Swedish fashion booming in New York
Published: 14 Sep 2012
Sweden's fashion exports are skyrocketing. Among others, hip New Yorkers go for the Swedish style: modest yet edgy, affordable and wearable. Fashion writer Anna Blom digs deeper into the Swedish fashion wonder.
The interior of Acne's Manhattan flagship store, inspired by the Stockholm archipelago, was designed by the fashion label's creative director, Johnny Johansson. Photo: Anna Schori
Ever heard of IKEA's bookcase "Billy" or the luxury beds from Hästens? If you've got a soft spot for Swedish design, you probably have. Swedish design, however, is about fashion. Some of the international fashion scene's biggest names are Swedish. There's giant clothes retailer H&M, of course, and fashion brands like Tiger of Sweden, Acne and Cheap Monday (which is fully owned by H&M since 2010).
Sweden takes Manhattan
In New York, Swedish fashion has a loyal fanbase. In June 2012 Acne opened a 4,000 square foot flagship store in SoHo on Manhattan.
So, why would New Yorkers like Acne? Daniella Cagol, managing editor at New York-based fashion website ImagineFashion.com, has an idea. "Acne's clothing transcends a different feeling with every piece," she says. "It's wearable, sporty and savvy, on top of being fashion-forward, giving New Yorkers the versatility and accessibly we cherish in our wardrobes."
Acne Studios' CEO Mattias Magnusson commented on the brand's international expansion in a 2012 interview with Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer: "In Sweden, we are still best known for our jeans. Abroad, we get more attention for dresses, shoes and our magazine, Acne Paper."
Less fashion-forward and more practical and outdoorsy, Swedish brand Fjällräven (which means Arctic fox) also has a flagship store in SoHo. Racks of engineered clothing mingle with "Kånken" backpacks. Who would have thought that this backpack, originally designed in 1978 to spare the backs of schoolchildren, would become a hip must-have in Manhattan?
View Swedish fashion and furniture in New York City in a larger map
Elegant silhouettes and trendy clogs
Swedish fashion designer Carin Rodebjer left Stockholm for New York's Upper West Side in 2011. She gives her view on why Swedish fashion is doing so well: "Swedes are very ambitious and professional, or at least we have that reputation internationally. Maybe we also push general fashion norms a little, with more affordable price points and wearable styles."
Since 2001, Rodebjer has developed her fashion label by the same name into a progressive fashion brand for modern women on the go. With two flagship stores in downtown Stockholm and a 55-percent increase in sales in 2011/12, she is ready to take on Manhattan with her timeless clothes characterized by distinct, elegant silhouettes.
A few blocks from where Sex and the City's fashion icon Carrie Bradshaw lives, the boutique Zachary's Smile sells clogs from Swedish Hasbeens: hand-made, eco-friendly leather shoes influenced by 1970s style. The United States is the label's biggest market.
Swedish fashion designer Nina Ziefvert's handcrafted clogs are a trendy alternative. Made of leather, birch and alder wood, recycled rubber and staple nails, her shoes are sold at the Brooklyn Flea Market in Williamsburg and Fort Greene every weekend.
Online fashion boom
Most Swedish fashion exports go to Europe, partly because of the high cost of exporting to the United States. A US-based online shop is one solution.
Johan Lindeberg is the man behind the fashion brand J.Lindeberg and the online project BLK DNM. Photo: Anna Schori
Swedish fashion designer Johan Lindeberg started his online fashion project BLK DNM (pronounced: black denim) in New York in 2011. His contemporary men's and women's collections in leather, tailored basics and knitwear built around a denim core are also sold in his combined studio and boutique in Lower Manhattan.
Susanne Harl, founder of Fina Du, a Manhattan-based Scandinavian online fashion boutique, has seen sales go up, and her customers often pin the quietly elegant styles from her shop on Pinterest. "Swedish design is loved by a lot of people around the globe," she says.
With Swedish fashion labels like Mayla (a favorite of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria), Rodebjer and handmade leather bags from Pinellapi, Harl wants to add uniqueness to the standardized US online fashion selection.
"My customers think wearing Swedish fashion makes you feel like part of the cool Stockholm scene," Harl says. "It's very trendy and wearable, both on and off the job."
Susanne Harl has a lot to smile about. The total revenue for her online boutique Fina Du has increased by more than 30 percent worldwide. Photo: Anna Schori
Harl has noticed a taste difference between the American east and west coasts. Anna Holtblad's knitted cardigans and Odd Molly are hip on the west coast, while Malina's fluid silk dresses and Ida Sjöstedt's quirky looks are bestsellers in New York.
Harl concludes that "New York women want to walk to work, then work late until they go out for dinner and still look put together, simply by changing from flats to heels. I think Swedish fashion does that, especially Swedish dresses."
New record for fashion exports
Swedish fashion exports set a new record in the first five months of 2012. Fashion exports amounted to SEK 5.1 billion compared with 4.66 billion for the same period in 2011, according to the Swedish Textile and Clothing Industries Association. Even when overall export figures fell during the financial crisis, Swedish fashion was on the rise.
Maybe international trade is in our DNA. As far back as the eighth and ninth centuries, many Swedes were merchant seamen, renowned for their far-reaching trade. Nowadays, some of the Swedes venturing into new opportunities overseas – in New York, for instance — are fashion designers and fashion entrepreneurs.
This feature has been published by the Swedish Institute.