SCANDINAVIAN SIMPLICITY

...the right details

by Madelaine Triebe
There’s a story about a young man from Switzerland who, on a shopping spree in Zurich came across Swedish brand Filippa K. Without knowledge about the peculiarly named label, he bought a light blue cotton shirt and went home to show it to his father, satisfied with his purchase. The first reaction from his father was a confused frown as he beheld the vertically lined black details in the middle of the otherwise subtle garment. His father’s big issue was: Who on heaven’s earth puts black buttons on a shirt?

There is something different about the fashion created in the northern latitudes of Europe. A trained eye notices it straight away. The clean cuts, the details and the love for grey, black and earthy tones. There is seldom an outrageous colour, but always a statement and celebration of sophisticated simplicity, perfectly representing the cities and the people in this part of the European continent. In this case it was the contrasting buttons, transforming a conventional shirt into anything less than the ordinary.

Scandinavian fashion has never attempted to copy the fearful and gold-loving more-is-more Italian and French design houses. Nor is it anything like the eclectic and experimental fashion scene in London. However it is true to itself, following a less-is-definitely-more mantra, and there’s nothing quite like it. By close consideration and strong-focused attention to tiny details such as seams, buttons, and simple but striking cuts, timeless pieces for the urban fashionista are constructed in the studios of Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Acne, Whyred, Carin Wester, By Malene Birger, Bruuns Bazaar, and Henrik Vibskov are a few examples of great fashion labels from Sweden and Denmark that have thrived in the last decade. They have managed to establish themselves as important and inspirational labels on the international design stage.

The recognition of Scandinavian brands has been slowly emerging since the middle of the last century. The Danish design industry experienced the beginning of an upturn in the 1950s and 60s, with designers like Margit Brandt, Kirsten Teisner of the InWear brand and Søs Drasbæk of the Dranella brand laying the foundation for an independent Nordic fashion scene.

However it was not until the 1990s that Scandinavia landed its self-driven position on the international fashion scene. With new-found brands such as Acne, J. Lindeberg, DAY Birger et Mikkelsen and Samsoe & Samsoe, Scandinavian design became commercially strong, and in the past twenty years many of the labels have expanded tremendously and made a name for themselves outside the Nordic sphere. With Brad Pitt wearing J. Lindeberg to the 2007 Golden Globes, the opening of London’s first "By Malene Birger" store in March 2010, and a whole section devoted to Scandinavian design at this year’s designer exhibition at London Fashion Week at Somerset House, the 21st century has far from forgotten the fashion capitals of Northern Europe.

In February this year both cities hosted fashion weekends, treating visitors to runway shows dominated by stylistically pure and tailored pieces. In Stockholm, fall/winter collections for 2010 were shown at Fashion Week By Berns. The Swedish brands, famous for their clean cuts and eye for detail, rather than the outrageousness, stated that another winter would come in stylish simplicity and earthy tones with a hint of a flirtation with both the 20s and 40s.

House of Dagmar, founded by three Swedish sisters in 2005 is one of the most promising of the Swedish brands (mentioned twice in Elle UK this year). It opened the week claiming, its position as the number one of rising star on the international fashion stage. The style of the label is best described as a tribute to craftsmanship and arty chic. Mainly inspired by the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein, the Dagmar sisters showed a collection filled with velvet, draped pieces and dramatic, yet tasteful colours.

An opening act inspired by a Russian ballerina was followed by an unpretentiously presented runway show, influenced by the American pilot Amelia Earhart. Acne, probably the most internationally recognised Swedish brand, gave the audience a collection packed full of all the northern attributes; earthy tones applied to clean cut trousers, dresses, and jackets. Jonny Johansson, the creative director of the brand, shared the limelight together with the models, personally describing every outfit.

Following Stockholm's event, was Copenhagen Fashion Week. The event hosted the shows of some of Denmark’s most interesting labels like Danish By Malene Birger, Stine Goya and NJAL’s Spon Diogo, also Norwegian FIN, Finnish IVANAhelsinki and Swedish label Minimarket. With the Nordic nations evenly represented, the collections were presented in atrue Scandinavian aesthetic mixed with innovation and creativity; altogether incorporating practicality and sustainability into pieces demanded by a polar climate.

From the idea of a “tea party gone wrong”, Danish Bibi Ghost had created over-sized garments in subtle colours and playful patterns. The models wear huge hats, covering their eyes. Together with loose-fitting dresses, earthy tones and exotic harem-trousers gone Nordic European, Bibi Ghost took the audience back to Northern nature with her creations.

As the flagship of Scandinavian design, Copenhagen hosted yet another successful and inspiring fashion week. If the Swiss father had been there, he might have found it easier to fathom why black buttons are not always out of place on an otherwise light and clean surface. It simply needs to be done right, in a tailored and timeless manner, and that is just what Scandinavian designers do so well.