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The A-Å of Scandinavian fashion

Scandinavian fashion is having something of a moment. Dorothea Gundtoft, author of new book Fashion Scandinavia, helps us compile this complete guide, from haute couture to rubber wellies

Text by ⁄Dorothea Gundtoft & Emma Pressley


B is for Bloggers

Scandinavia is a hotbed for style bloggers, from Mikael Colville-Anderson’s pioneering Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog (copenhagencyclechic.com) to Sweden’s Elin Kling (stylebykling.nowmanifest.com), who is so important she’s designed ranges for H&M off the back of her blog. Our favourite at the moment, though, is Hel-looks (hel-looks.com), a Helsinki street-style blog started in 2005 by Liisa Jokinen and Sampo Karjalainen. Don’t expect haute couture, but plenty of offbeat style tips from a brilliantly varied demographic, age range 8-70 – think, “The rope was tied around a carpet; now it’s my belt,” and “I found this shirt in a dumpster.” If it looks good, it all counts.


C is for COS

H&M should probably be on the list, but we prefer the brand’s 2007 offshoot, COS (it stands for Collection of Style), which neatly sums up the clean minimalist side of Scandinavian design. While most designers go for designs that make their brand stand out, COS’s clothes are almost defiantly subtle, with shades of Jil Sander, Helmut Lang or even Muji.


D is for Dagmar

Knitwear and heritage are big themes in Scandinavian fashion, and House of Dagmar unites both. Founded in 2005 by three Stockholm sisters and named after their tailor grandmother, Dagmar’s arty-chic but sexy hand-knitted tops and dresses are inspired by the art deco period and make for “the coolest knitwear around”, according to Elle (UK). But good as things are now, starting up was difficult, as designer-sister Karin Söderling says: “We worked from our basement for the first two years and [another sister] Kristina’s mother-in-law came over every time we got deliveries to
help us sort it… we all had two jobs at the same time.”


E is for Existentialism

Scandinavian clothing brands have a penchant for expressing gloomy philosophies to illustrate their approach. Libertine Libertine (libertine-libertine.com), a hot Copenhagen brand specialising in utilitarian menswear, calls itself “a brand based on existentialism”. Meanwhile, trendy Swedish raincoat maker Stutterheim (stutterheim.se) devotes a whole section of its website to the concept of melancholy: “If we try too hard to get rid of melancholy it’s almost like we’re settling for a half-life,” it reads. Whatever. Both brands make good clothes.


F is for Fashion Scandinavia

Thames & Hudson’s new book, designed to accompany a major exhibition of the same name at London’s Somerset House, features interviews with more than 56 designers. It was written by Dorothea Gundtoft, co-author of this piece and also the show’s curator – she picked out everyone from big names such as Weekday and Marimekko to less-known designers such as Ann-Sofie Back, Peter Jensen, Soulland and Camilla Stærk. It’s a good read (and look).


G is for Grünerløkka

Oslo’s trendiest district is, unsurprisingly, home to a lot of its best shopping. If you’re going to hit up one street, make it the vintage street, Markveien – try Trabant and Robot for funkier, thrift store-type stuff, with lots of denim; Velouria Vintage for ’60s-’80s disco wear; Lucky Buttons for a more elegant, refined selection; and Frøken Dianas Salonger for elegant womenswear, with lots of pink and a hint of a Dickensian theme.


H is for Helena Christensen’s photography

Helena Christensen is the most famous Scandinavian model on the planet – but when she first tried it, aged 20, her plan was to do it for a month and return to her true passion of photography.

That month turned into 20 years in which she graced the cover of every major fashion magazine, was a Victoria’s Secret angel, appeared in the “sexiest music video of all time” (Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game) and peered over New York’s Times Square from a giant billboard, covered only by a strategically-placed banana leaf.

But Danish-Peruvian Christensen has always been about more than just modelling. She’s served as creative director of hip fashion magazine Nylon, co-founded a clothes label, Christensen and Sigerson, designed a lingerie line for Triumph and acted as an ambassador for Danish skincare brand Beauté Pacifique.

And she has returned to photography in a big way. When not shooting for the likes of Vs and Vogue, she has documented climate change for Oxfam in Peru and shot Milla Jovovich for Tommy Hilfiger’s campaign for Breast Health International.

“Because I travelled from a very young age, I think I was always inspired by passing images,” she says. “So you could say the world inspired me, or life. But I am constantly inspired by other photographers’ work – Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark…”


I is for the IKEA monkey

Okay, this doesn’t quite fit, even though Darwin the Japanese snow macaque, who was pictured at a Canadian IKEA store last December, made a late surge onto the year’s best-dressed lists. The reason? His natty shearling winter coat. Darwin’s owners had to pay a US$240 (NOK1,375) fine for having an illegal pet, thus being denied the funds to buy Darwin a new jacket for the spring/summer season.


