With its tonal monochrome palettes, sealed within clean lines and boxy silhouettes, Scandinavian fashion is indubitably distinctive. Strolling through Copenhagen, it sidles past you in the form of flat, satisfyingly chunky shoes, simple cropped trousers, and soft but mannish tailoring. Slickly minimalistic, loud patterns are hardly ever breached, and when there is colour it’s subtle. That’s not to suggest an ascetic puritanism– far from it, quality cuts and fabrics feel luxuriously modern, and even their grunge looks clean. Take Acne Studios – we’d recognise that shearling, black leather jacket, those pistol boots, that paper-thin tee – anywhere. Which is fortunate, really, because it is everywhere, revered from its base in Stockholm to boutiques in LA. Acne may be the behemoth of luxury daywear brands, but it’s clear from the international cult following of bloggers like Pernille Teisbaek and Veneda Budny that the allure of Scandinavian style reaches far beyond the marketplace. It seems that we all, transfixed, want in.
But doesn’t it all seem a little too perfect? Are we missing something? Scandinavian cities are distinctly separate from the quartet of fast-paced fashion capitals – they are, in short, smaller and colder – and they’ve had to establish a distinct fashion microclimate as a result. The population may be relatively small, but it is fashion-conscious, adhering to trends to an almost uniform degree and so establishing a coherent ‘Scandinavian style’ that simply wouldn’t be tenable in a metropolis like London, bursting with diverse style tribes and trends. Perhaps the Scandinavian look, so impeccably and consistently contained within its clean-lined frame, can only function if sudden, colourful aesthetic developments are resisted.
Fashion is however, inherently dynamic, and the Scandinavian designers leading the pack are not those adhering to every Nordic style dictum, but those bending the rules and conscious of the need to move outwards into a globalised fashion network. Take Christina Exsteen, creative director of By Malene Birger, who has been moving the Danish high-fashion brand towards a thriving terrain of relaxed cuts, colour and embellished details. As she put it, ‘I felt we needed to play a bit more with contrast. We have beautiful products with quality, but we needed to add an edge. It’s no longer just about creating something that’s polished and neat. Things become more interesting when they have a contrast.’ Other designers are following in her wake: Cecilie Jørgensen, finding that she had nothing to wear one night, transformed a keffiyeh scarf into a tunic and was so inspired that she set up Cecilie Copenhagen. The brand, focused on the traditional keffiyeh print, pays tribute to Scandinavian style heritage with relaxed silhouettes and soft quality fabrics. Renegade designers such as these are showing that maintaining the Scandinavian aesthetic isn’t tantamount to dull conformity. In fact, crossing boundaries seems to be the perfect counterbalance to Scandinavian style’s clean lines: when London-based Brown’s started selling the Cecilie Copenhagen Spring/Summer collection, it sold out on the first day.
The Scandi Style Tribe
Scandinavian gender orders are among the most egalitarian on Earth. Women have arrived en masse in party politics, corporate boards, and the Nordic countries are now leading the world in women’s representation in the public realm. Do you think the gender equality of Scandinavian geopolitical identity influences how women dress?
Phoebe: It is definitely likely that the simplistic, androgynous style dominating women’s fashion in Scandinavia stems from the increasing gender equality. Women feel empowered to dress how they wish, not in an overtly feminine or sexualized way for the sake of pleasing men. I suppose this is because having women in positions of power means that other women do not feel forced to exploit their femininity to excel their career. The increasing blindness to gender appears to have transcended the workplace into the fashion world, seeping into women’s wardrobes all across Scandinavia. In fact, H&M just launched an autumn campaign promoting gender neutrality!
From Skam – that has Norway so uncharacteristically hysterical that over a fifth of the country are watching it – to Nordic Noir like The Bridge, what do you think accounts for Scandi TV’s massive following?
Lily: Probably the darkness? I’d binge watch television if it was only light for 2 hours a day and it was legitimised by hygge.
Is the appropriation of hygge, by girls who Instagram their coffee and consider ‘avotoast’ the ultimate aspirational breakfast, starting to piss you off?
Issy: Out of all the concepts that could stem from the inspiration of hygge, I think people could be slightly more original than coffee and avotoast.
Is the current tumultuous political climate responsible for our drive towards soothing Scandistyle?
Lia: Sitting down with nice candles bedecked in Monki and sipping a hot chocolate can make difficult news easier to swallow, and the appealingly continental nature of Scandinavia may even be a response to the perceived isolationism of the Brexit vote. Still, I wonder if there’s any real productivity in pretending nothing’s going on in the real world and creating a personal bubble where the most immediate problems are about candles and fur throws instead.
That clean-lined, contemporary Scandinavian aesthetic, as the manifestation of hygge, is clearly more than a passing fad. You express it through your clothes, but also through every other creative outlet available, from furniture to architecture. Which Nordic architect resonates most strongly with you?
Elise: Well, Aalvar Aalto, being one of the most influential architects of the Nordic modern movement, has to get a mention. But also the Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn (1924-2009), and in particular his Nordic Pavillion in Venice, which is a great proponent of the Scandinavian design principals in relation to simplicity, materials, and nature. I think it’s important to know that the clean aesthetic in Scandinavian architecture that is so popular comes from a motivation to create something highly functional with a relationship to its environment. The bright, light, practical interiors are inspired by the long winters and few hours of sunlight in that area of the world. There are also lots of young Nordic practices that are continuing the current principles with an increasing focus on sustainability, such as Marge Arkitekter and Elding Oscarson. The idea of being highly functional without the need of unnecessary design is something that I think should always be the basis of design – making beautiful things that improve your life.
Director, Writer and Stylist: Octavia Akoulitchev
Photographer: Vincent Hasselbach
Makeup artist: Lucy Wright
Models: Lia Johansen, Lily Spicer, Phoebe Wallwork, Elise Limon, Issy Grace