Establishing a fashion capital is no small feat. Fashion is big business, and requires successfully attracting the eyes, ears, wallets and closets of consumers, stylists and fashionistas. While the capitals of Paris, Milan, London and New York have withstood the test of time in the fashion industry gauntlet, there have been flare-ups of recognisable genius in other cities. Late '80s/early '90s Antwerp under the influence of The Antwerp Six comes to mind - Bikkembergs, Demeulemeester, Van Beirendonck, Van Noten, Van Saene and Yee.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo collection, H&M.
These days, one European nation is making universal waves on the fashion and design front. It should come as no surprise to industry professionals or the casual connoisseur that Sweden has, over recent years, solidified its reputation as a powerhouse of the clothier persuasion.
Generally known for "discreet colours and a pared-down, refined appearance," Swedish fashion has permeated the global market, through successful streetwear brands such as Acne, Cheap Monday, Nudie and WESC, along with the world's second largest clothing retailer (by revenue), H&M. Currently, only Inditex - parent corporation of Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, etc. - is larger.
Aside from transposing the Swedish aesthetic onto major cities around the world, H&M has aided in advancing collaborative efforts within the industry, through its collections with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, Lanvin and Versace. While H&M may not be known as a fashion-forward brand (rather, a "fast fashion" brand) or for producing high-quality goods, it certainly is, if inadvertently, drawing attention towards other Swedish design outfits, through association with its country of origin.
One can compare H&M to Ikea - yes, another Swedish company - in terms of both companies' international spheres of influence and business models. The cost of Swedish designer items is relatively mid-range compared to other international markets, a contrast especially visible when directly comparing Swedish goods to other designer hub nations such as Italy. While pricing may be due to a combination of established design clout and quality that comes from centuries of fashion design, it is clear that the Swedish mandate is one of style over salary. Says Sabrina Shim, editor of Bon Magazine and contributor to the official fashion blog of Sweden (yes, the country has a fashion blog), "being stylish in [Sweden] has nothing to do with money or class, and I find that particularly refreshing and admirable." Gregor Paulsson, a seminal Swedish art historian, has often commented that the Swedish approach to style is democratic and non-elitist. Design plays an integral role in the daily lives of most residents of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, as opposed to being an afterthought.
Somewhat breaking away from established Swedish traditions, several groups and individuals have been making a name for themselves with more elaborate methods and flare. Showing at London Fashion Week, Björn Borg's underwear collection has been appearing around the globe. At LFW, the brand featured a performance by Swedish performing artist Robyn that was even live streamed on MTV. Similarly, stylist B. Åkerlund has become a prominent mainstay with regards to styling Western pop acts and their live shows. With a CV that includes Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Robbie Williams and The Black Eyed Peas, it is no wonder Åkerlund was asked to style Madonna's entire Super Bowl halftime show - right down to the Givenchy headdress. In this regard, Åkerlund can act as a key player in accessing relevant pop culture, as a means to transport Swedish-based designs to the general, international public.
Success of Swedish style has been partially attributed to the dissemination of Swedish blogs throughout the world. Bloglovin, Stockholm Street Style, Style by Kling and Fashion Squad have all played a part in creating international buzz around Swedish fashion and the local populations who don such apparel. Given the digital nature of current sales and marketing, it should come to no surprise that Sweden, a country known for "promot[ing] internet freedom globally," would use the medium to increase coverage of its apparel industry. From the sartorial surveyor to the sales seeker, online platforms greatly increase the reach of a brand, in a way that can offer a tailored/branded experiences to the intended or unintended patrons.
Not-so-subtle Björn Borg ad campaign.
Not simply content with being represented through online channels, Stockholm-based Uniforms for the Dedicated has expanded on this online approach through carefully crafting clothing, music, art and video segments around its lines. Collaborating with other sustainable groups such as Tree Hotel, Uniforms has quickly created an easily discernible quality to its entire approach: using the more minimalistic Swedish sensibility across all of these different design modes.
While Uniforms has expanded to over 150 retailers, Sweden maintains several gems known for their concentrated efforts within their local environments. Highly sought after designers such as Lars Wallin and Pär Engsheden have both had pieces worn by royalty, including Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden.
It's a pivotal era for the Scandinavian fashion and design economy, whether as a participant or spectator. The Swedish fashion aesthetic has often been toted as recognisable, accessible and minimal, but it's important to understand how its regional and intercontinental companies are rapidly expanding. It would be foolhardy to deny the influence of Stockholm on the fashion industry, as eyes are rapidly shifting to the up-and-coming design hotbed. These creative pursuits are already having an effect on the other fashion centres. While preserving its national identity, Swedes have - at the same time - converted many onlookers into patrons and promoters. It will be a pleasurable experience to watch as Swedish design and fashion history and ingenuity continue to flourish in the years to come.
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