There’s a lot to discover about any nation from its fashion. While London-based designers celebrate Britain’s eccentricity, the understated elegance of the Paris catwalk lives up to the French cliché of effortless chic. The same theory can be applied to the Swedes, as a growing number of designers are making a name for themselves beyond the Swedish borders with a winning formula that combines practicality with an unconventional, avant-garde style.
Sweden’s fashion system is a relatively new phenomenon. Its popular avant-garde image was initiated by established names such as Ann-Sofie Back, Camilla Norrback and London-based Peter Jensen. Until the late 90s Sweden’s understated, functional design approach was the remit of architecture and industrial design. However, over recent years the same rules have been applied to fashion as young designers and graduates of Stockholm’s celebrated design schools, Beckmans and Konstfack, have eschewed a slavish adherence to trends created by the main fashion capitals to create their own style.
Newcomer Martin Bergström produces small, couture-like collections which straddle the worlds of art and fashion. ‘I think Swedish fashion is special because it is Swedish,’ he explains. ‘We have our own way of making things. We are a strange mix of Ikea, Abba and art. We also have a reputation for seeing the world through special glasses. We search for inspiration all over the world and then create something out of it that is us and unique.’
The roots of Sweden’s rise to fashion fame can be traced as far back as the late 40s with launch of Hennes & Mauritz, a Västeras-based clothing company dedicated to producing fast fashion. However, it took almost half a century for the veteran empire to evolve into one of the top 50 most valuable global brands. The company’s recent success can be attributed to high-profile fashion collaborations within its eponymous superbrand, H&M and the acquisition of small, cult Swedish labels such as Cheap Monday, now a major player on the international jeanswear market.
While not all designers can boast such support, there are plenty of independent brands who are doing just fine, thank you. One of the biggest success stories is Acne Jeans. With a spot in every celebrity wardrobe and a namecheck on every fashion editor’s ‘must-have’ list, Acne has undoubtedly become one of Sweden’s biggest global fashion exports. Hot on Acne’s heels are jeanswear brands Nudie Jeans Co and The Local Firm, and menswear brand J Lindeberg, which combines sportswear functionality with a tailoring edge.
Sweden relies heavily on its illustrious craft heritage, delving into old techniques and traditions. This has contributed to the renewed interest in traditional tailoring techniques. Astrid Olsson and Lee Cotter of Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair have created something of a buzz with their men’s and womenswear collections based on draping and tailoring, as has Whyred, which takes inspiration from the sharp sartorial codes of Britain’s Mod subculture of the 60s.
The cycles in fashion are, by definition, rooted in the past and vintage styles offer a wealth of inspiration, even to the most forward looking. Since its launch in 2003, Nakkna, founded by Beckmans graduates Camilla Sundin, Claes Berkes and Ella Soccorsi, has achieved both creative and commercial success at home and internationally with its edgy, wearable men’s and womenswear collections. Reinterpretations of 80s-style duster coats, cowl-necked cotton T-shirts and 70s-style kaftans imbue the retro designs with a feeling of modernity. Patouf designer Anna Angseryd goes even further back to French cuts of the 60s and 70s for a soft, feminine look. Best known for its arty chic look, House of Dagmar looks to the art, architecture, music and dance of the art deco era this season.
Ann Ringstrand and Stefan Söderberg of HOPE began by reinterpreting vintage uniforms and traditional men’s workwear for women back in 2002. Today HOPE consists of womenswear, menswear and Nina Persson for HOPE, a more feminine alternative to the mainline women’s collection designed in collaboration with the Swedish singer. Another singer-cum-designer is Ulrika Sandström, front woman of the indie pop band Swiss Boarding School. She combines fashion and music with a retro influence to create a style that has earned her a following both on stage and the catwalk. This season the singer looks to the late 80s with girlie silhouettes and colourful, graphic calligraphy. Let’s hope that Persson and Sandström, along with the new guard of Swedish talent, can finally lay to rest the glam rock ghost of Abba.