Is Frame Los Angeles’ version of Calvin Klein? Its founders certainly hope so
“We’re like if Calvin Klein spent a summer in Paris, had a child and took her to L.A., placed her here, raised her here — that’s Frame,” Torstensson said on a mid-October afternoon at the company’s Culver City headquarters. “Our ambition is to create this new California chic and for [Frame] to be the defining lifestyle brand coming from the West Coast in America.”
“We want to be the next Calvin Klein,” Grede said. “Calvin Klein was a reflection of New York, which was the culture capital of the world in the ’80s. Los Angeles is the culture capital today. … I hope Frame is a reflection of this culture.”
With prices ranging from $195 for jeans to $1,095 for a leather jacket, Frame, which launched in 2012, aims to be an accessible global luxury lifestyle label in the vein of Coach, Michael Kors or (ahem) Calvin Klein.
“I think we represent a new luxury,” Grede said, then paused. “That sounds very grand,” he said with a laugh. “I’m going to walk that back.”
Grede explained that Frame tries to provide customers a “superior experience” at a more reasonable price point. “We try to pass on real value to our customer,” he said. “If someone’s paying $200 for jeans or $500 for a blazer, that, for most people, is an enormous amount of money. That’s certainly a luxury purchase.” He said he considers his own habits as a consumer when deciding how to position the brand’s quality and price. “Why would I want to sell in a different way than I would want to shop?”
Last month, Frame opened a store in Houston as well as its biggest boutique to date at the Grove in Los Angeles. “It’s a very exciting time to take Frame to 2.0 when it comes to our retail concept,” Torstensson said of the 2,850-square-foot flagship store, which features a denim atelier as well as a three-way mirror with interactive selfie lighting.
“The Grove has more visitors than Disneyland,” Grede said. “So that means the Grove is literally the store window to Los Angeles.”
Frame has three other California-based boutiques — one at Palisades Village in Pacific Palisades, another on Melrose Place in Los Angeles and one on Fillmore Street in San Francisco — in addition to bricks-and-mortar stores across the country in New York, Miami, Aspen, Colo., Dallas and Greenwich, Conn. Ten more Frame stores are scheduled to open by the end of next year.
With women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories, Frame’s clothing is inspired by “a global citizen,” Torstensson said.
“We always loved how people in our fashion industry dressed to and from shoots,” said Grede, explaining that Frame’s aesthetic is based on the industry’s off-duty wardrobe.
The label was quickly embraced by “It” girls Gigi Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Karlie Kloss. “They were friends of ours,” said Torstensson, adding that Frame previously collaborated with Kloss on a collection of longer jeans in 2015. “One of the best parts about having a brand is that you can work with your friends. Working with your friends is not really work.”
Calvin Klein was a reflection of New York, which was the culture capital of the world in the ’80s. Los Angeles is the culture capital today. … I hope Frame is a reflection of this culture.
Frame is projected to hit $400 million in retail sales next year, according to the company. Although Frame was once viewed as a denim brand, ready-to-wear now accounts for more than half of its business. Early next year, it will branch into underwear and a larger range of handbags and shoes. The label also recently adopted more eco-friendly practices with recycled cashmere and sustainable denim.
To better acquaint Los Angeles tastemakers with Frame, Grede opened his 1930s Bel-Air home for a dinner party on a warm summer evening in early June. The gathering was like something out of a Nancy Meyers film with the house’s white walls, distressed-wood floors and glass barn doors that open to a cozy patio lush with greenery. The guest list included a quirky (albeit chic) cast of characters including Rachel Zoe, Brad Goreski and B. Åkerlund.
However, it was the quick-witted, charismatic dynamic between Grede and Torstensson that set the scene.
“Who would I be?” Torstensson said jokingly when the Meyers comparison came up. “Jack Nicholson?” Doing his best impression, he held his hand to his hairline.
In movie terms, Grede and Torstensson’s story is more of a bromantic comedy about two Swedish business partners in the second phase of their careers.
The 41-year-old men’s meet-cute took place 20 years ago, when they both worked at the interior design magazine Wallpaper in London. “When you grow up on a farm in Sweden and you have this niche interest of skateboarding or fashion or photography, it’s a pretty lonely existence,” Torstensson said, explaining that he and Grede had a lot in common, right down to where they were raised.
Torstensson grew up one hour west of Stockholm; Grede was one hour south. The duo became fast friends. “When you finally meet someone who is as passionate about things that you like, you grab hold,” Torstensson said.
In 2003, they founded a successful creative marketing agency and spearheaded campaigns with Justin Bieber for Calvin Klein and Lady Gaga and Beyoncé for H&M. By 2012, Torstensson and Grede decided to try building their own fashion brand in London and L.A.
