The new Swedish fashion miracle cannot have passed anyone by, and it is built on Swedish people’s sense of style. The international appeal to Sweden and Swedish started with the huge boom of the Swedish music industry in the early 90’s, then came the international recognition of Swedish design; a minimalistic “Swedish Home” was the ultimate interior design dream. Now, it is Swedish fashion that is conquering the world. Of the total Swedish textile export of almost 17 billion SEK last year; over half the amount was made up of fashion items.
So wherein lays the interest for Swedish products and mentality? Well, possibly in the quality, simplicity and attention to detail that they possess. Large Swedish fashion brands that have managed to capture mass consumers and yet not lose this Nordic “coolness” include H&M, GANT, KRISS and WESC, and to a lesser extent but growing; Filippa K, Tiger of Sweden, Whyred, Hunkydory, Acne and J Lindeberg.
Although these are the largest and most well-known brands, on the rise are quite a few innovative Swedish fashion companies with creative designers. These are for example: Rodebjer, Hope, Fifth avenue shoe repair, Dagmar, Carin Wester, Minimarket, Les Couleurs Nationales, The Local firm, Cheap Monday, Ida Sjöstedt, Ann-Sofie Back, Nakkna, Sandra Backlund, Helena Hörstedt, Diana Orving, Camilla Norrback, Bea Szenfeld, Blank, SagaLova, Lise-lotte Westerlund and Odd Molly. Several of these brands belong to the fashion platform “+46” that promotes Swedish fashion design.
Obviously H&M is playing in another league with its economies of scale and “accessible high fashion for all”; main competitor naturally being Zara. But although they have a global presence, H&M is still mindful to keep what made them attractive in the first place; Swedish style.
Swedish style is created by Swedes. Fashion opinion leaders such as Sofi Fahrman, Ebba von Sydow, the Swedish princess Madeleine Bernadotte and Isabella Löwengrip are not only paid to wear high-fashion items and designer clothing, but also to write about it in magazines and blogs as well as hosting and participating in the most important fashion events in Sweden. They are the best marketers, and they really get consumers to open up their wallets. They do this through familiarizing the fashion, and with that personal feel, Swedish consumers are more inclined to see themselves wearing the clothes.
The Swedish fashion miracle started with jeans. Brands like Nudie, Burfitt, Acne and Cheap Monday leading the way. Now these brands have been able to start selling other clothing and diversify successfully. But they come from modest backgrounds.
Cheap Monday for example, the brand that has defined the “Stockholm look” in the past years, has got its success from the city crowd that bought and wore its tight jeans. The designer Örjan Andersson started off in the outskirts of Stockholm and the brand has never used any marketing. Stockholm rockers in the part of the city called Södermalm have embodied this look and it is them who made 60% of the company worth 564 million SEK for H&M to buy. Today consumers include Jessica Alba and Jennifer Connelly
These Stockholm trendsetters; among others alternative TV hostess/journalist/model Karin Winther, could be compared to “hajuku” culture in Japan. They are the darlings of Swedish clothes designers and so models both in ads and on the catwalk for these brands much resemble them, like Odd Molly’s Helena Christensen. Light-skinned and fair, big hair, thin and almost fairy-like with an aura of mystery, grace and caution but still equipped for city-life with a clear gaze-that is the model look. The past Stockholm fashion weeks which are held twice a year, the last one in January 2009 show this to be true. Even the promotional pictures from sponsor Mercedes-Bentz show the pale fairy-like Swedish look.
The personal component, completely missing in London, Paris and New York is very present in Stockholm Fashion Week. Fashion photographers, journalists, models and designers all stay after the shows and socialize. This clearly outlines the atmosphere in the Swedish fashion industry; it is so used to small scale that it has been able to keep its personal touch. At the Stockholm Fashion Week the pure Swedish style can be seen in contrast to when Swedish designers show abroad such as with Carin Rodebjer who showed her designs in New York as well, where changes to the collection had been made.
The Swedish fashion wonder has also reached the US and the big apple. Although it seems it is mostly US buyers that are aware of the Swedish origins, whereas consumers often do not attribute the clothes to Sweden, the success of Swedish style cannot be denied. Odd Molly and Dagmar are two brands trying to make it in the US. But the US market is big, and it requires adaption by the Swedish designers, as in the case of Carin Rodebjer. A little bit of the Swedish gets lost in the translation of the design. Managing to keep the unique Swedish part when going international but still adapt is where a lot of Swedish fashion brands have failed in the past.
The ultimate test of the Swedish fashion miracle and how exportable it really is might very well turn out to be Odd Molly and Tiger of Sweden. Odd Molly has gone public, opened its first own store, expanded seriously to the US, hired Helena Christensen as a brand ambassador and gone out heavy on international advertising, all in one year. They have also engaged in various collaborations, for example with Elnette hair spray where Odd Molly’s designer Karin Jimfelt-Ghatan made an illustration for a limited series of the product. Tiger of Sweden are launching an expensive advertising campaign with the early Bob Dylan looking model Johan J from Stockholmsgruppen, and opening up stores in the US, Johannesburg, Montreal, Oslo and parts of Denmark during this year. We will see if their efforts will be rewarded.
So the future of Swedish fashion is no longer up to the trend sensitive Swedes, to whom the new Swedish fashion miracle both owe its successes and gives tribute to in its design, it is now in the hands of the world’s fashion markets, where the personal fashion might get lost along the way…
- Full Figured Fashion Week Hits New York City, Making History (pasazz.net)
- Fashion-able. Hacktivism and engaged fashion design (we-make-money-not-art.com)