J is for Johanna Pihl

Designer Johanna Pihl is Swedish fashion’s latest rising star. The London College of Fashion graduate’s edgy womenswear has been gathering awards apace, most recently the Swedish Fashion Council’s Rookie Award in 2012. Like the sisters behind Dagmar (see D is for…), she was inspired by a grandmother who was a tailor – but Pihl is altogether more tomboyish, with her sharp, sometimes masculine designs riffing on plastic surgery, X-rays and rock’n’roll.


K is for Kånken rucksacks

Designed by Swedish outdoorwear specialists Fjällräven in 1978 to help kids carry their school books, the Kånken rucksack has become an unlikely must-have for hipsters across the world. Sturdy Vinylon material and a handy reflective badge suggests something your mum would plonk on your back – the fact that it’s become the world’s bestselling backpack suggests they look pretty good, too.


L is for Lykke Li

Sultry Swedish pop star Lykke Li makes the list for managing to sum up a Scandinavian kind of chic that’s seemingly effortless and hard to define. Whether she’s doing “I’m a tree” dance moves wearing a turban and boho tunic, or wearing a simple trouser suit, as at last year’s Grammys, she always looks good.


M is for Making a comeback

Old Scandinavian designs are hot right now. First up is the iconic Marius knitted jumper, designed in 1953 by Unn Søiland and named after Marius Eriksen, the famous Norwegian war hero, actor and skier. The pattern, which normally comes in the red, white and blue of the Norwegian flag, has most recently been the inspiration for one of OnePiece’s bestselling onesies (onepiece.com). Meanwhile, Copenhagen fashion’s enfant terrible Henrik Vibskov (see V is for…) has just launched a pan-Scandinavian collaboration with Dale of Norway, which has been producing knitwear since 1879 in the small village of Dale. The results are unlikely fusions: a high-fashion knitted dress and a baseball-style bomber, all made with Dale of Norway’s knitwear, using local materials.


N is for Norse Projects

Norse Projects was started by two Copenhagen skateboarders in 2004 and has gone from T-shirts inspired by co-founder Mikkel Grønnebaek’s graffiti to covering the whole gamut of Scandinavian outdoor-chic: socks, knitwear, rucksacks and raincoats that you could wear on a hike or to a trendy Copenhagen party.


O is for Ole Yde

There’s a definite fairytale element to Copenhagen designer Ole Yde’s sumptuous womenswear. He has a beautiful boutique selling glam ready-to-wear dresses that are heavy on lace and frills – but he’s perhaps better known for his Atelier, where you can get a beautiful gown made just for you. “We cater to women’s dreams,” says Yde. “It might be an elegant day dress or a fantasy evening gown, but it will be unique.”  yde-copenhagen.com


P is for Prints

Scandinavian design has traditionally been heavy on the prints. Finland’s most famous fashion brand, Marimekko, is known for its iconic bright prints in strong primary colours. Another company known for its prints is super-hip Copenhagen label Wood Wood – who collaborate with everyone from Barbour to Adidas and Onitsuka Tiger, and whose new collection features woods-y floral prints.  marimekko.com, woodwood.dk


Q is for “Queen of Copenhagen fashion”

MTV called Malene Birger the “Queen of Copenhagen fashion” and that’s good enough for us. She’s been near the top of the fashion pile since starting on her own in 2003 and you’ve probably seen her clean, elegant designs without realising it – Lady Gaga, Kate Middleton, Amanda Seyfried, Emma Watson and Princess Marie of Denmark are just a few of the famous women to wear her clothes.  shop.bymalenebirger.com


R is for Raincoats

With an average of 235 rainy days a year, Bergen is said to be the wettest city in Europe. The silver lining is that it might also be Europe’s capital of good-looking raincoats. Our favourite is Norwegian Rain, which might just make the coolest raincoats on the planet – their sculptured, minimalist-chic coats not only keep the rain out, but have a clean, Japanese, high-fashion look that has drawn awards from the likes of Vogue and the Norwegian Design Council. As creative director Alexander Helle says: “The hi-tech is hidden.” A brighter, feminine alternative is Lisbeth Lillebøe’s Blæst range for women – the playful textures and rainbow colours also hide linings and sealed seams for maximum rainproof-ness.
norwegianrain.no, bylilleboe.no


S is for Södermalm

The Stockholm island-borough of Södermalm is so fashion-forward that it has its own fashion week every January (sodermalmfashionweek.com). It’s a haven for vintage fashion, boasting shops like the huge Beyond Retro (beyondretro.com) and Lisa Larsson (lisalarssonsecondhand.com), a celebrity favourite packed with designer gems. A non-vintage stalwart is the cult Tjallamalla chain (tjallamalla.com), which stocks an eclectic selection from more than 250 designers, most of them local, like the sharp but feminine Sofifi (sofifi.com).


