The Swedish Fashion Miracle

With Stockholm Fashion Week behind us, this seems as good a time as ever to introduce you to det svenska modeundret, or, “The Swedish Fashion Miracle”. I assume you haven’t heard of it?

The term has been thrown around here over the past few years, and its meaning–and very existence–continue to be debated in the press and online. Last year, Karin Falk published her first book, Det Svenska Modeundret, in which she attempts to answer: what exactly is this phenomenon?

I was able to see Ms. Falk speak about her work yesterday afternoon, and as an introduction, she asked for a show of hands for those who “believe the Swedish Fashion Miracle exists” (1); two, maybe three out of the fifty or so attendees raised their hands. We were not a group of believers; as this lecture was given through Stockholm University’s Centre for Fashion Studies, I assume we were a group of scholars, skeptical by nature and training. Comparatively, Falk later mentioned that many of the designers she interviewed said, after a thoughtful pause, that they do believe that it “exists”.

A look from Acne's Pre-Fall 2012 Collection, shown in Paris earlier this year. From Style.com. Photo: Courtesy of Acne.

This points to the somewhat proprietary nature of this so-called miracle. A look at the Pre-Fall 2012 Fashion Shows section of Style.com, which lists “reviews and complete collections for all the major shows”, suggests that this New York-based website isn’t convinced of The Swedish Fashion Miracle either: Acne is the only Swedish label with any recent coverage, and none of the shows from Stockholm Fashion Week is up.(2)

What is this Miracle, you ask? Falk gives the most succinct description in her book:

“Skeptics have asked themselves if there really is a Swedish Fashion Miracle at all. What does it consist of, if it does exist? Is it the enormous quantity of clothing with Swedish origins that H&M sends out the world over, is it conceptual fashion created by designers like Diana Orving and the creative duo behind Nakkna, or is it Acne’s success story wherein they sparked an international jeans trend? The answer is that there isn’t one Swedish Fashion Miracle, but many.” (3)

Detail from the 2011 A/W lookbook for Nakkna (a variation on "naked" in Swedish), the most recent collection they show on their website. Photo: uncredited, from website.

Swedish fashion and its designers have become international superstars over the past twenty years, H&M being the most recognizable worldwide and probably the best example of how the Swedish fashion system values democracy for its customers. Most of the well-known Swedish names–many straight out of Beckmans School of Design–such as Roland Hjort, Jonas Clason, and Lena Patriksson Keller of Whyred, and Ann Ringstrand and Stefan Söderberg of Hope all worked at H&M before setting out on their own.

A look from the S/S 2012 Collection of Hope. From their website. Photo: uncredited.

About ten years ago, magazines such as Wallpaper and Interview helped hype the Swedish brand of cool to their worldwide audiences, and enabled the previously isolated designers to set up stores from Tallin to Seoul for their new fans. The keywords: clean, simple lines; wearability; reasonably priced. I believe the isolation probably played a big part in the newfound popularity, the coolhunter’s dream: just far enough north of the traditional fashion capitals, but accessible by non-stop flight from NYC.

A look from Carin Wester's A/W 2012 show, held last week at Stockholm Fashion Week. From the MBFW website. Photo: Kristian Löveborg.

The emphasis on equality in Swedish society showed itself sartorially in the 1960s and 1970s, which I’ve briefly introduced to WT here. This trend continues today, with androgyny as its most visible manifestation, and the relaxed nature of social and work relationships (e.g. it’s rare that one uses “Mr.” or “Ms.”, even to a superior or elder) has created a desire to be able to “leave the children at daycare in the same clothes one wears to a work meeting.” (4) The weather is also a factor to be taken seriously: when it’s 25 below (Celcius), when it snows half the year, when it’s dark 18 hours out of 24, “practical” becomes a way of life.

Falks sees the roots of these themes as they apply to fashion, while identifiably Swedish, as planted by Phoebe Philo‘s collections for French label Céline in the late 2000s, a reaction to notorious heiress dress as well as the worsening financial situation. (5)

Main photo for the Resort 2010 Collection of Céline, Phoebe Philo's first for the label, on Style.com. Photo: Courtesy of Céline.

I could give you a list of Swedish boutiques, cafés and candy stores to go to in New York, as well as events, films and concerts put on by Swedish creative types. Sweden is everywhere! To find Swedish fashion in New York is more difficult; Acne has a stand-alone store on the lower end of Greene Street, and the duo behind Opening Ceremony were early, prescient fans. However, you’ve probably heard of Cheap Monday, you’ve probably definitely shopped at H&M, and Whyred and V Ave Shoe Repair will probably soon make it onto your radar.

A look from the A/W 2012 Collection of V Ave Shoe Repair. From MBFW website. Photo: Kristian Löveb0rg.

But although the Swedish Fashion Miracle has enabled brands such as Carin Wester, Rodebjer and J.Lindeberg to offer their goods in cities far from Stockholm, this concept seems to be more of a national mantra than an internationally-recognized phenomenon. Falk suggests this isn’t such a bad thing; when asked this evening about the future of the Miracle and the Swedish fashion system as a whole, she suggested that designers should use this continuing fervor to look inward. What is so Swedish about the Swedish Fashion Miracle?

I was wondering what she thought of last week’s shows, and was interested to hear that she perceived a generation shift palpable in the work and presentation. The work of Josefin Strid represents a conscientious and deliberate reflective nature Falk identifies in many Swedish designers, manifested in the exploration of gender roles; the team behind Altewai.Saome, who won a Max Factor 2012 Prize, received their degrees and experience in Italy instead of through the typical Beckmans-H&M chute, which is hopeful for the future diversity of the city of Stockholm as a Fashion Capital.

What have you heard, seen, read about Swedish Fashion? Have you heard of det svenska modeundret? Do you think this sort of quick, “miraculous” popularity is unique to Sweden at the turn of the 21st century? Could this happen in Reykjavik, in Sofia, in Cairo?

I would love to hear your reactions and impressions! Leave comments (or questions) below.

 

(1) This lecture was given in Swedish; quotations and paraphrasing from the event are my translation.

(2) Acne did not show at Swedish Fashion Week this winter, but instead a Pre-Fall 2012 and a Fall Menswear 2012 collection in Paris. I don’t know a lot about the fashion system online; it’s possible that Mercedes Benz Stockholm Fashion Week preferred to have its own website and/or did not want to collaborate with Style.com; I’d appreciate reader input on this.

(3) Falk, 28 [my translation]

(4) and (5) Falk, 13 [my translation]

 

Suggested reading [unfortunately, all in Swedish]:

Falk, Karin. Det Svenska Modeundret. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2011.

Ahl, Zendra and Emma Olsson. Svensk Smak: myter om den moderna formen. Stockholm: Ordfront, 2002.

Johansson, Susanne, ed., Sexton svenska texter om mode. Stockholm: Pocky, 2007.

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1 Comment

  • SophiaFredricka February 09, 2012 06.22 pm

    I like the optimism of the Swedish. It has a bit of humor which is refreshing and encouraging for up and coming designers to not take themselves too seriously but keep dreaming BIG and the miracle might happen to them!

     

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