Frame allowed the men to combine the many hats they’ve worn throughout their careers: Grede as a writer; Torstensson as a photographer; and both as former art directors, magazine publishers and all-around creative individuals.
About Frame’s inception, Grede said, “We were still in a different chapter of our lives but we loved coming to L.A. We thought it would be fun to do something here and, as a result of that, we did jeans first because if you want to make the best shoes, you go to Marche in Italy. If you want to make the best jeans, you come to Los Angeles. If we would have had a huge ambition to start big, we probably wouldn’t have put the company in Los Angeles when we lived in London.”
“It would not go down in Harvard Business Review as a smart thing,” said Torstensson, who still splits time between Los Angeles, London and New York. (He’s moving to Manhattan in August to lead Frame’s East Coast office.)
Grede relocated to Los Angeles two and a half years ago, but he acknowledged he and Torstensson still feel like the new kids on the block. “We’re outsiders to L.A., but sometimes outsiders make good insiders — just like Ralph Lauren was a kid from the Bronx who depicted a life he looked up to and aspired to,” Grede said. “We grew up in Sweden with California pop culture, music, TV and entertainment. We saw this from the outside but [are] full of that admiration, aspiration and hope that we feel California stood for growing up. We try to channel some of that optimism and feeling and style into what we do.”
Frame may be what Grede and Torstensson are best known for but it’s only one of their many business ventures. They’re investors in Khloé Kardashian’s Good American label, and Grede is Kim Kardashian West’s business partner in her Skims shapewear label.
“At the end of the day, they’ve all been projects exploring our creativity,” Grede said. “Who knows where it’s going to carry us next? I honestly feel like a late bloomer. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve found it. This is it. What were we doing for the first 15 years?’”
Grede and Torstensson’s mutual love of the fashion business may be a huge part of their bond but, make no mistake, their relationship transcends work. “It’s a marriage,” Grede said of their 20-year friendship.
“I don’t know if anyone in L.A. is going to be married for 20 years in 10 years from now,” Torstensson said. “We might be the last ones married.”
In reality, the men are in relationships and have children with successful women working in fashion. Grede is married to Emma Grede, who cofounded Good American, while Torstensson is in a long-term relationship with Natalie Massenet, who founded luxe e-tailer Net-a-Porter.
“It’s great to be able to have the smartest conversation about work and life at the kitchen table,” Torstensson said.
“Erik and I are both drawn to very strong partners who have big ambition in their own right. It’s almost like we’ve got to keep up with them,” Grede said.
“We do,” Torstensson said. “They’re motivating.” He paused and then said: “Natalie once said, ‘You’re my best investment. I hope.’”
“We did this personality test — the Myers-Briggs,” said Grede, who shared that he’s an ENTP (extroverted, intuitive, thinker, perceptive) while Torstensson is an ENFP (extroverted, intuitive, feeler, perceptive). “Our partners did the same test. Here’s what we found. Emma and Erik are the same personality type. And Natalie and I are the same personality type. So that means I have chosen the same partner in life as I’ve chosen in work. Isn’t that creepy?”
Despite Frame’s seemingly fast success, Torstensson said, “I wish we could say we had a 10-year strategy and that everything has gone to plan but that would be lying, which we don’t do much of in Sweden.”
However, it appears that little in Grede and Torstensson’s world is a matter of happenstance. For example, the dinner party’s Meyers film vibe wasn’t a complete coincidence. Producer-turned-interior designer Sandy Gallin produced the filmmaker’s 1991 comedy “Father of the Bride” in addition to designing both Grede’s home and Torstensson’s home in the Hamptons in New York.
The duo also said Meyers’ 2015 dramedy “The Intern” was about Massenet. As Torstensson put it, it’s “a movie that is not confirmed but definitely based on my girlfriend.” Grede said, “Oh, 100%.”
“All roads lead to Nancy Meyers,” Torstensson said.
Grede and Torstensson know how to sell a lifestyle — so why not a full lifestyle brand? Grede said, “I don’t think we walked into [Frame] with a big plan.” Although it might appear that they’re improvising, the businessmen have lofty goals and hope that Frame can help put Los Angeles on the fashion map.
“This is L.A.’s time,” Grede said. “I think if you look back in 10 years, you’re going to say that these years were formative in American fashion, and it was all happening here because at the end of the day, everyone in this country is excited about Reformation, Everlane, Yeezy, Fear of God — hopefully some people are excited about Frame. … This is like what the ’80s were in New York with Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. I hope this is the moment for L.A., and hopefully we’re a part of it.”
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