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Snooty but stylish: Stockholm Fashion Week blasts off

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Stockholm's fashion scene can be snobby, writes David Bartal, but Stockholm Fashion Week provides rich pickings for those who can get past the doormen.

The cultural elite of Sweden dressed in all shades of black is on the prowl, local paparazzi are hunting celebrities with provocative hairdos, and dedicated fashion-lovers lurch in hotel entrées drooling over “goody-bags” containing free cosmetics samples. In other words, Stockholm Fashion Weeks has blasted off with its usual mix of flamboyance, commerce and open-bar parties.

One of the most highly anticipated events took place Monday at Berns, as celebrated local designer Sandra Backlund, 32, showed her fall 2008 collection of sculptural knitwear to the moody tunes of New York singer and pianist Regina Specter. The Swedish designer's earlier work — some of which was created from paper origami and human hair — has made a big splash in international glossies like Zoo, Vogue Italy, Paper Magazine, I-D and Surface.

Backlund, who personally knits and crochets all the garments herself, presented bulky tunics and dresses in muted autumn tones of burnt orange, dark earthy green and skin colors. One of Backlund's newest radical visions resembles an exagerrated layered cake, another a braided medieval vest, while a third is a tunic graced with playful, twisted balls of yarn.

A striking brunette with a contagious laugh, Backlund has emerged as the darling of this country's avant garde fashion scene. With her tall, slim build and long neck, Backlund could easily model her own creations. But this enthusiastic fan of experimental music of Icelandäs Bjork has zero interest in self-promotion, and shrugs off all perks of celebrity.

“I have never gone outside in any of my outfits. It would be too strange. It would be as if I were wearing myself,”she explains.

All Backlund's work is intensely personal and introspective, and her latest somber collection is no exception: while still engaged in the early stages of the project, the designer was backing down a treacherous, tiny spiral staircase in her studio when she fell, bruising herself black-and-blue. At the same moment, while crawling on the floor, she got an emergency phone call from her Mum, saying that her very dear grandmother had just died. That's why Backlund calls her Fall 08 collection “Last Breathe Bruises.”

Shortly before her latest solo catwalk show in Stockholm, Sandra returned from Italy which she participated in an international project in Florence sponsored by an Australian wool producer. She was personally selected to take part by Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of Italian Vogue. The other four exhibitors were picked by Karl Lagerfeld, Paul Smith, Donatatella Versace and Calvin Klein's senior designer.

To suggest that Backlund is on a fast-track internationally would be a vast understatement. She is a brilliant star rapidly rising, and no one has any idea how far she will go.

Day One of the Stockholm Fashion Weeks also included runway shows of urban street wear by Acne; chic designs by always-reliable Filippa K; Carin Wester's youthful frocks for both men and women, the sheer, otherworldly visions of Liselotte Westerlund as well as the sophisticated sensual styles of Karin Rodebjer, winner of the Golden Button Designer of the Year Award in 2005.

Getting an overall handle on the shape of the Stockholm Fashion Week isn't easy, since it is actually a large number of separate events taking place in different venues, all competing for the attention of local and international buyers, media and an exclusive group of high-end consumers.

The main organizer of this bi-annual fling is the Swedish Fashion Council (Moderådet), which schedules designer shows, trade sites and showrooms all around the city. This group has recently been challenged by an upstart with a progressive profile called +46, which has assembled some 60 brands, including trendy names like Julian Red, Bea Szenfeld, Ulrika Sandström and Weekend.

Unlike the much larger fashion week in neighbouring Denmark—attracting tens of thousands of visitors - virtually all of the fashion events in the snobby Swedish capital are by invitation only. A few notable exceptions open to ordinary mortals are the Rookies show of young and upcoming designers, held February 1-2 at Hotell Scandic Anglais at Stureplan. Another option is an exhibit called “Crack the Fashion Nut” staged January 30 by the University of Art and Design, Konstfack, at its home-base at Telefonplan.

Hardcore fashionistas are willing to murder their mother-in-law for the top- ticket of the 2008 fashion season: The glittery Elle gala at the Grand Hotel (where else?). That is the place where the best-dressed-man and woman of the year, best designer of the year and similar luminaries will be duly anointed on Friday, and the glamour aristocrats of the city and their silvery minions will have a chance to strut their stuff in the spotlights.

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