It’s a design approach that often encompasses minimalist and clean lines, and lots of white and neutral tones. Scandi influence is being seen particularly in the fashion industry across the world. You’ll see trends such as lots of practical black clothing, a unisex approach with lots of boxy silhouettes and a fairly simple, modest approach to clothing; all hallmarks of Scandinavian influence on our wardrobes.
With small home markets, Scandi brands with any ambition need to move quickly outside their country of origin if they are to achieve any scale. Acne Studios, a luxury label known for quirky style, attention to detail, excellent tailoring and experimental use of materials, shows in Paris and has stores in locations including New York, LA, Tokyo and now Seoul.
Even young, small Scandi labels tend to move speedily across borders. Swedish clothing company Filippa K opened in Norway in the same year as it opened its first store in its home market, adding a third store in Denmark only a year later. Sutterheim, a raincoat brand, was retailing in Barney’s in New York within about a year of being founded.
Strong foreign language skills perhaps help these Scandinavian designers take an international outlook right from the start. It’s common for Scandinavia-based fashion houses to launch with English sites straight away. It’s difficult to imagine designers in many other parts of the world confidently launching in a non-native language. Many Scandinavian fashion houses have localised their sites for a huge number of countries and languages, which helps their brand become accessible to all kinds of audiences.
Scandinavian brands seem to benefit from being run by people who can confidently use foreign languages and have an international outlook. This certainly helps with international expansion. Small home markets mean that it’s also necessary to move overseas quickly, so there’s an added incentive to do so. This is helped by the free trade agreements that make it easy to sell between markets within the EU.
Of all the fashion houses to come out of Scandinavia, H&M is undoubtedly the most successful. With over 3,000 stores in 61 countries, H&M is the world’s second largest clothing retailer.
One of the ways the brand has sustained consumer interest in all its different locations is the much-hyped collaborations with major designers. Large crowds of shoppers have queued to buy clothing items during short-lived collaborations with designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney. Other collaborations saw the brand working with top designers from Japan and Finland.
As a long-standing powerhouse of fashion, H&M is a rather different prospect to the new wave of Scandi boutique-style fashion labels now starting to make waves. But even smaller brands are making smart decisions about who they are partnering with and being influenced by. Choosing who you collaborate with often helps brands establish themselves in local markets.
Acne Studios recently collaborated with photography journalist Vince Aletti to curate classic cowboy shots from the late Bruce Bellas as part of the launch of an Americana-inspired range of clothing. Despite its strong Swedish origin, Acne managed to align itself with American culture by finding this access point and an appropriate collaboration partner. The brand has also been successful at drawing in high-profile contributors to their fashion paper, including influencers such as fashion photographers Mario Testino and Paolo Roversi.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Scandi style is so popular around the world is simply that it delivers on values that consumers hold dear. The Scandinavian approach is to deliver clothing that keeps you warm, is practical and unfussy, and can be trusted to last. The success of the Scandi brands is perhaps simply that they have achieved resonance with the values of consumers worldwide.
Whilst these young brands may be cult and hip, their clothing remains highly wearable. Although Acne’s coats retail at around £1k, they deliver wardrobe items that will keep you warm and offer long-term wearability. At the cheaper end of the market, Sutterheim offers practical, durable rainwear that’s fashionable but still under £200 a pop. It’s not difficult to see why a label offering decent macs at a sensible price has gone down well in rainy London. And the global outlook of these fashion brands is key to their success – with chic but easy to wear wardrobe items that fit into modern, urban lifestyles whether the customer is in Oslo or Tokyo.
But it might not be just the product values that the brands are managing to communicate successfully in every country that they operate. Visit nearly any major Scandi retailer online or in store and you’ll find the effortless design ethic offers clarity and a soothing effect. Minimalist style has a worldwide audience and the Scandi aesthetic seems to appeal to people across many cultures. This clean aesthetic is often a welcome change from the loud and graphic-based design of many other brands. Brands such as Fjallraven have even taken this to extremes: their highly functional outdoorwear is deliberately timeless and pursues classic design rather than following trends.
It’s an approach that translates successfully into web design: many Scandi retailers have transitioned easily to international web retail. The US and UK are the biggest online audiences for the Acne studios website. The general design approach is light and airy, leaving lots of space on the page. This is best demonstrated on websites such as Bang & Olufsen electronics, which leaves a surprisingly large amount of the page empty. It’s an approach that lends itself well to digital commerce, with one unique element standing out against the others to create a focal point.
In embracing Scandi style, consumers may also be reacting against the mass marketing of fashion. Scandi labels often use a more understated approach compared to other overhyped fashion brands. Scandi fashion houses tend to eschew logos and instead focus on excellent design values – for their products as well as physical and ecommerce stores. This gives them an authenticity that’s increasingly prized in our over-marketed world. The unobtrusive design and a general lack of publicity means that consumers need to do the research themselves, coming to the brands on their own terms. Although it may seem a counterintuitive approach, the success of many of these understated fashion houses seems to indicate that this low key approach is working.