T is for Tiger Of Sweden

Tiger Of Sweden began life in 1903 when tailors Markus Schwarmann and Hjalmar Nordström started a mobile tailoring service in Uddevalla, on Sweden’s west coast. In 1993, the brand moved from traditional tailoring to become an international fashion giant, with men’s, women’s and jeans collections, and more than 1,200 retailers in 18 countries. The focus is still suits, but who knows what Schwarmann and Nordström would make of today’s defiantly urban versions, not to mention the fluorescent womenswear?  brand.tigerofsweden.com


U is for UFF

Finland’s 11 UFF second-hand clothes shops not only promote recycling, but they send clothes to Africa, and support development programmes there and in India. The cherry on top is that there isn’t a smelly sweater or stained pair of flares in sight – in fact, UFF stores are so on-trend that they’re a favourite of the thrift store fashionistas on cult blog Hel-looks: says Alexa, 13, “I support second-hand and recycling… I bought these trousers at UFF for €1” or Eliel, 27, “I bought my coat at UFF but originally it’s from Wien and the year 1917.” We approve.


V is for Vibskov

Henrik Vibskov is arguably Copenhagen’s leading fashion designer, but he also turns his hand to interior design, drumming for DJ Trentemøller and creating trippy art installations, such as the recent Neck Plus Ultra exhibition in Paris’s Galerie des Galeries. He says he only applied to London’s Central Saint Martins College to show off to a “really hot girl”. He’s hot property himself now and his much-anticipated shows – in which models walk around in swimming goggles or comedy binocular glasses – have names like the Transparent Tongue and the Shrink-Wrap Spectacular. If it all sounds a little haute-edgy for your taste, it’s good to know trendy people wear his clothes, especially musicians – from M.I.A. and Björk to the Arctic Monkeys and Lou Reed.


W is for Wellies

As with raincoats, one of Scandinavia’s great talents is to take functional items and make them stylish – and rubber boots epitomise that. In Finland in 1898, an arm of Nokia started making galoshes and rubber boots, and you can still get Nokian Footwear today (nokianjalkineet.fi). We’re also big fans of Viking (vikingfootwear.com), which started with a rubber factory in Askim, Norway, in 1920. For something more towards the fashion end, Danish designer Ilse Jacobsen’s (ilsejacobsen.dk) Hornbæk wellingtons have become a cult – from her gorgeous feminine lace-up wellies to equestrian-inspired rubber boots with a horse insignia.


X is for X-rated

Danish model Freja Beha Erichsen has been by far the hottest Scandinavian model of the past five years, with her chameleonic looks gracing Pirelli calendars, catwalks and a dizzying range of campaigns for just about every fashion house you’ve heard of, from H&M to Gucci, Armani, Calvin Klein, Chloé, Tom Ford and the rest. But she’s also known for her risqué approach to modelling: we’re thinking of her shoot with Purple magazine featuring full-frontal nudity, numerous tattoos (including a revolver on her left arm), and a passionate kissing scene with French model Anna Mouglalis in Karl Lagerfeld’s short film The Tale of a Fairy, shot for Chanel.


Y is for Young talent

Scandinavia is a hotbed of design talent. Our ones to watch are: Anne Sofie Madsen (annesofiemadsen.com), who learned to create her otherworldly designs at Denmark’s Design School, and through work at Alexander McQueen and John Galliano; Swede Altewai Saome (altewaisaome.com), who’s creating a buzz for her sharp, angular designs; and Ingvild Abrahamsen (ingvildabrahamsen.com), whose punk-inspired pieces – just check out her homepage – have seen her labelled the future of Norwegian fashion.


Z is for Zero degrees

Norwegian company Helly Hansen has made body suits for the Norwegian army that will keep you alive at zero degrees until starvation kills you – but the brand, which has been going since 1877, is perhaps best known as the world’s leading supplier of base layers, using technology they pioneered in the 1970s. Fashion-wise, they’re more for wearing under your togs, but the high-tech merino wool tops and pants look pretty sharp (and tight), too. Side note: Helly Hansen has had some unlikely fashion moments, as a hip-hop favourite and a cult label for English working class football fans in the late 1990s.


Æ is for Ætt

Ætt is a Bergen brand dedicated to bringing back heritage outdoors-y brands – from WWII-era Ulf smock anoraks and Frisk fishing scarves based on old military designs to classic Norwegian rough leather Ulrik bags. It’s mostly Norwegian – there’s some Harris Tweed – and all good hard-wearing stuff.


Ø is for Østerbro

Copenhagen’s posh district has a great mix of shopping, from exclusive designer shops to quality second hand clothes. Our pick is Greibe & Kumari, a classy boutique where ladies drop off their designer clothes and get a share if they’re sold on.


Å is for Ålesund Oljeklede

If we had to name our favourite purveyors of fishing chic, it would be Ålesund Oljeklede, who also sport a great logo. The oilskin raincoats aren’t just standard wear for local fishermen, but we think some of them look pretty cool, too, especially the camo-green Skala jackets and long, black Haugesund version.

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