemaker and her mother was a seamstress. STRÖM passionately applies that hands-on diligence to their designs, taking advantage of the lack of selvage denim available for women in a skinny cut—due to the difficulty of stretching on the old looms required for selvage denim—and creating more unique fits, stretches, and silhouettes for the female form.
As a model, Strömqvist always wondered why only men were afforded the opportunity of wearing selvage denim.
“Selvage was traditionally a man’s workwear,” Fisher notes, which is something STRÖM aims to change.
Beyond the type of denim that STRÖM is working with, Strömqvist’s unique designs put a premium on transformation and modern enhancements on reclaimed fabrics.
Strömqvist has taken that traditional men’s workwear and made pieces such as a skirt that becomes shorts. “Perhaps it’s growing up in Scandinavia and always needing to be able to jump on a bicycle,” she mentions, pausing to run her finger along the zipper. “Texture is what gets me off.” STRÖM is working with 1920s to 1960s debossing plates for patterns, and adding modern flourishes—specially designed hook clasps and magnetic buttons—to add textural sheen to their denim five-pocket jeans, bomber jackets, and suspenders.
Many of Strömqvist’s newest pieces have that shifting quality; a collapsible denim vest, a cashmere hoodie with a zipper in the back, evolving utilities much like Strömqvist herself; the runt of the litter tailoring her sisters’ hand-me-downs, who became an international runway model and then, inevitably, a designer.
Photographer: Ian Morrison for opusreps.com.
Hair: Sheenon for traceymattingly.com using UNITE.
Makeup: Desirae Cherman for traceymattingly.com using Tom Ford beauty.