Could a heritage of enjoying the great outdoors, matched with a deeply practical design history, make a country especially adept at producing attractive but utilitarian bags? It is perhaps a convoluted argument, and yet it seems borne out by the carrier culture of Sweden. Indeed, one of its leading lights, Sandqvist, argues just that: its bags, ‘for an urban lifestyle, to be used every day’ are inspired by ‘the Nordic nature, with its mountains, lakes and vast unpopulated areas,’ according to its manifesto. Think of them as the antidote to the hyped, over-marketed and invariably impractical ‘It’ bag.
Designs for life
‘My design approach is always about coming back to functionality – answering the question “What do I want this bag to do?”,’ says Anton Sandqvist, who founded the company, which next year celebrates its 10th anniversary. ‘Invariably that means you don’t want anything complicated. In fact, you look at a design and wonder what else can you remove from it. That’s an historic way of doing things in Nordic countries – people were necessarily self-reliant and whatever they made was for a certain purpose and had to do that. That heritage is still visible in design here today.’
Sandqvist’s bags present a good distillation of Swedish bag design principles: thought through, with pockets in the right places; hard-wearing and made to age well; constructed in materials such as canvas, leather and more technical fabrics like Cordura; considerately sized – big enough to be useful, not so big that they can’t be used with ease; and essentially classic – backpacks, messenger bags, laptop carriers and the like.
Well for leather
The same might be said of the likes of Udonly, a line created by Sanna Bremmer, whose best-known, simple bag style was inspired by an old British postman’s bag – although Bremmer’s version was scaled down and made in organically treated vegetable-tanned leather. Bremmer, who also designs small leather goods, was driven to design her first bag for perhaps the most un-glitzy reason imaginable: the need for a good-looking bag in which to carry nappies and attendant baby-changing paraphernalia.
‘I had a lot of friends having babies but there was no bag available that was practical and attractive, or that men would want to carry. Everything looked like a picnic bag,’ says Bremmer, who this season launched her first line of bags in canvas. ‘Sure, my bags are not about doing anything trendy – but customers seem to appreciate that they have clean lines and are well-constructed. They’re bags that should last a lifetime, not ones to change every season. That seems especially right for the times now too.’
In the saddle
Sweden’s many accessories companies also include Samsøe Ø Samsøe, with its slouchy leather sacks, as well as bags from local fashion brands such as Acne, Hope and Whyred. Some more traditional. Palmgrens, for example, was established as a saddle-maker in 1896, thanks to the backing of the then mayor of Stockholm, and by the 1950s had created a modern classic in its tote bags with rattan sides fixed between a leather frame; although in more recent years Palmgrens has taken a more contemporary approach to its products too, thanks to a collaboration with Swedish architect Thomas Sandell.
Carry on cool
The essential utility factor of many Swedish bag-makers’ style is perhaps summed up by Pap (Products And Philosophy). Pap, which launched just four years ago, specialises in leather cases to hold all your personal tech, but also has a nice line in ‘poop purses’ – wallets to hold small plastic bags used for clearing up after your dog. It’s a practical consideration one certainly would struggle to find among the bag-makers of Paris or Milan. Unsurprisingly, Ulf Pyk, the founder of Pap, did not train in accessories design, but in cabinet-making, product design and interior architecture. ‘We make everything in Sweden because, although that is more expensive, it means we have total control over the way the products are made,’ says Pap’s Anna Pyk, Ulf’s partner. ‘But, while the way our products are made is important, it’s also about following a slim, stylish form language. Often the simplest thing can be the hardest to design well.’ That is certainly true. But it is only within a design culture as strong as Scandinavia’s that anyone might talk about a ‘stylish form language’ in relation to a bag at all.