For a designer couple in love, their company flourishes in tandem with their relationship.
Synchronization occasionally takes time. For Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, the engaged couple behind CMMN SWDN’s understated yet unconventional menswear, it took a two-year friendship (and “a lot of polite behavior,” according to Bakir) before romance emerged, six years before the pair launched a line of clothing together, and several seasons more before they realized they were each seizing on the very same inspirations and ideas.
Today the couple shares a whitewashed converted pub in London, where they operate their business on one floor and, with barely any separation, their home life on another. Since launching in 2012, the brand has undergone changes, as Bakir and Hedlund, now 36 and 37 respectively, grew together as designers; it’s become a reflection of their synchronicity. As they chat about their brand, the pair—he, with a thick head of dark hair and generous features; she, blond and pixie-faced—huddles together and finishes each other’s sentences.
“We like to take a sensible garment and work with colors and textures, or exaggerate the cuts,” says Hedlund. “It came from being a Swedish brand and rebelling against everything being so safe and minimal,” finishes Bakir. Their clothing blends their masculine and feminine visions: Bakir designs silhouettes descended from the rounded, tapered and cropped men’s styles of the ’50s and ’60s; Hedlund injects womenswear references—fringes and crinkly patent leather, soft pink and mustard yellow—that don’t yet enter into the standard vocabulary of menswear.
Bakir was born in Iraq and grew up in Malmö, Sweden, and Hedlund comes from a smaller town just outside of the city, but the two never met until they left Sweden to study fashion in London. After a long friendship, Bakir threw down the romantic gauntlet, showing up one evening at Hedlund’s place with takeout sushi and a vintage polka-dot dress she had coveted. The dress sealed the deal, they agree.
“Today I realize we’re exactly alike,” Hedlund says. “When we design, Saif explores in his way and I in mine. When we meet up, we’ve more often than not come up with the same thing.”
The two hatched the idea for their brand while collaborating in Paris on Kanye West’s first clothing line. “That was like setting up our own label except it wasn’t our aesthetic or product,” says Hedlund. “It prepared us for the incredible amount of work you put in for your own brand,” says Bakir.
“We’ve figured out how to work together,” says Hedlund. “It’s about dividing up the tasks,” adds Bakir. “The bad thing about working as a couple is that you never stop. It’s a constant dialogue,” he says.
“We’re getting married at the end of April so when we want to switch off, we talk about the wedding, even though that’s worse because it’s so big and so personal,” says Hedlund. The pair will marry near Marrakech, where a trip last year begat both the engagement and a spring collection full of Moroccan allusions—from spice market colors to Babouche-style booties.
“It is quite exhausting to see each other every hour,” admits Hedlund. “I wish sometimes that I could ask Emma, ‘How was your day?’” Bakir says. He was already familiar with the lifestyle—his parents ran a takeaway restaurant together in Malmö. “If there’s pressure in the business, it reflects on the family,” he says. “But we’ve grown used to working together; we’ve got our roles. It’s natural,” Hedlund adds.